Featured Article By Greg Nathan*
A Pace of Play Resource for Facility Owners/Operators
The term “slow” in “slow play” is, of course, relative. Nobody actually plays golf slowly. The truth is that golfers all play at different speeds, resulting from on a variety of factors, including physical ability, course and weather conditions, skill level and general behavior and demeanor while on the golf course. As there is no clearly defined “middle” relating to the speed at which a round of golf is played or the time in which a golfer or two or a group takes from teeing off on #1 to holing out on #18 there also can be no clearly defined fast or slow.
Such terms as “slow," “fast," “sluggish,” “deliberate,” or, for that matter “lightning quick” and even “what the heck’s the hurry?” all are relative terms, nothing more.
But when one asks, “Relative to what?”— now golf has a problem. Not to put too fine a point on it, but for golf to be good, to be enjoyed by everyone, it has to move.
WHY IS SLOW PLAY A PROBLEM?
When a lot of golfers play at a slower speed than others out on the course—usually at a pace slower than that desired by a club or course—then the flow of players moving from the first tee to the 18th becomes uneven. This is not a problem for players who proceed at a slower-than-average speed: nothing is likely to be in their way. This is, however, a problem for players who progress above average speed. They likely have to wait.
They may become frustrated. With the game to a certain extent a matter of muscle memory and rhythm, what might have been a good round leading to a promising score could gradually fall apart. A round that was planned to take a few hours can ruin events for the rest of an entire day —indeed, slow play could result in the round being aborted. Slow play also can hamper the growth of the game, in that it can deter new golfers who may be otherwise enthusiastic from pursuing it, while also driving existing golfers away from play. And while golfers tend to be a hardy, enthusiastic bunch who will play in all species of weather, few enjoy standing around in wind, cold or rain (or even blistering sunshine).
In a recent study conducted by the National Golf Foundation (NGF),
"slow play — having to wait on the group in front more than a few times" was cited by 91% of those surveyed as something that bothers them most and detracts from their golf experience. In comparison, fewer than half of that total (40%) cited "the amount of money it costs.” The most foreboding result, however, showed that 34% of all golfers surveyed listed "slow play" as something that could drive them away from the game.
The irony is that golf, like many other sports—baseball springs to mind—was designed to fill time, although it has had different origins. When golf began in Scotland more than 400 years ago, a lot of players were shepherds whiling away their days hitting stones with sticks while their sheep grazed nearby. In the United States, before golf became a game of social import, it was a distraction from midweek business and industry for small groups of men.
That of course would soon change. As commerce, industry, and technology boomed globally in the 20th century, people just had more to do. Golf became less of a time-filler than a sport that was best fitted in between work and family. More important, in addition to being a great social influence, golf became big business, not just in terms of equipment sales and the sales and marketing of non-golf items (from beer to Swiss watches) but also in terms of rounds played.
City or state municipalities that operate golf courses do so certainly for the wellbeing of residents and visitors, but also with the intent that income from tee times and concessions would contribute to revenues. A public golf course wants to fit as many golfers as possible onto a course on any given day without packing so many on that no one can move. But if the pace of place is slow, simple math tells you that fewer golfers can play and that means fewer tee times. This also applies to privately owned "Daily Fee" courses. (Slow play tends not to be as much of a problem at private clubs where courses are less busy, and at resorts, where any losses from greens fees are often offset by logo merchandise purchases in pro shops, money spent in restaurants and bars/grills, and other resort revenue streams.
To measure the effect of slow play on golf as a business, the NGF
also recently conducted a "Pace of Play Survey"
of 700 Daily Fee, Municipal and Private golf facilities. One of the many objectives of the research was to highlight aspects that contribute to slow play problems and identify what may have been successful for a facility in combating it. The Survey found that, while it is generally accepted that improving player behavior (education on golf’s Rules and Etiquette, as well as ways to play more "efficiently") improves pace of play, there are many other causes, steps and policies that a facility’s management can take to control some of the contributors to slow play.
WHAT IS SLOW PLAY?
The target for most golf courses is for a group of four players to finish 18-holes in four and a half hours or less. Some do play faster—in the 1980s, for example, GOLF Magazine
conducted a campaign with the help of several PGA TOUR professionals titled "Four Hours or Less!"
and President George H.W. Bush the Elder was famed for playing in less than two hours. But four hours and 30 minutes (four hours and 15 minutes or less for the more straightforward, usually easier courses) is the norm. Or, rather, it is the ideal. But rarely can a facility maintain that pace throughout a typical day; hence, the problem of slow play.
