The president of the USGA, Glen Nager, included nine paragraphs on slow play in his annual address to the association’s executive board. Mo’ Golf, double-pseudonyming as RonMon, put down his thoughts on the topic. Here, Vinnie Kmetz, a wealth of experience and knowledge in and on the game of golf, presents his Statement of Belief on slow play in golf. 

1. The USGA and your course: As a Caddiemaster/Starter for 16 years and a person who has vetted, hired and supervised Rangers and performed the function myself across that and longer time on both public and private facilities, I think the entirety of the primary efforts must be focused on Public Access/Resort courses. The private club world is too diverse, too culturally solipsistic, to adhere to a rule(s) they themselves did not make and did not argue out…especially the Penalty phase for any violation(s). In addition, the various “Carrots” that prospect a solution on the public track are largely ineffective for stimulating action in the private one.

The USGA would do more for leadership on the issue by setting a standard for their own competitions. As they do for Greens Section and Competition (equipment) standards, they should take some of that US Open merchandise booty and make a real study, first in their own competitions, then in a sampling of select high volume courses across the country.

Any leader, the USGA or other, who doesn’t experience and study a problem before proclaiming a solution, is heading right for puffery and boondoggle. Such a study might point to solutions or anti-slow play considerations that are not yet on the table (greenside play and marking? raking bunkers?…things we haven’t considered yet). But in the main, the USGA should institute a studied standard for their own competitions, announce WHY they have done this and WHY the standard is what it is, and implement it without exception. Saying, as President Nager did, that slow play is “incompatible with life in modern society” is a meaningless, general statement, more worthy of Washington than Far Hills.

2. Foursomes. I fear the piece that Ron wrote might get off-track in regard to the Foursomes play. If this were to be adopted with some universality, then we’re dampening a great deal of what drives people to play by thrusting them into a format that is rarely experienced here in the US. The economic aspect IS huge, but so is the cultural one. What if your playing group is less than four?  And you are (as happens a great volume of the time) paired with singles, duos, or are yourself the single player matched?

I realize the suggestion was made thinking of specific times of play, and — trying to think flexibly — it might work if “Non-Premium” times (Tuesday afternoons, Wed mornings) were reserved and voluminously promoted for such style of play…but for most other premium times, this will chafe people…to the extent that they would resist it, just to resist it.

The number of ways people combine, schedule and deign to play are so vast that ONE box that embraces an entire group of four or fewer customers is likely to send people elsewhere. The incentives described elsewhere in RM’s piece would support a limited block of time to try the idea at those non-premium times.

I can only imagine what I would feel like if I went to a destination or top resort course (no less your local favorite) as a duo and found that not only did I have to march to this drum, but that the fortune of agreeing to such a thing meant that I didn’t get to approach the Punchbowl green and my companion didn’t get to play the Alps green or putt on a Biarritz.

Worse, we might have to play a foursome style with people who either stink or are much better than us…or don’t care about the match element of it. What in God’s name would we be doing playing a foursome; just to facilitate a speed that’s a half hour faster? That’s not for me, that is for the proprietors. $20 off or a drink voucher or merchandise in the shop isn’t really going to substitute for what might be missed or why I play golf to start with.

3. Rangers – I know some weak rangers…lazy, slow, ornery, biased…and I know some great rangers…affable, helpful, compassionate, facilitating…but in gross, Ron’s sentiments are correct; the Ranger can only be as effective as the organization behind him. Ideally, at a 25,000+ round course, there should be two (2) Rangers, because a Ranger needs a visibility and a presence and groups need to be aware of them from the opening of a round to the 18th tee. There are several arrows in the quiver of how a Ranger(s) can be effective, but one that worked better than any other on the course is “Silent/non-confrontational” ranging.

