Fixing Slow Play In Black And White
By Torleif Sorenson on 9/10/13

Until recently, slow play on the golf course was a bit like the weather: Everybody (including Tiger Woods, various organizations like the LGU and the NCAA, and even our own oober mjaber) talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it. Back in February, USGA President Glen Nager outlined some new ideas for mitigating slow play.

Now, Colorado-based golf course superintendent Steve Southard, CGCS, has written a book — his second book, actually — called Golf: The Complete Guide to Mastering Pace of Play. Southard's claim is straightforward:
"Long playing times are usually caused by delays, not slow golfers. When course managers and golfers reduce the potential for delays, they will improve the overall pace of play. The great news is, the types of 'backups' portrayed below are completely controllable by changing a few operational practices."
Southard is so confident that his treatise on combating slow play will be a success that he is making the first 52 pages of his guide available as a free PDF, along with several accompanying YouTube videos.

Just the title of Part 1, "How Golf Course Owners Can Create Long Playing Times," was enough to get your correspondent's interest. In this section, Southard claims that part of the problem is that managing and improving the flow of golfers around a course is very important. Southard isn't just grasping at straws here; business managers and marketing specialists in retail operations constantly look at the flow of customer traffic through stores in order to keep their patrons happy and encourage them to spend money.

Southard has covered topics ranging from staff training about "flow management." For example, the first section of his book includes a simple test: Asking a clubhouse attendant or maintenance staffer what training they have received regarding pace of play.

One manager who agrees with this approach is Joe Greupner, PGA, the head professional at the Braemar Golf Courses in Edina, Minnesota, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Braemar is one of the busiest and most popular public-access courses in all of Minnesota, and sees a tremendous amount of traffic — even when the weather isn't good. Greupner himself wrote an article in the Minnesota Golf Association's member magazine earlier this year about Braemar's approach to course management. He commented about that this morning for oobgolf:
"We tried the clock approach and it worked for awhile, but that didn't last. Yelling at golfers doesn't work. What's working now is managing the course, rather than managing golfers, so we've been educating our staff and crew, and taking a different approach to the problem.

The old-fashioned approach by some was to have six easy hole locations, six medium, and six difficult ones. Part of the thinking was to spread out the use of the entire green. But now, we're thinking more about golfers' access to those hole locations and putting the flag-sticks where golfers can access them.

We've modified tee placements and we're also cutting the rough differently, too. On certain holes, we're trying to open up the entries to the greens so that golfers can bounce their approach shots into the greens. In order to help our customers find balls more easily in the rough, we're cutting it only a little higher than our fairways.

The other big thing we're doing is double-shifting the mowing of the rough. It used to be that we'd just cut it once per day, but we've worked in a second shift, so that the rough gets cut twice a day."
Time and further implementation of Southard's ideas will be the best measure of success, but at Braemar in the Twin Cities, the ideas Southard espouses are already working.

H/T: Golf Course Management

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Image by Torleif Sorenson

[ comments ]
Scott Shields says:
Shorter rough won't stop the 4 idoits that like to walk down their 6 foot putts from every angle and still miss it. I see this helping, but not nearly coming close enough to solve the actual probem - which in my opinion is that people are selfish and don't think about others around them. Or they're clueless.
spackler455db says:
So is the strategy make the course easier? I'm sure that'll work, you can play a round of putt putt real quick.
Kurt the Knife says:
Pretty interesting stuff, says I.
Kurt the Knife says:
Hafta admit, some of the cart girls can add another minute or so of distraction, depending.
Matt McGee says:
Some of the local courses here have the rough cut short, wooded areas cleaned out, and slow greens. I'm sure that speeds things up. However, the course management seems to think that those measures are in lieu of using course marshals, which means that they fail to address slow play for any other reason (Scott's 4 idiots, for example).
Other local courses leave the course as it was intended to be played, with thick rough, areas that are very difficult to recover from, and fast greens. They employ a marshal who (in most cases) will tactfully urge players to move faster.
In my experience, a good course marshal is a far more effective means to speed up play, and doesn't sacrifice the golf course to do so.
Kurt the Knife says:
Sadly, Scott makes solid point. I agree it appears most people don't look outside their own skins. One example. Just watch folks at the your local Supermarket stand around waiting for the cashier to bag every last one of their items while a queue of 10-20 customers stands idle. C'mon, Jack. Bag ur own crap while the cashier scans it.

Same. C'mon, Jack. Double par's the limit. Bag ur stick n move on.
bkuehn1952 says:
I read through the promotional 50+ page excerpt. The author is on the correct track in trying to convince course managers that a large part of the lengthy round can be reduced through actions by the course. The example of the roving beverage cart was something I never really thought about. The author's estimate was that a beverage cart added 20+ minutes to a round. Identifying "restrictive holes" where backups are created is another great idea. Sometimes minor design changes or the use of spotters can remove the restrictions to the flow of golfers around the course. Hope this guy's ideas are given a chance.
Matt McGee says:
At least this issue is gaining momentum instead of fading away. I'm tired of 5-plus hour rounds.
Kurt the Knife says:
also that reachable par five actually playing like a par 3 230. interesting.
Brutus says:
I play a difficult course that can, at times, slow play. But the biggest problem my foursome often discusses as a cause for slow/backed up play is that this course has tee times that are very close together and they often will squeeze a foursome in if they can. This is poor management for sure.

To make matters worse, this course is also the practice/competition facility for a mens and womens NCAA Division I team. In the Fall and Spring these teams get the early starting times. On days that they are qualifying they back everything up. You can easily expect a 5 hour round on those days. It turns into a game of hit and wait, wait, wait.
legitimatebeef says:
"Long playing times are usually caused by delays, not slow golfers"--lost me completely right there. It sucks when people try to twist semantics and deflect blame on to some inanimate thing. Don't hate the player, hate the game AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Whatever. Slow play is caused by slow people. I am sure management factors into it, and course design to some extent too. But golfers are the core of the problem--to say anything otherwise is just pandering and being way too soft on people.

Playing quick golf requires commitment and most people just don't have it in them. It doesn't just happen because you say you hate slow play. Quick golf is a specific mindset--always advancing, always aware, streamlining movements and actions, balancing quickness with courtesy, etc... is this something we can reasonably expect from today's average duffer? Hell no.
jasonfish11 says:
But Beef.

You can't blame the golfers in todays society. I mean we dont want anyone picked last so we can't play dodgeball in gym anymore. No kid left behind because we dont want to tell anyone they are a failure prior to being 18. Now you need to blame slow play on someone else because everyone has been told it isn't their fault for so long.
sv677 says:
I still say the main problem is the people playing. Next is management not being willing to enforce pace of play. Example: Yesterday we were lucky enough to play through a four-ball on 2 tee. The next time we saw them we were putting out on 18 and they were teeing off on 10!. We played in 3 hours 10 minutes. Guess how long it took them. Luckily the course was not crowded, but if it was you can be sure management wouldn't have done anything about it. Now if you were backed up behind these people and management did nothing, would you come back?
larrynjr says:
I'm convinced a large part of the issue is tee times that are too close together. My regular course scedules them for 6 min apart........the majority of the players haven't hit their ball after 8 min.......If they put at least 10 min. between groups (12 would be better still) there would be less back up. Yes there will still be slow players but spacing would mitigate that considerably. When I play with my kids, one thing I do to help allow faster players through is this; when a faster group is right behind us on the tee, we tee off, then let them tee off and pass us. We all walk down together but let the faster group get to the green and off before we continue.
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