Last week I volunteered at the Valero Texas Open. I walked 18 holes with a three-some of PGA Tour professionals each day. All four days I walked step-by-step with these guys and all four days they never finished in less than five hours. Yes, you read that right – FIVE HOURS FOR 18 HOLES.
The latest pace-of-play discussion is not new. But due to the fact a 14-year old prodigy from China was hit with a one-shot penalty yesterday in the second round of The Masters, the discussion has been catapulted into the spotlight once again. In all honesty, it needs to be visited again and again and again and I don’t think this will be last we hear of it going forward.
Where does the pace-of-play issue start? Does it start in junior golf at the local level? Does it fall on the shoulders of high school and college coaches? Or is it the pros who should set an example on pace of play? It’s such a tough question and it’s so hard to come up with just one answer.
Let’s look at the PGA Tour level because that’s where you hear on TV all the time from commentators and the players about how slow it was in a particular tournament. I think the main source of slow play on the PGA Tour started with the emergence of the sports psychologist. Ask any “mental guru” and they will tell you to form a pre-shot routine and stick with it. These pre-shot routines take time, sometimes too much time. Then if the player doesn’t feel comfortable, then they have are told to back off and start over. Great, now we’ve spent two minutes waiting for you to get comfortable. Multiply that by 70 shots on a given day, and we have 140 minutes of pre-shot routines. I understand these guys are playing for millions of dollars in prize money and their livelihood depends on their next shot. But let’s face it, some of these guys are well off and playing 30-minutes faster is not going to make them worse golfers.
To be fair, the slow play issue is not only a problem on the professional level. It’s a problem on any level. I have played in numerous local amateur events around San Antonio and 5-hour rounds are not uncommon. I play in a golf group through my work and once a month we hold events. Rounds are well over 5-hours during that play. Go play in any charity golf scramble and it take 5 hours. I volunteered last year at the Women’s Mid-Amateur here in San Antonio and the rounds took over 4.5 hours. Again, the stakes are high and I understand that. But golfers from all levels have to be conscious of playing time. Maybe at the local level golf courses should install timers on the cart that beep if you get behind. GPS units attached to golf carts have the pace of play clock but who pay’s attention to that?
Look, there is not an absolute 100% effective way to monitor 144 golfers during a charity event or keep tabs on a golf course full of weekend hackers. On the PGA Tour level, hitting players with one-shot penalties is the way to go. Fines of $5,000 or $10,000 are nothing to these guys when their take home pay is millions. You can’t penalize a local hacker who is paying money to play your course. But starting communication in the clubhouse as you’re checking in is a good start. What’s wrong with the golf shop attendant mentioning how important pace of play is? What’s wrong with the marshal or starter reiterating that point on the first tee? There is nothing wrong with it and more golf courses should start doing it.