Takes on Industry Happenings
By Anthony Pioppi

Blame it on golf cars. Point fingers at yardages on irrigation heads and distance devices. Call out PGA, LPGA and Symetra tour players. Cite the ignorance of the average golfer. Indict the 10-minute gap between starting times.

Whatever or whomever you want to condemn, accuse, incriminate or hold accountable, the fact is the pace of play in American golf is far, far too slow, and the reasons for it are many.

How the factors affect play, however, is mostly anecdotal. No one has ever quantified, for instance, how much faster the average 19-handicap golfer plays walking as compared to riding, but that will change.

The U.S. Golf Association (USGA) has undertaken the About Our GAME (Golf course Activity Measurement and Engagement) Initiative.

The idea, according to Hunki Yun, director, strategic projects for the USGA, is to determine exactly what happens on a golf course, and what has substantial effects on quickening or slowing pace. He explained that about 6,000 golfers across the country and across the handicap spectrum were given GPS units that record their movements on the course every five seconds. The information is stored in a device about the size of a thumb drive.

The statistics are downloaded into a USGA database. Yun said the goal is to record 20,000 rounds. The measuring began in May and is scheduled to continue until August. Yun said the USGA hopes to present some of the results at the Pace of Play Symposium in November.

According to Yun, the USGA is interested in finding out how architectural and agronomic factors such as green speeds, green size and course length affect a player’s time.

The USGA will monitor how much time a player takes to complete a hole from the approach shot in. The clock starts ticking when the group in front puts the flag back into the cup and ends when the monitored group does the same.

If a certain hole has a consistent bottleneck, the information should be able to determine why.

“You want their [golfers] times to be predictable and even,” Yun stated.

According to Yun, the USGA will work with allied organizations such as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Club Managers Association of America (CMAA), and the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), as well as the major tours for the project.

Yun said one way clubs can already speed up play is by having facility managers communicate with each other.

For example, “If the club books a golf outing with a lot of beginners, let the superintendent know,” Yun said.

Easily accessible hole locations for such a contingent would aid in keeping the outing moving, he added.

Yun said the project will also look into the gap between starting times, thought by many to be a significant reason for slow play. Although facilities may increase revenue with 10-minute instead of 12-minute starting times, the end result may not be beneficial to the facility. While a course may see fewer players per day with a 12-minute separation, maybe “the satisfaction level is higher,” Yun said, when golfers can complete their rounds without having to wait at every shot. Satisfaction might just be the reason players return.

There is no way to completely eliminate slow play because for some golfers their game is their only concern. You know them, they are the same golfers who think the course (and the world, for that matter) is their ashtray. The same ones who see no need to replace a divot, fix a ball mark or rake a bunker. If their ball lands in a footprint, they just roll it out.

No matter what the USGA’s research shows, the fact is this category of player will always have an adverse effect on the time it takes to play a round. There are ways to handle these miscreants, however.

A friend who owns an affordable daily-fee golf course where fast play is a priority told me of the time he had to ride out onto his layout and tell a foursome to skip a hole. They had been warned twice by the ranger but blew him off.

The owner said the group wasn’t happy about being forced to the next tee.

“One of the guys said to me, ‘You don’t care about our foursome,’ and I said, ‘You’re right, I care about the 60 people behind you that you’re slowing up.’ “

To which the golfer, responded, “We’re never coming back here again.”

The owner chuckled and said, “They were back in a couple of weeks.”

The lesson had sunk in. They played that round in an acceptable time.