This Week in Golf

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Slow play was the focus of attention in the UK last week as golf’s major stakeholders convened to see what could be done about it. One of the recommendations was to assess penalty strokes for slow play on the professional tours? Are you in favour and would it work?

Matthew MacKay, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTours): I am absolutely in favour of assessing penalty strokes to professionals who do not meet the time par established by the committee (in this case, the respective tour they play on). Playing within the time par established is an integral part of competitive golf and the penalties assessed should impact a player’s score, not just nominally impact their pocketbook as they do now. The pros need to set an example to weekend hackers that slow play is a pox on the game.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I’m all for penalty strokes being assessed. I think it would put just enough fear into the back of players’ minds to put a jolt into their step. There’s nothing worse than a five hour round.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Of course Tour pros should be penalized strokes (acting as a surrogate for cash) for slow play. Money is the only language those guys understand. Anyone who has walked a Tour event is amazed how many players wait until their playing partner has hit before consulting their caddie, yardage books, and selecting a club. It’s astounding. That’s a big part of slow play on Tour, compounded by their intricate pre-shot routines once they’ve finally decided to play the shot. At least at home you get to watch commercials instead of endless player-caddie tête-à-têtes.

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think it would work if they actually enforced it rigorously, and if the penalties were indeed in strokes, not token amounts of cash (like, say $1,000, which is one day’s tip money to a successful golf pro.) And yes, I’m in favour wholeheartedly. Slow play on public courses by public players can partially be traced back to them watching slow Tour players on TV. Trouble is, the public player will line up his putts for five minutes, like the Tour pro, then three-putt.

Frank Mastroianni, Canadian golf Magazine (@frank_mastro): When it comes to the professional tours, I really don’t care what they do as long as it’s enforced with consistency. I’m not a professional, never will be, and neither will 99.9% of people reading this. I don’t know why people look to the professional tours to emulate how they go about their round or to dictate what pace of play should be at their local clubs. Golf should be played in less than four hours — period.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Absolutely I’m in favour of it and it would work. First, penalty strokes would remove the transgression from the murky world of Ponte Vedra and shine a light directly on the slowpokes. Second, not only do penalty strokes hit players in the pocket book but finishing a couple of positions lower impacts world rankings and money lists which determine entries into majors, invitationals and the Ryder Cup. Once the PGA Tour sets an example by playing faster, the rest of the golf world will feel compelled to get serious about it at their level too.

Jim Kenesky, PGA (@JimKeneskyGolf): I’m in favour for whatever gets people moving. I think there will be a backlash from the players if penalty strokes are being handed out. They are playing for big stakes and the Tour is partially to blame for such long rounds. I know how long average golfers take over a couple five footers during a friendly Nassau. Just imagine putting for a million dollars. The solution needs to be fines and these fines are increased for multiple offences. Plus the Tour needs to publicize who’s receiving the offences.

Amongst amateur players, what’s the biggest cause of slow play and what would you do to eliminate it?

MacKay: I will indulge myself and make two observations. First, amateur players just need to get on with it. Play with purpose, walk briskly, pay attention…just get on with it. I would suggest a mandatory trip to Scotland to see how the Scots manage to play in three hours as a four ball…by just getting on with it. Second, I would implement the ‘continuous putting’ rule. A player must continue putting, without marking and lifting the ball, until the ball is holed.

Deeks: Taking way too long to decide what to hit from the fairway, assessing their best options for hitting out from the woods, and lining up putts are the biggest causes of slow play. To eliminate it, I’d do what they’re threatening to do: set realistic time rules, then assess gradually steeper penalties (in strokes) for breaking the rules. What many people don’t understand is that chronically slow players can upset the rhythm and performance of other players in their group, and that gives the slow player an unfair advantage. Make them all play by the same time limits, and you’ll separate the men from the boys.

Quinn: When I started to take my game seriously — as a $25 a season junior at the Tam O’Shanter at Sheppard & Kennedy in what used to be Agincourt east of Toronto — my buddies and I would play in a little over three hours. Club selection wasn’t a problem because we hit shag bags to practice. When you have to go find your own balls on a range, you get to know how far you hit them. Now the buddies I play five-hour rounds with have rangefinders in their bags or on their wrists, and they spend an awful lot of time consulting their technology. After all that time, they know exactly how far they are from their target. The great and ultimate flaw in their time consuming ritual before every blessed shot is that the knowledge does not help them a whit because they have no idea how far they hit their clubs. Calculating distances and selecting clubs they have no idea how far they hit is one of the leading factors in slow play among amateurs.

Kenesky: When I was teaching a lot of golf and had a seasoned or average player taking lessons from me, I would always take a look at their pre-shot routine. I would remind them the allowed time to hit a golf shot. A part of the lesson revolved around them timing me for a few shots. They were always amazed how my routine was consistently the same and well under the allowed time. Once they understood the rule we could look at ways to develop a quick thoughtless routine. Once they learned the importance of a sound routine, they ultimately played better with fewer mistakes. Overthinking and not being ready to play are contributing factors players put on themselves. Tough course design, conditions and tricky hole locations contribute to slow play from a golf course perspective.