The Pace of Play study reported that the typical 18-hole round took four hours and 16 minutes during peak times (weekends in-season) and three hours and 55 minutes at non-peak times (such as midweek afternoons). However, 36% of all peak-time rounds lasted more than four hours and 30 minutes, and 87% of peak-time rounds took at least four hours.
A "Pace of Play Study"
published in 2011 by the PGA of America, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Club Managers Association of America
produced similar results. This study covered 13 municipal, resort and private facilities in California and Florida. It reported an average round time of four hours and 14 minutes overall: four hours and 24 minutes at public facilities, four hours and nine minutes at private, and four hours and five minutes at resorts. It also found that "The groups in the morning played in less time than the groups in the middle of the day. Pace of play slowed down in the middle of the day, when the course was fully loaded with players, then began to accelerate again with fewer later afternoon tee times being utilized."
It also pointed out something that lies at the heart of the problem of slow play: a lot of slow players do not believe they are slow, or if they do, they certainly don't want to concede it. This study noted, "the tee time and round-tracking sheets completed by the golf facility confirmed that most groups took longer than their self-reported times."
WHAT CAUSES SLOW PLAY?
As noted from the recent NGF
Pace of Play Study, there is no single cause, despite general perceptions. In fact, every area of the game, from the players themselves, the course architect, the greens superintendent, the facility management, the starter, the marshals, the on-course concession operators, the terrain, the hazards, contributes to slow play.
Just as the causes of slow play are manifold, so are the sources that have come forward to identify said causes. In addition to the NGF and the PGA/GCSAA/CMAA, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland—the game's two ruling bodies—as well as the PGA TOUR (via its Tournament Players Club network), the LPGA Tour and several regional and local golf associations all have conducted surveys and issued conclusions.
Pace of Play Survey asked "WHAT SLOWS PLAY?"
and reported these causes (with the percentage of facilities mentioning them):
• Golfers playing tees too long for them (57%)
• Golfers looking for lost balls (56%)
• Holes that cause a bottleneck (41%)
• Golfers stopping for food and beverages (37%)
• Cart path-only policies (33%)
• Water hazards (24%)
• Inexperienced golfers/lack of golfer education (17%)
• Narrow fairways (15%)
• Bunkers/waste areas (14%)
• Blind shots (12%)
• Short tee-time intervals (9%).
Other reasons cited by other golf groups included:
• Examples set by professional golfers
• Players not being ready to hit. They also should plan their next shots as they walk briskly towards it.
• Too many practice swings. (this also gets back to average players imitating Tour professionals by checking
and rechecking yardage books, delaying over final club selection, taking several practice swings and employing a long pre-shot routine.)
• Players marking scorecards before leaving green.
• Players not playing "Ready Golf" (playing when ready instead of waiting for player closest from the hole to hit)
• Lack of "pace-of-play clocks" through the course
• Known slow players being given tee times during peak periods
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Late-arriving groups (at the tee)
• Starting intervals too short
• Marshaling practices
• Performance measurement (or lack thereof)
• Greens that are too fast
• High rough
• Courses not properly marked
• Overall poor conditions
• Changes being difficult to implement
• Pace of play not a priority
All of which begs the question: If there are so many contributors to slow play, isn't speeding up play a lost cause?
Not really. It's true that there is no silver bullet, but it also is true that some players indeed play faster than others, which suggest many golfers can play faster. And there remains the issue of productivity: the crucial bottom line. In addition there exist clear examples of how a simple change in practices can help.
Study noted, for instance, that "During the study, improvement success at one participating municipal course underscored the improvement potential for every course. At the end of the first day, the study's Project Manager [assigned to that course] recommended some changes, which were implemented on Day 2. The impressive results: Average round times were reduced by 22 minutes, every group started exactly at its assigned time, and customers were loud in their praise. The General Manager has maintained and expanded the changes and is already realizing bottom line results."
SUGGESTIONS AND SOLUTIONS FOR SLOW PLAY
The chance of overall pace of play improving via players becoming more skillful is slim. Both the NGF
and the USGA
concur that a "Core" golfer is someone who plays more than eight rounds per year, and averages about 94 strokes per round, with an average Handicap Index of 20.0.
