Professional or Processional Golf?
By Tim Horan on 6/2/14
oober Tim Horan is an Englishman who considers here some of the effects of slow play on a golfer's game. As usual, we hope you find his thoughts as provoking as we do. Enjoy!

I am going to take this opportunity for a rant and hopefully pass on some pointers on what is a very hot topic at the moment. It seems that every golf magazine is full of readers' e-mails and letters condemning slow play, both in the amateur ranks and in the professional game.

Let us forget the pro game for the present — after all, we are not going to change it. Something must be done at that level, I agree, but we mortals cannot begin to comprehend the pressures these guys are under with tens of thousands of bucks riding on a single shot. How they prepare themselves against such pressures is bound to slow the thought processes and the game as a whole.

We can, however, speed up play in our own regular four-ball or golf society and hope to influence others at club level week in and week out, so that all of us can enjoy this wonderful game at a pace that is acceptable and pleasurable.

Impatient? Heck, yes! I cannot walk down the street without being frustrated by those walking slower than me, headphones on, or texting as they amble along, oblivious of my need to get somewhere — seemingly themselves with nowhere to be, people arriving at the barrier on the subway and then fumbling for a ticket, driving up to the car park barrier and then winding down the window. All these things are a frustration to me!

Similarly, on the course, those whose bags, trolleys, or buggies are always the other side of the green from where they should be and, without knowing, waste minutes on each hole. Heaven knows what is going on in their world! Don't they have other things to do today?

On a more personal note, I ask myself why should my choice of shot be influenced by the slow group ahead, so that I am forced to lay up to keep the game moving, rather than go for the green. You know, of course, that by waiting, your chances of making that pure shot are diminishing with every minute. And then, if that is not enough, you heap more negativity and pressure, that you will look pretty stupid if you now duff a fairway wood or long iron. The group behind won't be best pleased!

I do not propose that we sprint around the course, rushing our shots and come off the course feeling exhausted. What I suggest is that, by observing a few courtesies, we take etiquette a little further. In your friendly group, agree to a set of principles by which precious moments can be shaved off each hole, time can be made for the properly lined-up putt, and an effective pre-shot routine can be done without frustrating and unduly inconveniencing others.

I would like to share with you some suggestions to get things moving again benefiting not only your group, but also those groups behind you.

For competition and event organisers

  • If an individual is known to be slow — don't put him out early in the field, even if that is his preference. If he asks, why tell him? Maybe he doesn't know that he is slow. Try putting him in with a quicker group.

  • Play the yellow (or middle) tees more often for the lesser competitions or friendly four-balls.

  • Encourage Stableford or match play formats.

  • On issue of the competition rules, remind players of the need to keep pace, the permissible "gimmies" in match play, and picking up if you cannot score in Stableford format.
For you individual players, I have few suggestions as you embark on your game. Not all of these work together; the intention here is to throw these out there for consideration.

The Tee Shot

  • Select your club before going to the tee.

  • Be prepared: Glove on, ball and tee in hand. etc.

  • Have a provisional ball ready either in the bag, or close at hand, marked up as appropriate if the competition dictates.

  • If your ball even looks like it may be in trouble, take a provisional. Don't hope to find it, then have to walk back to play again.

  • Prompt your partners to do likewise if their ball is likely to be difficult to find. They might not have considered this, themselves.

  • If you are the last in your group to play, play your shot, but don't replace your head cover, then put your club in the bag. Pick up your head cover, shoulder your bag, and walk. You can replace your head cover as you walk, or as you wait for your playing companions to play their second.

General Play

  • Without putting yourself in danger, walk to your ball or level with it. Don't hang back with the shortest ball. Whilst the away player prepares for his shot, you could be reading distance, considering wind direction, selecting the right club, and visualising the shot you wish to make. When the time comes for you to play, you should be ready to step up and run through your pre-shot routine and make your play.

  • If you are perhaps away first or are able to walk directly to your ball - walk over the fairway distance markers and pace off the distance to your ball. Don’t arrive at your ball and then start to scout around for a marker.

  • If you use a range finder and are perhaps second or third away, read a distance from the away player's ball to green. Then, pace the rest to your ball.

  • If you are expected to, assist in looking for a lost ball. Play your shot before helping the search, but move your bag, trolley, or buggy adjacent to the search area, so that you can move on once the ball is found or abandoned.

  • Retrieve divots for your playing partners while they return clubs to their bags.

  • Rake bunkers for your partners, or at least have rakes ready to hand to them. The chances are that having played, they are still away so why not rake the bunker for them and assist them in getting to their next shot without feeling rushed.

  • Unless you are in a serious match play competition, it really matters "not a jot" who is away. Agree at the outset to play "Ready Golf." Within reason and with your regular four-ball, there should be no issue.

  • If you do lose ground on the group ahead, pick up the pace right away — or you may find that they will slow to your pace as you are no longer pushing them on.

On the Green

  • If you are using a trolley or buggy, drive it to the greenside point closest to the next tee (where you will leave the green for the next tee), then approach and mark your ball.

