I am going to be blunt. I am going to be succinct, at least for one paragraph:
The slow-play rot that is crippling the game is incurable given current capabilities.
The USGA and others can run all the PSAs they can muster, every course in the land can have a sign in the pro shop blustering about a 4:20 play expectation, but until the malefactors are hit where it hurts, either in the wallet or by being benched, the times they aren’t a-changin’.
This is America, not Scotland.
And that sucks.
Fault can be rather evenly distributed. Some course operators simply don’t care how badly jacked up the course gets, seeing dollar signs simply in people sent to the first tee, not in how many return to 18 timely, with a smile and a desire to visit again. Many American Golf Corporation facilities come to mind in this capacity.
Owners clamoring for jacked-up, excessively-long, postcard-grade courses are at fault, too. Not every course can or should be TPC Sawgrass.
Tour pros get a big dose of the blame. Jim Furyk seems a true upstanding citizen, but his tortuously convoluted routine on the green makes the last “minute” of a basketball game go by in a nanosecond. He’s not even the worst malefactor. If Monday hackers want to emulate Sunday heroes, fine; make Rickie Fowler the exemplar, not J.B. Holmes. And don’t get me started on the LPGA, where there appears to be a local rule that players are not allowed to align themselves.
And then there are recreational players, themselves. This one’s a bit dicier, and it’s a problem that has crept into all facets of life – we’re self-centered and rude. Even in our genteel game there are enough self-possessed apes, who think paying a green fee gives them carte blanche to dawdle and play it all the way back and be wankers, to more than gum up the works.
It’s easy to tear down. Let’s build:
Use a Stick, Not a Carrot. Don’t waste hot air talking about how long each hole should take to play. EVERYONE gets out of position from time to time. When a group comes off the 9th green, that’s where you lower the boom. If they are off time, not just out of position, ‘cause maybe that group out ahead is made of rabbits, they’re done for the day. The procedure was explained at check in, no one can argue. Send ‘em packing with a half-off voucher for a future play. The players who care about pace of play soon will flock to the course and if the turtles never return, so much the better.
Players are Like Dogs; Give Them Fewer Squirrels to Chase. Yes, Mr. Developer, your monument to your small manhood and big ego can play to 7,600 yards, and you can set it up that way the first time the USGA brings the Amateur or Open to your joint. Until then, reprint scorecards, change tee signs, set the tips to 6,500 yards and let grass reclaim the two options back of there. This strategy will legitimately cover 95 percent of the people likely to show up, and when the sticks do come for a play, they know par is just a silly number anyway. This won’t deter all the goons. It will give them less real estate within which to get lost.
There are No Tee Standards. Every course needs at least one rated composite setting, choosing the nastier holes for “reduction,” and meaningful forward tees—at least two sets. If hazards and doglegs are in play for someone playing his or her ability-appropriate tees, that’s golf; don’t just mow something flat 100 yards closer to the green. Oh, get rid of cutesy naming schemes for various tee sets and lose the “girly” red and teal colors, too.
Panacea? Of course not. Operators have let this go on too long; I’ve seen far more marshals drive away from an obvious case of congestion than wade in to effectively sort it out. It’s time to reclaim the lost territory. Some will find this type of thinking too far outside the box, though it seems mind-numbingly simple. It will require diligence and commitment on the part of course operators, most of whom, for all the saber-rattling, don’t actually want to play cop. But golf already has similar “rules” that all but the most idiotic follow, and demanding adherence to pace of play is no different than, say, enforcing a path-only day. (And that would not be required if developers didn’t care more about real estate than sport.)
Golf is withering as a participation sport. The putative leaders of the game are so damn wrapped up in whether or not to admit women into their exclusive domains and doing battle with non-existent specters that they can’t or won’t deal with one of the three anchors dragging us all down, pace of play. (Cost and difficulty round out the trio.) The stuffed shirts of the USGA, R&A and at Augusta National always will have their private playlands, no matter how many of us quit the game and don’t take it up in the first place.
And, ironically, I bet there are no five-hour rounds at Merion.
There are where the vast majority of us play.