The Cure for Slow Play

Whenever I find myself standing in a slow checkout line at the supermarket I think of slow play on the golf course. The customer at the cashier is taking forever reading and lining up their coupons. Then the scanner stops working, like a golf swing, and the patrons behind groan.

“Sorry, your coupons have expired. You’re out of bounds. Are you taking those groceries back to the tee?”

Where’s the line marshal? Get me out of here!

Not to worry, I have THE cure for slow play (golf, not groceries) so keep reading. First though I would like to offer what I think is the real number one cause of slow play. Articles and dissertations have been produced by PhD’s and think tanks all over the world, suggesting everything from improper tee selection to extra practice swings to talkative cart girls.

While these examples might contain some truth, I have never been satisfied with the answers, having played thousands of rounds (often as a single and paired up) on a multitude of courses. So after years of keen observation, scientific research (naw) and a hunch, here is what I know to be the overriding number one cause of slow play: bad shots, and the time taken to recover from those bad shots.


Allow me to illustrate by describing a round I played this summer near Lindsay.  I arrived as a single and was placed with a friendly twosome in their 50’s, Carol and Doug. Carol usually made decent contact, never exceeding 140 yards while Doug hit both good and bad shots.  On one particular par four, both players sliced their balls into the woods, Doug about 50 yards further than Carol. Carol arrived at the densely wooded area and in about five seconds decided that even if she were to find the ball it would be unplayable, so rather than spending time searching, she dropped another and hit it near the front of the green.

Doug on the other hand began a five minute hunting expedition, daring to attack all manner of mosquito, poison ivy, and piercing thorns, expletives flying from his mouth like barn swallows.

“Gotta find that #%& ball. I mortgaged my house to buy it. I’ll have to work overtime to recover the cost”!

With the added insult of a thorn sticking out of his bleeding leg, loss of the precious one-piece ball was finally conceded. His next shot was hit into the greenside bunker. Upset and tense, Doug sculled the bunker shot into a pond on the other side of the green, then asked me if it made the water.

“Drowned about a mile in” I replied.

There was a moment of silence, disbelief, and then much to my chagrin, one of those most despised weapons of mass time destruction, the ball retriever reared its ugly head. The game transitioned from golf to hunting to fishing.

“Oh, caught one! Oh, here’s another, and another, and”… a group behind now pressing. “Wow what a catch, three brand new ProV’s!”

Following a yell from Carol to “play your next dam shot please” there were two chips onto the green, a missed 20-footer followed by another 30 seconds to line up that 3-foot comebacker.

Whew, you made the putt. That was huge considering the mega endorsement deal you’ll be signing. Congratulations, you saved a nine and took an extra ten minutes to play the hole.  Doug, you could have just picked up after a 7 and made it a better day for all.

Yes my friends, this is essentially the scenario that adds twenty or more minutes to your round and why some of us want to either join a private club or quit.  I described the agony of one hole, but multiply it over eighteen and you get a clear picture of how poor shots compound themselves.

Thanks doctor, so what’s the cure?  As simple as antibiotics for a throat infection: Two marshals, one per nine with a clipboard holding each group’s start time and where they should be at any given time. The endgame is four hours.

When a group is behind the marshals are given absolute authority to pick up balls and push groups to the next tee. Ensuring a four hour round becomes a simple job of policing.

But just a minute doctor, as a course owner I don’t dare upset some of my patrons who don’t mind five hour rounds and feel they paid good money and don’t like being told what to do. My golf business is already suffering and you want to make it worse by losing customers?

That is a fair concern so I offer another solution, a new world order so to speak:  The creation of a group of courses belonging to the Fast Play Group of Courses or The Four Hour Group of Clubs. This new association could exist under the umbrella of organizations such as Golf Ontario. Imagine thirty golf courses in the GTA that advertised under this banner. All member courses would uphold the four hour policy.

The benefits for member courses could be great – a large number of golfers who want faster play would know they could enjoy it at these courses. Faster turnover would mean the club could book additional tee times thereby generating increased revenue.  There could even be bonus offerings for groups who complete a round under four hours, such as a sleeve of balls or discounts at the pro shop. Golfers who don’t mind long rounds would still have other courses to play on.

As golfers and industry reps we’ve long discussed making changes for faster play with an abundance of suggestions and we still await change. We’re a frustrated group. Now that this season is about to close, I’m urging course owners and golf associations to get together and think about the suggested proposal. If you have better ideas please let us know.

In the meantime I’m going grocery shopping. There are no line-ups at this time of day.

David Goodman
David is an overgrown kid still who still believes he can play a decent game of squash and hockey when he’s not on the course or range working on his game. Long gone from the medical industry, David loves studying the social/psychological implications golf has on the lives of its participants.

2 thoughts on “The Cure for Slow Play

  1. Re: Slow Play. In your example, I don’t blame Doug for taking so long to look for his ball. I blame the golf course operator for allowing a forested area to be ‘in play’ on the golf course. At the very least it should have been OB so Doug would have no purpose in looking for his ball. At best, cut down the forest, heck it’s a golf course not a provincial park. Golf courses are artificial environments imposed on Nature for the sole purpose of human enjoyment.

    So, to keep play moving CUT DOWN THE TREES; or thin out the treed area and cut the lower limbs and clean up the ground so that a ball hit there is easy to find.

    Not that anyone care what I think, my other tips for improving pace of play: keep the grass short so a ball hit in the rough is easy to find; cut the lower limbs on the spruces and cedars so a ball hit under a tree is visible; continuous putting, ie. you putt until you hole it and no marking after the first putt; ask the cart person to provide service between the green and the next tee; ask Marshals to assist players finding their ball or give the player a free golf ball.

    1. Hi Wetcoaster, appreciate your comments. The area Doug lost his ball was red staked, so he could drop the ball where he thinks it went out, rather than taking time to search for it. I’ll take your cutting the forest comments with tongue and cheek; forests are homes for animals, and when playing golf it, and long rough, are meant to be penal one needs to learn to keep the ball in play. Without marking the ball wouldn’t you worry about stepping on a person’s lie? I do like te free ball idea though.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *