Can Kiawah Island Stop Slow Play?

The Ninth at Kiawah's Ocean Course, the best public in the East!

Slow play is not just annoying, it is killing golf. Yet another National Golf Foundation report full of bad news for the sport just came out, with golf participation continuing to decline. I’ve been interviewing golf course architects recently about this phenomenon, and everyone is in agreement: the number one problem is that golf takes too long.

Times have changed, kids have to go to soccer games, parents can’t just ditch 6 hours on Saturday to go play golf and have lunch. Many leading architects have suggested making courses with less holes, from 6-12, but the folks at the venerable Kiawah Island Golf Resort, one of my favorites on the planet, have a simpler suggestion: speed up play.

The resort is testing a new program this summer in an effort to get golfers to finish eighteen holes in three hours or less.  From July 9 to August 31, the resort is going to block designated “fast play” times on its courses for singles, twosomes, and threesomes only, then crack the whip.

“One of the major challenges that keeps many golfers off the course is the amount of time it takes to play 18 holes,” said Brian Gerard, Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Director of Golf.  “In response, we’ve developed this test program aimed at getting players around the course in less than three hours.  We have set aside either the first times in the morning or reserved early afternoon times for players starting at 12:30pm to allow for quick play.  The resort is asking that players who feel they will not be able to meet this target time to book tee times outside the “Three Hour Golf” timeframe.”

The “Three Hour Golf” program will rotate between Osprey Point, Cougar Point, Oak Point and Turtle Point, with one course designated daily. Additionally, select dates and times will be tested on the flagship Ocean Course as well. During these times, rather than the normal 10-minute tee time intervals, golfers will get just 7 to 8 minutes. Rangers will be aggressive in asking slower players to pick up the pace.

The Jack Nicklaus designed Turtle Point course at Kiawah.

I for one hope it works, as there is nothing more frustrating than being stuck behind a group with an open hole ahead of them who are lagging not for any good reason, but just because they are slow.

Kiawah’s Ocean Course is in my opinion, the finest public golf course in the eastern US, and will soon become a Major Venue, an honor it has long deserved, when it hosts next year’s PGA Championship. It has already held the Ryder Cup, and the resort’s hotel, the Sanctuary, is also one of the finest in the game, awarded the highest possible 5-Star rating by Forbes (formerly Mobil). The other four courses at Kiawah are all well maintained and fun to play. The only thing that could possibly make this place better is faster rounds, so I could play 54 rather than just 36 each day!

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