Slow Play: Causes and Fixes

Fix it BUT Also Find the Cause

This is in answer to many e-mails and comments regarding last week’s Q&A about the PGA Tour/USGA Anchoring issue and the suggestion that we had bigger problems to attend to.

There are many golfers – myself included — that believe that slow play is one of the biggest problems golf now faces. It is the source of many issues which together are eating away at the attraction and the addictive powers our game has offered for at least 500 years.

We have had some interesting and considered comments — which I am sure you have read – to last weeks Q&A.

Yes, I believe we do have bigger problems than anchoring.

If we, and especially the guardians, are serious about addressing the problems facing the game, we must find out what has caused the change as well as trying to fix the problem – which only temporarily alleviates it while we anxiously await for it to resurface.

Some suggested fixes are that we should roll back the distance the modern ball goes. Others believe that we need to play the more forward tees– which is negating the fix if we roll the ball back. I personally do not believe that equipment is to blame for slow play.

Some other suggestions are:
• Ready golf
• Putt it out (continuous putting)
• Course pace ratings
• Fewer clubs (fewer decisions)
• Distance measuring devices
• Easier courses with less rough
• Slower greens (some greens are too fast)
• A free drink for a round completed in under 3 ½ hours
• Strategic tee locations for less skilled golfers
• 12 to 15 minutes between tee times
• Specific times for juniors and beginners
• Stricter and more Slow- Play rangers
• Getting rid of golf carts around which many un-walkable courses are designed
• Change in the Handicap system by collecting and recording only medal play (tournament) scores.
The list goes on and in many cases these are reasonable fixes, and include even some root causes but without concomitantly finding out what causes the problem and only looking at fixes we are doomed to state of policing, monitoring and enforcing something which should be self enforced which can only lead to a healthier game.

How about a concerted effort to educate golfers at an early age and even some refresher programs for adults, regarding consideration of others and an understanding of the etiquette upon which our game and social living is built, all in conjunction with some real fixes?

If the guardians of our game focused their attention on Slow Play with the same vigor shown in proposing the ban on anchoring, then we would be better off, knowing that the governors and the rest of us are in sync and the game is moving in the right direction with full sails and the wind at our backs.


P.S. Please let us know how you feel we need to address the Slow Play problem by sharing your comments below.

51 thoughts on “Slow Play: Causes and Fixes

  1. What irks me is when a ranger will admonish us for slow play when we are waiting on almost every shot for the group ahead of us which is being held up by a group two holes in front of them.

  2. Reward fast play, mostly with praise and with an occasional beer on the house, (or something similar) and play will speed up. Amateurs are following the lead of the PGA pros and it should be made a point to all that quicker play is funner play! More people will play the game if it can be done in around four hours and that is good for everyone.
    Carts, in my opinion, are a mixed bag. When walking I can nearly always judge the distance as I mentally go down through the bag club by club so that when I get to my ball I can simply pull the club and hit. Riding in a cart, I’m more inclined to check the yardage before getting a club and hitting. Plus, balls on opposite sides of the fairway slow cart golf even when both players are in the fairway.

    • I recently played as a twosome at a Palm Desert, CA country club. The other player had a PRIVATE cart. I had a golf club cart as part of my green fee. We played 18 holes in 1 hour 50 minutes. Two Players, Two Carts.

      The key is ONE PERSON PER CART.

  3. A very well-balanced discussion. I agree with all of the points made by the commentators, but I must point out to Frank that I, and many other senior golfers, have to ride a golf cart as I can no longer walk the entire length of the course. I do find it regrettable that so many young and physically fit golfers choose to ride on a cart.

  4. A subtlety that would speed up play is ONE person per cart.

    Personally, I walk and carry my bag, but I have seen groups with one person per cart travel at amazing speeds.

    With one person per cart, the cart is always going forward directly to their ball. This eliminates the constant zig-zag and time spent looking for a ball because they are approaching from an opposite side of the fairway rather than from the tee on the ball’s line of flight.

    This is oh so simple to test on your home course. Have the first group of the day take 1 cart per player and see when they finish their 18. On our course in Golden Valley, MN, we have twosomes that regularly play in UNDER 2 hours. They tee off at 6:30 PM and finish at 8:20 PM, well before a summer sunset.

    The fastest round I ever played as a threesome was with 2 guys playing a match, each with their own PRIVATE cart. i was literally running between shots on some holes to keep up with them. We were the first group off that day and finished in two hours and 10 minutes as a threesome.

    • I’ll bet all these folks who advocate one person per cart never had to earn a profir running a golf course and would be the first to complain if the cart fees increased by $20.

  5. One of the biggest complaints for me is seeing two golfers in a cart go to the 1st ball and the 2nd player sits there while the 1st player assesses his/her shot and plays it, fills the divot and replaces the club. Then they both proceed to the 2nd ball where the “dance of the dunces” occurs again. Either drop off the 1st player at his ball or the 2nd player needs to get out and walk to their ball while the 1st player plays away. This gives you the time to assess wind, distance and trouble while not interfering with playing companion. Just because you are riding does not preclude you from a walking a bit.

    Another thing that irks me are iron covers. C’mon, a little bag chatter gives them character and doesn’t affect playability…and it doesn’t waste time replacing after the shot.