  • If you are carrying a bag, walk directly to your ball, mark it, then leave the green along the line of your putt and set your bag down. This way, you get extra time to line up your putt as you return to the green.

  • Unless your ball is on the line (or near the line) of another player's putt, why mark the ball at all? Leave it there — marking and replacing takes time.

  • Read your putt while others are holing out.

  • Again, unless you are involved in a match, what does it matter who is away? If you cannot agree who is away, be positive and take the putt.

  • As for general play, if you cannot score (in Stableford play) or influence the match play situation, pick up and move on.

  • The player nearest the flagstick attends or removes for the group.

  • Never mark scorecards on or around the green — do it on the next tee. If you have the honour, mark the card after you have played and your partners are playing theirs.

  • Clear the green quickly, so that the following group can play in.

Between Holes

  • Most times, you will know which club you want — so select it on the way to the tee and be ready.

  • Position you bag, trolley, or buggy so it is not in the way of yours or the following group finishing the previous hole.

  • If you are being caught, invite the following group to play through. Agree with them and then take your drives, walk up and then call them through. When they have driven off you can play your second shots while they themselves walk up. You can then step aside and wait for them to approach and hole out.

  • Don’t be shy to politely ask to play through a slower group. And although I don’t advocate carving your way into a competition field, the suggestion may urge them to speed up.

If I had but one tip to speed play, it would be to keep up with the group ahead and not to simply rely on keeping ahead of the group behind.

If we all observe just a few of these suggestions, we are very likely to reap the benefits of having more time to properly consider each shot, time to enjoy our golf, and time to enjoy each other's company.

It might also help save your marriage or relationship and get you home in time to mow the lawn or play with the kids.

This column was written by Tim Horan, a Londoner / reader / follower / fellow "oober." The opinions stated above are 100% his and do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf in any way. Enjoy! And remember, he's ready for your feedback.

Do you have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, Paul O'Mahony

[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
spot on. Couldn't have offered better suggestions.
jpjeffery says:
"subway"? Call yourself a Londoner?
HotBacon says:
While I fully agree with all of this 110%, it appears we are in the minority. The last few forum posts on another site about the same topic have all ended up w/ the seeming majority of responses being along the lines of: "I'm out there enjoying my day, don't rush me", "We all aren't out here to get our round over with as fast as possible", etc.

It pains me to even think of playing a 5 hour round anymore (all twilight golf, under 3.5 hours now), but pains me even more that the thought of trying to keep a 4 hour round pace on the weekends angers a lot of people.
birdieXris says:
I'd be happy with a 4.5 hour round on the weekends. Even in a scramble!! We played a 6 hour round in a scramble this weekend. It was aging.
joe jones says:
I pretty much agree with every suggestion with one addition. Stop emulating what the Pro's do especially around the green. Plum bobbing, reading grain and looking at the putt from every direction may be valuable to the tour players but most weekend golfers don't understand what they see and worse don't benefit from it. I literally laugh my ass off when I see some guy go through all of his meticulous preparations and then three putt from 15 ft.It can add 2-3 minutes per hole to a round and add up to an hour for the day. Pick a line, trust your stroke, and hit the putt.One of two things will happen. It will go in or not. 50-50 odds are better than most gambling games. You will be amazed how many putts go in with this method. I don't even use a practice stroke. Try that method. It might suprise you.
aaronm04 says:
I completely agree about playing up to the group ahead. Most people are fixated on the group behind.

I played in a scramble recently and noticed the pace of play was pretty great! The change I could tell was that there was a two-putt maximum. So if you missed the first putt, there was no grinding on the come-backer.
bkuehn1952 says:
Thanks for the essay, Tim. Well done.

As an occasionally grumpy old fart, I have been known to dispense unrequested and pointed advice on picking up the pace. Slow people never learn how to keep pace unless someone tells them specifically how to proceed.
snuffyword says:
I understand that golfers have a pre-shot routine. I just wish they would start it early enough if their position doesn't interfere with the other players in the group. After that, I can't stand watching a player address the ball and just stand there for over 5 seconds before he pulls the trigger. If there's a waggle involved, I understand; a la Jason Duffner. If the situation is more like Ben Crane or Kevin Na, then I would probably act like Rory Sabbatini. I apologize in advance for my behavior.
jeffcroupier says:
I went to a Seattle muni as a single the other day and got paired up with one other single. He was a little older than me and not a great player, so our pace was not great.

Soon another twosome teed off behind us and quickly was right on our tail. No one really in sight in front of us or behind them. By the 6th tee I said to they guy, "hey, let's let that twosome through, they're much faster, they're right on our tail". He said... "uh... no. There's no one behind them. They can play slower".

Either he had some sort of personal vendetta against those two particular guys, or, that just strikes me as amazingly inconsiderate. Those two guys behind us, there round took, I dunno, 30-45 minutes longer than it should have just because of this guy.
SpaceMaNy0 says:
This seems typical of the modern "me first" society. I stopped reading after the 4th paragraph. Ye gods forbid someone take 4 extra seconds to roll down a window...