Despite these golfers' well-intentioned and sometimes diligent efforts at improvement, these numbers have been consistent for many years.
Skilled golfers account for a small portion of the market, with only seven percent of core players averaging a score under 80 and less than one percent playing to scratch (or zero Handicap Index).
So-called "baby boomers" make up the largest group of golfers, but 27% of core golfers are retirees, and they play significantly more golf per capita than boomers.
It's also true that most Core golfers play on public facilities, where slow play is most problematic—but this is exactly where the game can and should be just as productive and enjoyable as at private and resort courses. So what can be done?
As with the problems identified, so the solutions are just as ubiquitous, from all the major organizations. As one might imagine, a lot of solutions cited are directly related to the problems. It's like the old story about the man who says to his doctor "It hurts when I do this," to which the doctor replies, "Well, don't do that."
For instance, the NGF
Pace of Play Survey, in addition to "WHAT SLOWS PLAY,"
asked its 700 responding facilities "WHAT SPEEDS UP PLAY?"
and received the following responses (with percentage of facilities mentioning).
• Encouragement of Ready Golf (69%)
• Encouraging proper tees (47%)
• Ranger program (46%)
• Generous fairways (40%)
• Golfer education (37%)
• Shortened rough (35%)
• Fewer water hazards (30%)
• Longer tee-time intervals (27%)
• Limited bunkers/waste areas (22%)
• Pace of play programs/systems (12%)
• Re-positioning groups (10%).
The NGF then compared the most "common" problems with the most favored solutions and, by matching the two, came up with a prioritized list of topics on which all golf facilities should focus to combat slow play.
1. Playing proper tees.
Facilities should encourage golfers to play the proper tees, based on ability. They also should assign suggested handicap ranges to the tee sets on the scorecard.
(In a related project, the USGA
and the PGA of America
launched a program from July 5-17 of 2011 titled "TEE IT FORWARD."
Golfers at almost 2,000 facilities nationwide were encouraged to play from tees best suited to their ability. Initial responses from a consumer survey indicated that 70 percent of respondents found golf more enjoyable; 90 percent said they played faster or at about the same pace; 91 percent said they were likely to recommend "TEE IT FORWARD"
to a friend and would likely do it again themselves; and 52 percent stated they were likely to play golf more often with the encouragement to "TEE IT FORWARD."
Another survey found that an average of 123 golfers per facility used the guidelines and a total of approximately 237,000 golfers used "TEE IT FORWARD"
during the promotion period. The program was repeated again in 2012.)
2. Food & Beverage Time.
Facilities should locate food/snacks only along the natural route between the ninth green and the 10th tee, and encourage a quick turn-around. If feasible, they should offer pre-ordering via monitors on golf cars.
3. Inexperienced golfers.
Facilities should develop and use programs that will help inexperienced golfers navigate a course most effectively (e.g., golfers should seek a quick orientation to the golf course and any local or daily rules that may apply from the starter). Facilities also should contact the USGA
for its “Pace of Play Guide”
that can be made available to all players.
4. Tee-time intervals.
Facilities should focus on effectively spacing tee-times to avoid bottlenecks and stacking on the golf course—proper control from an effective starter and ranger program is necessary here (see No. 6, below).
As noted earlier. "Ready Golf" encourages golfers to hit shots as ready, not necessarily in an “honor’ order or order of farthest from the hole. Golfers should, however, be cautioned about safety issues, to make sure no other golfers in their own group or any ahead of them, are in their line of play.
5. Ready Golf.
As noted earlier. "Ready Golf"
encourages golfers to hit shots as ready, not necessarily in an “honor" order or order of farthest from the hole. Golfers should be cautioned about safety issues to make sure no other golfers in their own group (or any ahead of them) are in their line of play. (It should be noted that Ready Golf might not be a necessary solution when golfers are simply ready to play when it is their turn. They can do this by thinking about their shot as they walk briskly to their balls, work out yardage and choose a club quickly—eyeballing distance quickly becomes natural—avoid excessive practice swings, minimize the length of a pre-shot routine, and then replace any divots and proceed immediately.)