Mastroianni: The biggest cause of slow play amongst amateur players is people…it’s that simple. People don’t know how to play in good time, feel they are entitled to do whatever they want because they paid a green fee, and that their time on the golf course is theirs and theirs only. Well guess what, I paid my green fee too! I’m sure there will be a hundred different factors and prescriptions mentioned in the answers to this question, but they’re all just excuses. Until everyone realizes slow play is not external to them and that they are the problem, it will always be a problem.

Mumford: The biggest cause of slow play is stroke play. If more players played match play or used Stableford scoring, groups could finish each hole faster with concessions or pick-ups once a player is out of the hole. It requires a mind shift to think about playing an opponent rather than the golf course but that’s the oldest tradition in golf. There’s nothing worse than watching somebody grind over a two-footer for triple bogey. “It’s good!”

Kaplan: Lost golf balls cause all types of delays. When you spend time searching for your Pro V1 in the fescue, play usually grinds to a halt. Here are some ways to curb this problem: (1) Don’t use your best balls on holes that you are not confident on. If you are not playing in a tournament, no one is going to call you out for that! (2) Let’s take half the numerous back-shop employees who wipe your clubs down after each round and pay these kids the same wages to stand in trouble spots on the golf course as fore caddies. While we’re at it, let’s take all of the course marshals and replace them with more water fountains — because, unlike course marshals, you need water when you play golf.

The USGA has announced several Rule changes for 2016 including an amendment to disallow solo rounds to count for the purpose of calculating handicap. Golf Canada has chosen not to follow the USGA lead and solo rounds will still count. Who’s right and does it make a difference?

Deeks: If you’re going to cheat, you’re going to cheat, whether you play by yourself and hand in an 85 or a 75, when you really shot 80… depending on whether you want a high handicap to help you win matches, or a low handicap to boast to your friends. Golf is supposedly a game of honour and integrity, however, so I firmly believe that one should be allowed to play on one’s own, and given the respect (rightly or wrongly) of assuming that his or her score is accurate and honest. I guess we’ll never really know if it makes a difference, though, will we?

Mastroianni: I’m not one who cares much for keeping a handicap and refuse to pay an association to keep one unless forced to (i.e. like when a member at a club). I don’t think it matters whether solo rounds count or not. I’ve personally never heard of an individual round submission towards handicap being contested even playing with multiple partners; it usually happens after multiple rounds and once other golfers believe you to be sandbagging (I’ve never experienced anyone complain of someone’s handicap being too low). In any instance, handicaps are in my view pretty pointless unless you plan to use them in official club play, and by that time, your competitors have most likely already sized you up or will fairly quickly. This scenario is one of the few times I’ll side with Golf Canada because a change is arbitrary in my eyes so change is a waste of time, though I wouldn’t really care if they decided to follow in the USGA’s footsteps.

Kaplan: Golf Canada is right to reject the USGA’s new rule. Sandbagging is going to happen regardless of whether other players are present. How can you possibly know whether someone missed a putt or sliced a ball into the woods on purpose in order to keep their index low? Besides, lots of folks like to play golf by themselves as a release. Should these people not be entitled to a handicap? I think the fact that this is not a major issue in Canada reflects the values of pride and integrity that Canadians still hold dear.

Quinn: The foundation of the game is honesty and integrity, however badly they are abused at the amateur levels. We’ve all met sandbaggers at “charity” events offering big prizes, double digit handicappers carrying two irons. I’d be concerned about those types being able to post solo rounds in the 80s prior to events. Anything to help keep them relatively honest should be kept. Legit players will play enough rounds in the company of others that they can do without posting a few solo practice rounds.

MacKay: Golf Canada has it right, and yes, it does make a difference. The USGA is essentially saying that they don’t trust people to play by the rules and post the applicable score to a handicap record. I’d love to see the US Open telecast PSA/advertisement they come up for this one. The Handicap System is most effective and current when a player posts a high volume of scores. There are many people who, for whatever reason, play a lot of golf on their own. This decision by the USGA will only serve to undermine their Handicap System.

Kenesky: Golf is an honourable game and if a person plays alone and intentionally enters an inaccurate score, he’s a cheater. However, I know a few people that play alone first thing in the morning because it’s the only chance they get due to shift work and family. They play the game to improve and I would trust every score they enter in the system. Good for Golf Canada to recognize the realities of life and not stifle those solo rounds.

Mumford: I can’t believe the USGA took this route. It flies in the face of everything they are saying about growing the game. Congrats to Golf Canada for not following suit. In the end however, it doesn’t make a lot of difference because it really only affects about 15% of golfers in North America who happen to be members of either association and keep a handicap. Most golfers can have a friendly wager without an “official” handicap, arrived at with proper peer review or otherwise. The golf associations need to figure out how to reach the other 85% who still play golf but aren’t sticklers for all the rules, sometimes play alone, often play less than 18 holes, don’t EVER play in a provincial, state or national championship and aren’t members of private clubs – but still think of themselves as golfers and most importantly, have loads of fun.

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