Why Golf takes too long

Many of us have felt for years that it's taking too long to play a round of golf.  It's not that we don't enjoy being on the course, but nobody likes waiting, and everyone is too busy.  The fact that many of us feel we must bring our phones on the course because it takes long enough to play that we can't be out of touch that long is an indication of the trouble.

It didn't used to be this way.  Golf in the land where it was born was a quick affair, and even 36 hole matches could be played in half a day.  Even in the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps the golden age of golf in the US, where millions inspired by the likes of Hogan and Palmer flocked to courses, golf was something the weekend warrier could do with a few hours and still have most of the day for family and chores.  Now many bemoan the 5 and 6 hour rounds common on public courses in urban areas.  At the professional level it's reached the poiont where it's difficult to run a full field tournament because the length of time required to play the morning round doesn't leave enough daylight to finish in the afternoon.  The USGA got fed up when rounds at the 2012 US Women's Open (a tournament both my wife and I worked as volunteers in brutal heat) took as long as 6 hours -- for a 3some!  Foursome rounds at the Solheim and Ryder cups often go over 4 hours.  What went wrong?

There are many factors responsible for the deterioration in playing time.  All come down to 3 things:

Not being ready to hit the shot when it's your turn to play.

This is what ready golf is all about, but people have forgotten it.  A foursome of bogie golfers takes 360 shots to play 18 holes.  That means that every extra second taken by players to get ready to play their shots means an extra 6 minutes in your round.  The contributing factors are:

Wasting time after hitting the shot.

This isn't always a problem, but often your standing in the fairway is holding up someone behind you from playing, and whenever that's the case you need to get out of the way as quickly as possible. Again there are many culprits.

Playing courses beyond your ability.

Putting people on the course too fast. 

As courses get harder, tee times should be farther apart to allow players more time to play the slow holes.  In fact, the opposite has happened -- course owners tighten tee time intervals to get more greens fees, and this means more unhappy players.  The problem is that people typically don't understand the limits to pace of play.  What happens is that somewhere on the course there's a bottleneck that limits how many golfers can finish in a given interval of time.  This is the place where it takes the longest for a player to play from and then play any other shots required to get out of the way of the next group in the same place.  Often it's a long par 3 -- You hit from the tee, miss the green, then have to make your recoveries and putt out before the next group can hit.  (Sometimes it's the second shot on a long par 4 or a reachable par 5 that's the limit).  If it takes 12 minutes for a foursome to play from that spot and get out of the way, then only 5 groups an hour will actually be able to finish their rounds.  If the tee time interval is 10 minutes, 6 groups per hour will start, while only 5 finish.  What happens to the other group?  Well they wind up waiting somewhere on the course in front of that bottleneck.  Because it's going to take that group 12 minutes to play the bottlenece, for every hour later in the day everyone's round gets 12 minutes longer.  Ugh.  (The only reason why this doesn't go on until sunset is that some groups have less than 4 players (and play the bottleneck a little faster, and eventually some tee times go unused, allowing the course to "catch up".   There's not much the golfer can do here.

So, what's are we to do about it?

The bottom line is there are things the golfer can do, and things that only the course operator can do.

For the player:

For the course operator

The bottom line is that golf should be fun, waiting isn't fun, so let's have less of it.  If you want to spend 5-6 hours at the golf course, play 27 or 36, or spend the extra time in the clubhouse.

Warren Montgomery