slow play

on the clock

How long should a round of golf take? Shayne Dowling looks at how the issue of slow play could be resolved

Slow play is probably the most frustrating experience on a golf course. Everyone has their own routine, habits and rhythm but the overriding factor is that you are not alone on the course. Besides your playing partners, there is a field and you are part of it.

So, what is acceptable? How long should a round take and what can you do to improve your pace of play on the course? For the purpose of this discussion, I am basing the timing on a fourball and suggest that the field is full – whether using one or two tee boxes at the start. In this case I think that with a grab-and-go halfway, 18 holes should be completed in four hours – an average of 13-14 minutes a hole. If the field stops for breakfast or lunch (halfway), it seems to be accepted that four hours and 30 minutes is how long you should take.

I believe that sharing carts is definitely a factor, chances are your and your playing partners’ balls are on opposite sides of the fairway and perhaps at different distances – now you have to go to one ball (remember, both sets of clubs are on the cart), then distance and club selection is made and the process is done again at the next ball.

Of course, you can drive off to find and redo all of that again, which should speed things up, but really “ready golf” is limited. This is also the case when everyone is walking, you should find your ball, choose a club and if you are ready to play then go ahead (we are assuming this isn’t a serious competition and it isn’t matchplay) – it rarely happens.

The green is also a factor in speed of play – for one, if you are out of the hole, pick up. Frustrating yes, but considerate. Be aware of where you are in relation to the fourball and, once you have repaired your pitch mark, check your lines, etc as soon as you can. Park your cart or place your bag away en route to the next tee – there is nothing more annoying that watching players ahead finish and then stroll back to their bags in the path of the approach to the green – it is inconsiderate and slows things down.

If you don’t know a course, take a caddie. At least one caddie per fourball if you are uncertain – it supports the caddies and will also help you with direction, club choice, putting lines and, if they know their salt, with course management – not to mention assisting with spotting and finding your balls.

The format of the day can also affect the speed of play. Scrambled drive is my bugbear – each ball is checked, normally the number of drives per player is capped so there is strategy involved (and everyone has a different strategy), carts criss-crossing the fairways as decisions are made, balls being fetched and then distances, clubs, etc. are decided. In my opinion, it is the quickest way to ensure you finish in the dark. No, it doesn’t make it quicker for novice golfers, if anything it’s slower! I have to add here that this is normally a sponsored golf day. When club members’ competition days offer different formats things are normally understood and a lot quicker (thankfully I have never played in a members’ competition with scrambled drives).

It may be a sweeping statement, but with the emergence of GPS-based distance devices, whether watches, cart mounted, mobile phones or rangefinders; the markings on some courses are not as well maintained. Sprinkler head markings are sometimes haphazard and this definitely influences players who aren’t using other devices – most still have the 200, 150 and 100m fairway markers – but then you go back to pacing a lot more than needed.

I also think that there is a distinct lack of marshalling on most courses. Getting the field started is one thing but keeping them moving needs to also happen. Sometimes a gentle nudge is required, but mostly visible marshalling is all it takes. On this point, those players who give the marshal a hard time deserve to be sent to the back of the field. The marshal is doing their job, they are making sure everyone’s day is pleasant and it is not a personal insult to ask you to catch up with the players ahead. Thank the marshal and pick up the pace!

Things happen on the course – your ball will get lost, a threeball will be on your heels for most of the round, there may be an elderly fourball in front of you that have been playing regularly for years and are a little slower than you – so what? They’ve earned their stripes – chill out. Respect, patience and consideration will go a lot further than getting uptight and being rude, and will inevitably hurt your game.

Remember that, according the PGA stats, only 50% of golfers break 100 (the average recreational golfer’s score is 91), so it’s 50-50 that you will be taking more shots on an average day anyway. Keep up with the fourball in front of you, if they are falling way behind ask, nicely, to play through (best done at the halfway point – just my opinion). The beer will be cold when you get in, chat to your mates, concentrate on your game, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re ultimately out there to enjoy yourself – and the folks in front are too.

Cristina anne Costello /Unsplash/Robert Boyle/Pixabay/shayne dowling/Jacob Diehl/Unsplash/magda ehlers/pexels