    Finally, park your cart towards the rear of the green towards the next tee. I see way too many people park the cart near the front then want to write down the scores before proceeding to the next tee. When I was a kid and walking all the time I was taught to place my bag near where I would exit the green. The same process should apply to cart parking. This gives the players behind you the opporunity to hit without having to watch you walk all the way to the cart and drive away.

    • Bubba is exactly right on cart riders. We don’t need more rules, just more common sense and courtesy. Also, the pre-putt routines are often way too long.

  6. continuous putting would help but it would greatly improve the time if once you make your first putt you can no longer touch your realigning your mark. also a few rule changes like to lost ball should be revisited.

  7. When we walk, where possible we continue to walk up the sides of the fairway while the furtherest away hits. This way we are in a position to hit once their ball stops instead of standing behind them then moving.

  8. The thing I see the most of is the agonizingly long pre-shot routine. Must have the exact yardage, mulltiple practice swings, deep breathing exercises, indecision, more so-called practice swings, every putt is for the US Open. Aaargghh! Some guys are just plain slow, don’t mind a 6 hour round and are not going to be “rushed”. These are usually the same people who never look behind them and never let anyone play through. I haven’t seen it yet but how much longer before we start seeing “golf course rage”? Whatever happened to the Marshalls that used to patrol the courses?

  9. Because they see the pros do it on TV, marking and realigning the ball each time you putt is a big time hindrance.
    The other thing is you usually play the same courses and you should already have an idea of what you need to hit. Also, quit watching the other guy hit, and get ready to hit your own ball. The pros and college students are terrible about this. The only time we give honor on the tee, is if someone made a birdie. We play ready golf always, and Sunday we finished with a five some in 3:45. One of the players is my wife.

  10. Frank, having played golf almost fifty years, I have seen golf evolve many ways, some good some bad. Slow play is one of the bad. There are many reasons, as you have stated, for slow play, one being the greed of golf course management at public courses. By reducing the time between tee times, all it takes is one or two golfers that are either ignorant of course etiquette, or is just someone that doesn’t care. and other than having marshalls that have the gumption to speak up there is not a whole lot that can be done.

  11. One of the root causes of slow play is the fact that pros play so slowly. Think of this: two pros playing the last nine holes of a tournament. They take 35 shots apiece, of which 15 are putts. They have caddies to carry their bags, repair their divots, rake the traps. They never have to look for a ball, or clean one. Takes them 150+ minutes to complete those last holes.
    Compare that to a foursome, each taking 45 shots, raking traps, looking for balls, replacing divots, cleaning their clubs, repairing ballmarks. They play nine holes in 135 minutes, and they are holding up the course.
    2 times 35 (giving as much time for a tap-in second putt as a full shot)=75 shots in 150 minutes = 2 minutes/shot for the pros
    4 times 45 =180 shots in 135 minutes = 45 SECONDS (3/4 MINUTE)/SHOT for the hackers.
    Me, playing alone, walking and carrying a bag, 40 shots in nine holes, 90 minutes (on a 6,500 yard course), replacing divots, fixing ballmarks, etc, etc…27 seconds/shot. And I’m 72 years old!!!!
    The solution is to put a time clock in play on Tour. Each pro must play his next shot one minute after the previous shot stops rolling. If we make them play at that pace, 35(shots) times 60(seconds) time 2 (players) = 70 minutes/nine holes! Add a bit, and 18 holes for a twosome predicts a 3 hour round. Each overtime violation=add one stroke.

    YES, scores will go up. YES, we’ll see fewer ads on TV. YES, Bones and Phil won’t have the time to read the break and talk about Phil’s 6-footer for par.
    And YES, the amateurs will play MUCH, MUCH faster, because then they can compare themselves, favorably, to the gods of the fairway.
    Where’s the downside??

  12. I do my part to keep moving by buying cheap $.50 balls so if I lose one I don’t spend a lot of time looking for it. Those guys who loose a $4 ProV1 look for their ball a lot longer than I do. I get used Titleists at a golf show or on line.

  13. I play 5 days a week and it is my feeling that most golfers are not ready when their turn comes. They go thru routines that would make any pro proud. Too much time looking for lost balls. Not enough “gimmies” on really short putts, especially when money is riding on the game. Plumb bobbers and line on the ball line-ups. Mulligans ala Bill Clinton. When I play alone I don’t pull the pin on an approach putt, have a club ready for the shot and don’t waste time trying to look like a pro. Get a club , find your target and just hit it. Usually 2 to 2 and a half hours for 18 holes.

  14. Personally, I don’t want larger holes, and I don’t want to rude the number of them. There will still be slow play even if the game is made easier.

    What I would like to see is players being ready when it’s their turn. Get your yardage, assess the wind, decide what club you’re going to use and the type of shot you’re going to hit WHILE your playing partner is hitting.

    This alone should take care of the problem for the most part, imo.

  15. Personally, my pet solution to the slow play problem would be to enlarge the hole to six inches, but maybe I’m projecting…. Seriously, any and all of your measures would make significant improvement in playing time. I’m particularly attracted by the inclusion of ready golf, continuous putting, and slower greens. These three measures alone would make an enormous difference.

    You didn’t mention issuing weapons to shoot golfers who leave their carts without a club in their hands.

    • In experiments, it turns out that everyone, from weekenders to touring pros, liked larger holes, maybe even 8 inches. Would make it alot more fun when you have a chance to make something over 5 feet!

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