Speed up or get out of the way, people!


I’m just delighted that the subject of slow play has become a hot topic of conversation over the past couple of weeks.  It’s hardly a new item.  But at least PGA Tour players themselves are now willing to speak out and name names, even if the Tour (as of today’s writing) has been virtually silent on the issue – perhaps hoping that, like most tiny little tornadoes, this one’ll just dissipate without causing any damage to the beautiful house and garden that the PGA Tour has erected around itself.

Like 99% of you, I find slow play on the golf course I’m playing about as painful as root canal surgery.  And watching slow play on a televised golf tournament is equally excruciating – but at least the pace on TV is broken up by constant repeats of that fast-paced Acorn stairlift commercial, which makes slow play on Tour look like an Indy car race.  (“Ah luuuuv mah Acorn stairlift.  And it was surprahsingly a-fordable.”)

When I was a kid, just getting into golf from about age 6, I can’t say anyone ever sat me or my friends down and gave us a lecture about pace of play.  We just learned it by osmosis, like we did putting and chipping.  Many of us, age 9 or older, caddied to make some extra money, and if we dawdled, inevitably our “clients” would snap at us to keep up.  This was a good lesson – keep up, or no tip.  As we got a little older, we learned to arrive at the ball before the client and have necessary information ready for them so they could assess their next shot quickly and efficiently.

As a player myself, for over 60 years, I’ve always preferred to walk the course.  Walking gives me time to assess where my ball is, and what I want to do with my upcoming shot… even if I’m chatting with a playing partner along the fairway, I’m still assessing what’s ahead.  When I get to the ball, I’m ready to pick the club, and hit the shot.  (I do not, and never did, take a practice swing… except quickly on a greenside chip, or a putt.  I go nuts when I see people ahead taking 3-4 practice swings on every shot.  Just HIT the friggin’ thing!!)  I find that if I’m in a motor cart, the conversation is too close at hand and I arrive at my ball too quickly, or from a different angle than if I had walked directly to it.  This means I get out of the cart and then have to start my analysis right there, wasting perhaps 15 seconds of time.

For those who think that motor carts speed up the game, I would disagree.  Perhaps if it’s just two decent players who keep it in the fairway, yes, they can get around 18 holes in 2.5 hours or less.  But how many foursomes, in two carts, have we all played behind and watched them move back and forth across the fairways and around the greens, like bumper cars at the CNE?

It’s just brutal.

And then, of course, player A will arrive at his/her ball, get out of the cart, stand behind the ball, walk back to the cart to get a club, walk back to the ball, take 3 practice swings, then shank it into the pond.  All the while, player B sits in the cart, waits for A to finish, then they drive over to B’s ball perhaps 10 yards away, and we go through the whole routine again.  If they were walking, B would be able to hit his ball within 5 seconds of A, but in carts, it’s at least another 30 seconds.  This all adds up.

Another thing I learned as a kid was, leave your bag on the side of the green where you’ll be headed toward the next tee.  I’m dumbfounded by people who putt out, walk back 50 feet to their bag on the left side of the green, replace the wedge and putter they’d just used, then walk 75 feet around the front of the green to the right side, and the path to the next tee… while I’m waiting back in the fairway to play my shot.  For the love of Christmas, take your bag around the green while your partners are chipping or lining up their putts!

My Dad told me, when I was 8, never to mark my score down on the scorecard ON THE GREEN!  Do it on the next tee box, he said, so you don’t keep the people behind you waiting.

Too bad my Dad died before he got the chance to tell every golfer in the world about that piece of etiquette.

Here’s another one… when your playing partners are putting, you should be over at your ball lining it up… not standing idly by, or talking to another player, while you watch them putt.  It’s called “ready golf” … in other words, be ready when it’s your turn.  I won’t say which members of which sex are particularly bad at this, but my Lord it’s frustrating when you’re behind four people who feel the putting green is the best place for a conversation about Sarah’s new baby, or the colour of wallpaper, when there’s putting to be done.

If you’re playing in front of someone (like me), it would be greatly appreciated if you’d let us play through if and when you decide to spend more than 30 seconds looking for that ball that just went into the woods, or the marsh on the side of the pond.  Every second you take beyond 30 is simply one more second of MY time that you’re taking.  Unless the course is packed and there’s nowhere for us to go, wave us through, and take the rest of the week to look for your ball, for all I care.

I will say, thank God that the R&A decided to nix that stupid rule about heading back to the tee to re-hit if your first one wasn’t found.  Steam would rise from my ears if anyone in front pulled that one.  But fortunately, most players at my club at least know enough to throw another down and play on.

Anyway, I could keep writing about slow play, but then I’d risk taking up way too much of YOUR time unnecessarily.  And I think we can all agree that that’s just not proper etiquette.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

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