I would never confront a slow group while playing or between holes. After I established they were off-pace, I would first, tack a note to their next set of tee markers…drive an index card with a tee through right into the teeing ground telling them that they were off-pace, where the group ahead was, what pace they needed to get up to, and what will happen if they do not (sometimes I put this note in the next cup they were to play to)…then I would monitor them out-of-sight to see if they adhered to that standard for that next hole…and if they did not, I would go 320 yards out from the next shot or well beyond the green on a Par 3…right in the middle of their vision—far enough that they couldn’t talk to me but plainly in their visual field and I would just sit there looking at my watch. As soon as they started to come near, I would move well out for the next shot. If this did not work still, I put another note on a subsequent tee or cup telling them…”You will tee off/finish such and such a hole by 10:25 am or you will be removed from the course…skip a hole if you like, but if you want to play beyond #5…you will have finished it by 10:25am.” The only time I ever actually spoke to a slow group was when I was either removing them or escorting them to bypass a particular hole (usually the latter, because I offered “skipping” as a more palatable alternative than removal). Once they were no longer in violation I treated them as John Q. Golfer…”Hi, how are you; how are you playing?”

4. Vouchers and other incentives, discount merchandise, beverage coupons, free rounds once you’ve played 15 fast ones—all those incentives are worthy of experiment, but the single biggest obstacle to its fair and well-received implementation is how you apply the reward to those whose pace has been destroyed, not of their own accord, but because of the group(s) in front of them. If damage has been done for everyone behind by one or more of the first eight groups, it’s quite complicated to measure and chasten or reward everyone else’s time behind them:

My suggestions:
A. The first groups of the day are given a strenuous standard for those incentives, something near impossible to adhere to from studied conditions…3 hrs 20 minutes? 3:15?
B. Every 20 minute bloc of time thereafter will be allotted an additional “tee time interval” (most groups go out in alternating 7,8 or 9 minutes intervals) to meet the incentive criteria. eg:
7:00 – 7:20 = 3 hrs 20 minutes
7:20 – 7:40 = 3 hrs 27 28, 29, minutes (depending on your starting intervals)
7: 40 – 8:00 = 3 hrs 35 minutes (I’m using 8 minute intervals)
8:00 – 8:20 = 3 hrs 43 minutes
8:20 – 8:40 = 3 hrs 51 minutes
8:40 – 9:00 = 3 hrs 59 minutes

***This is the point by which courses that use two tees will generally shut play for rounding; any Back 9 tee off bloc should only run from 7:30 – 8:30 (permitting 9 groups or up to 36 players). This structure permits up to 108 players (if there’s no decay over a morning of starting times) off two tees between the hours of 7:00 am – 10:45, whereby the course can either re-set all such parameters and/or start anew.  The idea of having the first groups adhere to a front nine standard…(100 minutes) might be tinkered with depending on how they are crashing into the turn.

***It is not usually feasible, but if it can be coordinated with time/maintenance practices, only the first tee should be used ideally.  If local noise ordinance and the superintendent’s maintenance regimen can accommodate, the first tee should open at 6:30 and be the only tee used, especially on premium Weekend – Holidays.

Of course two things have to be implemented to support this purely “incentive side of the system”
because it is designed to be hard to attain:

i – 7:00 – 8:00 am – the incentive time is listed above, but the VIOLATION enforcement time = 3:45
ii – 8:00 – 8:30 – the incentive time is listed above but the VIOLATION time = 4:00 hours
iii – 8:30 – 9:00 – the incentive time is listed above, but the VIOLATION time = 4:10 hours.

5. Your Course in Particular: There’s a number of pure GCA issues that have to be accounted for, types of opening holes, rough, out of bounds, opening hole difficulties, reachable par 4s on first hole, blind opening holes, safety etc. But each venue must know itself, study itself and act accordingly in making reasonable policies.  What works and could be well-received at one facility, would be a mess at another.