"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry." --Brooks Hatlen
GBogey says:
That's a great list of suggestions. I know that I am average at best when hitting a shot (I am deliberate) but I do all of these things and tend to be one of the fastest players in a group because of it.
HotBacon says:
@jeffcroupier I've been there and that's it goes along with what I said in my previous comment. I've been the group trying to play through, whether standing behind the slow group in every single fairway for xx holes or by specifically asking. I can't count how many times ppl said something like "if you want to play with us that's fine" or "you're not going to get too far, there's another group ahead".

How am I hurting your by playing through your group? Are there extra points awarded for finishing ahead of groups already on the course?
DougE says:
Excellent points and article, Tim.

Most of your suggestions are plain old common sense. Every golfer should be aware of them. You would think that would be part of learning the game. A goal of keeping up with the group ahead rather than worrying about the group behind is key. All the suggestions are just simple ways to accomplish the goal.

It would be so sweet if every golfer/group on an entire course could practice all these methods. We would all play in under 4 hours on a weekend afternoon.
jasonfish11 says:
I thank my dad for the first golf lesson he taught me. It was "son you have two options play good or play fast, and you aren't good unless you have multiple majors."

To this day that is the first lesson I remember. With that ingrained he took me out to play as young as 5 years old. I usually picked up on every hole to keep up with the group in front of us, but at 5 I didn't care.
links_slayer says:
The motto in our golf league is "You don't have to be good to play fast." I don't think anyone is expecting 3 hour rounds on the weekends - it's avoiding the 5+ hour rounds that is important. Great article.
Tim Horan says:
@jpjeffrey - I apologise it was written for the masses. I don't think most Oobers would identify with the "Tube". and @spacemanyo - I hope you did read on. It is just common courtesy to be prepared when others are waiting behind you. If everyone were un-prepared the queues would be far longer.
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
I guess I'm very fortunate. I don't deal with a lot of slow play. As some of y'all know my group normally plays 6 and the time frame is about 4 hrs give of take depending on how good or bad people are playing. I hate slow play and I'm that guy that will ask to go thru if you make me wait a couple holes. Yesterday I went out to RTJ as a single. They weren't all that busy and a group was in front a few holes. So I played 2 balls to slow me down. Teed off at 9:20. By hole 6 a caught that group. On hole 7 I almost drove the the green and they were very kind to let me thru. I past another group on9 when they stopped at the clubhouse. Went thru another group on 11 par 3. ( made birdie which was awesome ) and on 14 a group decided to let me hit with them and when we all went to hit the second I would continue on. After I hit my drive they decided to just let me thru. By 11:35 I was in my car headed home. So most places I go slow play is not an issue and most are kind enough to let faster players go thru.
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
Oh and my fav way of seeing people who do play slow is the guy putting for a 10 from 25ft. Unless your in a tournament pick that crap up, get off the course and go to the driving range and putting green until you get better. My first year of golf I spent more time at those two places than anywhere because I had an old guy tell me that if I couldn't make contact with the ball but once out of ten shots I don't need to be on the course.
onedollarwed says:
Always nice to have a chance to vent about the pace of play. Is anyone worried about too quick a pace?
But seriously, much of the science I've looked at which governs the behavior of individuals is a bit more global in nature. Take a school, or factory... there are fights, thefts, vandalism, and inefficiencies with the work at hand. And while a teacher, or a Tim Horan, may point to individual accountability, the larger structures often have the greatest overall effect on positive, or civilized behavior. Making sure the locks, bells, drinking fountains, toilets, and clocks all work make a big difference. Quick and appropriate discipline are a must. Yet the organizational logic is the big elephant in this circus. Why are we playing? What is the format? When do we expect to finish? Time spent = time allotted! When assigning work tasks it is always important to be clear about: task, time, and quality.
onedollarwed says:
The usga has this site
...and agrees that course design, pace checkpoints, sport expectations are a big deal. My dad, a boy scout troop leader teachers young leaders the TSDP or tell-sell-delegate-participate method of leadership. This means that while we're all here ranting, all we've done is tell. There are three more steps: selling the idea to courses, new players, partners; delegating different aspects of the initiative to different parties (designers, course managers, grounds crews, players, pros, etc.); and participating in these areas - read the pledge to your group, volunteer as a ranger at your local club, boycotting clubs with slow play, teeing it forward with your beginner buddy, etc.
But in the end it's the larger design and expectation of the game which lead to the breakdown of the individual, not the other way round!
onedollarwed says:
A quote from the Pebble Beach Study: "Harper and his team were well aware that if players wait on every shot, for example, their perceptions about the value of their investment of time and money erode."
onedollarwed says:

How to shop for a better-paced round.
Tim Horan says:
Web played a medal round last weekend going out in the second group. We played through the first group out on the first hole as they were looking for a ball. We never saw them again. We finished in 3½ hours, had a drink and a sandwich in the clubhouse and went home before the next group came in. How frustrating would that have been if we had been behind them all round? BTW our tee slots are eight minutes.
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