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:
- Tedious pre-shot routines. Just because the pros say you
need a familiar routine to make a shot doesn't mean it has to take all
day and look like something from the Monty Python ministry of silly
walks. Remember that 1 second = 6 minutes figure next time
someone encourages you to take an extra practice swing.
- Not starting to prepare until everyone is waiting. Even if
you want to go through the final pre-shot routine without stopping, you
should be at the ball, with a club, a line, and a swing picked out as
soon as you safely can. Too many players hang back and don't even
think about getting ready before everyone else is waiting. Here's
where the move into golf carts has really hurt. Someone walking
typically does go straight to the ball, sizes up the shot and picks a
club so as to make the shot with minimal delay, while riders typically
sit in the cart until it's their turn and only then start to think
about the shot.
- Too many distractions on course. Technology is great, but
it's a time waster. One reason people aren't ready to play is
that they are on the phone, fumbling with golf "apps", or trying to
make sense of their GPS units. Learn to use it efficiently.
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.
- Post-swing routines. Some players feel they have to take
another swing after the real one. Why? Stuff the club in
the bag and move on.
- Bag fiddling. I've never understood why some players spend
so much time at their golf bags. The growth of covers for irons
and hybrids hasn't helped, since it takes more time to replace a club
with a cover, but people also spend extra time cleaning clubs and
sometimes fooling with scorekeeping devices. Carts are again a
factor here because the cart player has to go to the back of the cart
to do all this, then go forward again to get in and move on.
- Cluelessness. Probably the main reason. Most people
just don't seem to be paying attention to when they are in the
way. Sometimes after a shot the player will just stand there (or
more often sit in a cart) waiting for his buddie 50 yards further up
hit, keeping the group behind from hitting up.
Playing courses beyond your ability.
- Playing too far back is certainly a factor here. Golfers
must be massochists to want to play those tees that leave them hitting
woods at all the par 4's and not reaching them. The industry and
the pros are contributors here because they've widened the gap between
us and the pros. All those promisses of more yards get people
thinking they must be able to play courses 500-1000 yards longer, but
in reality most of us aren't hitting it any farther. As a
teenager I could hit shots within 10-20 yards of what pros like Arnie
typically did. 50 years later though I'm not hitting it any
longer (neither is Arnie), but those 20 something pros outhit us by at
least 100 yards. We shouldn't be kidding ourselves that we can
handle the pro tees.
- Overdesigned courses. Golfcourse architects, and those who
hire them share some of the blame here. Traditional courses may
not have been duffer freindly, but a miss typically did not leave you
going ball hunting. The trouble is a lot of modern courses are
built with lots of areas where errant shots can land out of sight in
places they won't be easily found, and duffers playing too far back and
straining for more distance spend too much time in them. Probably
the worst offender here are all those "phony links" courses, where the
designer stuck a lot of long grass on artificial mounds to make it look
like duneland. Hit a shot just a little wide and you go over one
of those mounds into the long stuff, where even if you find it you now
face another blind shot and are likely to have to hunt again.
Over-the-top bunkering, and forced carries with no bail out make things
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:
- Be ready to hit when it's your turn. That means get to your
ball and if you ride get out of the cart as soon as you can safely do
it, find the yardage, pick your club and decide how you want to play
the shot, and go through any other preparations you can so that when
you can play, you can. Limit your pre-shot routine to what's
essential. Remember that 1 second = 6 minutes.
- Get out of the way as soon as you have played. Don't dawdle
anywhere, especially around the green. If you've putted out and
left your bag or your cart in front of the green start walking back to
it while the rest finish. Handle the score on the next
hole. If you are riding, and in the way, keep your club with you,
get in the cart, and move on -- you can clean the club and replace the
cover when you next stop, probably for your partner to make a shot,
without getting in anyone's way.
- Do what you can to help the others in the first two steps.
If someone else has hit a bunker shot and still has another shot to
play while you are on the green consider raking the bunker for them.
- Consider playing out of order if the conditions of contests allow
it. We've all seen pros do this when a player has to spend
time finding a ball or getting a ruling, so why are we so reluctant to
do it in our own game.
- Play sensible tees.
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.
- Adopt reasonable tee time intervals that give players a chance of
- Encourage players to play from shorter tees.
- Find the bottleneck holes and work on speeding them up.
Here's one place the ranger might actually help in finding balls if
that's a problem. Asking players on a long par 3 to allow the
next group to hit up once they are on the green can help, especially if
the next group is walking. Eliminating course features that waste
time (like long grass too close to areas in play) can help too.
- Eliminate "ball hunting" wherever possible. Keep the edges
of water hazards trimmed so players know that if they can't see it, it
went in the hazard, rather than leaving fringes of weeds where players
will waste time hunting for the ball. Consider reducing the
amount of "no mow" in general, especially where it comes into play and
collects a lot of balls, and consider marking the remaining areas as
lateral hazards to encourage players timply to drop and move on.
- Train course personnel to stay out of the way. Mowers and
other maintenance staff sometimes hold up play especially in the
morning, but the worst offender is usually the beverage cart. As
the people who operate it to wait on tee boxes, not greens so that one
group can buy drinks (one at a time while the others tee off) while the
next one hits up to the green.