6.  Gas and Electric: Still, one 800 lb automated gorilla in the room is Carts.  There are hard and fast camps in serious golf circles that decry them, think they are an anathema to the game, and should be pushed out of the world in the same creeping way smokers have been corralled into fewer and fewer operational spaces.  I am not one of those people.  I think carts are somewhere between cheaply produced golf balls and lawnmowers in terms of making and keeping Golf a voluminous world-wide activity.  The only reason I mention this contextual debate is that both public and private venues utilize the carts as a semi-significant source of revenue and in the public world this is make or break kind of amenity, for operations and for viability in competition with other courses that do offer it.

For me they are not evil, but to those on the other side, I say they are a necessary evil and in so being, must be accounted for in the physical plans of the course—not as prioritized or important as pure, designed playing features, but legitimate nonetheless. The economic and viability function carts perform far outweigh their damage or perceived “insult’ to the essence of the game.  God knows how many hours of pleasure and millions in revenue, courses have realized on days that would have been cancelled if carts could not get out there.

  1.  I don’t think most care if a ball hits a cart path and remains in play. Where the location of traffic flows require cart traffic right in the midst of play let them be routed by the designer and course committee near those areas, where it can be effectively routed away from play (in the general interstitial areas between targets) do that. Again, each course must know itself and must understand how their course and constituent holes are played. The impact of a path nearby heavy play areas can be mitigated by the material used to make the path—balls don’t rocket unfairly off crushed stone.
  2. More horizontal cart paths across the fairway.  On days that require the carts to stay on paths and/or the 90 degree rule of usage (more frequent than the casual reader might realize), this one feature could do wonders for pace of play.
  3. No Belgian block or wood guard rails.  First of all, it’s ugly.  Second it’s expensive. Third, it automatically limits flexibility if a different traffic pattern is required for some ad hoc/unanticipated reason.  Light roping and/or signage are much less intrusive to the eye and can be just as effective.  Also, if the impetus for a hard and fast barrier is that people violate and damage protected turf with carts, I suggest that the Ranger(s) be enlisted to perform an enforcement function, which should be a natural adjunct of their role anyway.
  4. Scatter Cart Traffic.  While it cannot work on every hole of every course, I find great results from the simple sign command…”scatter cart traffic.” At Apawamis, one of the oldest, crustiest, traditionalist classic clubs in the Northeast (if not the country) they have but three rules: Use carts paths when possible; Keep carts 10 yards from any green or tee; Scatter traffic  Repeated turf avenues where carts must tread are the greatest danger to turf quality and appearance. The more that the culture and design of the course can permit this, the less the impact of carts.  Again, though, it is a design issue – individual to the property – one that should not be dismissed because of a priori ideological beliefs.

7.  Other Wildcard Suggestions for Better Pace:

  • No ball retrievers allowed on the course…the starter should remove them from bags before play begins. This is a little more pressing at private clubs where select persons treat fishing the Balata Kro-Flites out of the drink as a raison d’etre. Shouts, cursing and enmity often curtail this activity at public places.
  • More prolific Drop Areas near hazards – partially a design issue, but if balls going into water or environmental hazards regularly put people in a quandary as to where to proceed with play, the ubiquitous “Drop Circle” is a much quicker solution.  It’s good enough for the Tour; it’s good enough for your nearby “Bogey Hills.”
  • If a Halfway House is part of your operation, put a call box right next to the 8th (and 17th) tee (or green) that goes to the order station.  The ability to have ones food and beverage ready to go when the turn is reached is invaluable in limiting the frequent delays that occur here.
  • Beer and beverage carts should not be roving per se, they should keep their routes to those areas where a). congregation of tees and/or greens naturally occur and/or b). are farthest from the clubhouse, where refreshment is most distant. These transactions take more time than is regularly recognized.

Shotgun tournaments are a frequent occurrence at many courses, public and private and often engender the slowest play. I recommend that participation for any one tournament started in this manner be limited to 30 groups (120 players) and not the maximum 36 groups (144 players).  No doubling any Par 3 and the shortest Par 5s.