6. Ranger programs.
Facilities should institute an effective ranger program with all the tools necessary, technical and otherwise, to manage bottleneck holes, re-position slower groups, educate new golfers, and to track pace of play.
Generally speaking, a group is considered to be slow when a hole "opens up" in front of them, which is to say that the group in front has left the green of a par four before the slow group tees off. Some facilities’ rangers have the power to enforce rules designed to fix this.
At the eight-course Pinehurst Resort
in North Carolina, there is resort guests and member play. The resort's Members Golf Association (MGA) recently issued a series of guidelines that instructs rangers to ask a slow group to skip a hole — and that all golfers should play "ready golf". "Pace of play has been a concern within the MGA organization for years," the guidelines began. "More recently we have had a number of MGA resignations (folks not renewing their MGA membership) due to pace of play issues."
Ranger programs should provide education on how to avoid confrontation. This last topic surfaced often in the NGF, USGA,
studies. Although some facilities employ paid rangers, many or most are staffed with volunteers - often retirees. In addition to the obvious problem of possibile adverse vocal and physical reactions from golfers who are told to pick up the pace, there is also the problem of sullying the golf experience for other golfers on the course - which could lead to a drop in new and repeat business.
For this reason, some facilities are moving towards a "flag" system. Golfers are informed before they start not only of their expected playing time, but also that during their round they will observe rangers driving past them on golf carts. Each cart will fly a flag. If it is green, then all is well. If it is yellow, it means the group would be advised to pick up the pace. If it is red, it means that soon they will receive "help" in the form, for example, of being moved automatically to the next tee — still being allowed to report a score for handicap purposes—or being asked to stand aside and let a faster group play through. The point is to encourage faster play while avoiding confrontation.
Slow-play confrontation is not restricted to golfers and rangers. However, there have been several incidents of golfers expressing their displeasure to other golfers. For example at Greenhorn Creek
in Northern California, a golfer was allegedly assaulted by a fellow golfer. According to the police report, the victim had confronted a player in the group behind them after which the latter and his playing partners made a few disparaging remarks about the pace of play of the eventual victim's wife. To add injury to insult, the golfer in the group behind allegedly justified his position by striking the victim with a golf club. It was the third such incident in California in 2012.
7. Pace of play programs/systems.
Several technological solutions are available to facilities for managing pace of play, including GPS on golf cars, pace clocks and charts on each teeing ground.
The solutions above were from the NGF
Survey. Proposed strategies from related studies included:
• Facilities should make pace of play a priority and seek help from member associations and other outside sources
• Source and distribute USGA
"Pace Ratings." The USGA
also will visit and audit courses without an existing Pace Rating
• Institute formal ranger and other staff training programs
• Have club professionals consult with senior management
• Implement "architectural" solutions, such as making courses wider and shorter (the latter with the addition of new tees), have shorter distances between greens and tees, contour fairways and greens to funnel shots. Several courses across the country have been implementing tree removal programs, based primarily on improving turf conditions through increased sunlight, but this also can help pace of play. Bunker and other hazard removal is also helpful
• Implement "maintenance" solutions, such as keeping rough at a manageable height, eliminating heavy brush and undergrowth near playing areas, clearing the banks of water hazards; cutting holes in flat, accessible areas during peak periods, and making sure signage is accurate and ubiquitous
• Send late-arriving groups directly to the second tee
• Reward players for fast play
• Educate players on the process for—and the need to — hit provisional balls if there is the slightest sense that a ball could be lost or out of bounds
• Limit alcohol consumption
• Penalize players for slow play. This may not be a viable solution for amateurs playing recreational rounds, but it already is used on pro tours and in significant amateur championships
Originally posted by GregNathan
on 12 Sep 2012.
All contributors: GregNathan
Post Fan Comment!
If you enjoyed reading A Pace of Play Resource for Facility Owners/Operators
, you can post a note to the authors that contributed to the article. Your positive feedback is greatly appreciated! The notes are posted to the contributing author's Member Page (which you can view by clicking on the author's name above).
If you have any questions or constructive criticism, please don't post them here. Instead, click on the "Discuss" tab to leave a note on how to improve the article.
Rate This Article
View top-rated articles!
You need to Login or register to rate articles.
| Accuracy || My vote: 0, Total votes: 0, Avg. vote: 0 |
| Usefulness || My vote: 0, Total votes: 0, Avg. vote: 0 |