Each year, as Spring makes its way into New England in much the same manner a maiden climbs a greased Maypole, the eager golfer grows impatient. “When will this snow melt? Golf is hard enough without looking for the errant drive of a white ball in white snow!”
Then, it arrives, in slower-than-slow-motion. The river ice breaks, the birds return, the snow gets real dirty and ugly before finally disappearing for good, and the golf courses begin opening, from South to North, in the same pattern that the lakes ice-out and the croci bloom.
Just as slowly as this annual drama unfolds, the group in front of you seems to stand at address over their drives for the entire Spring. They search interminably for their shanks and slices in the recently revealed forest floor, contemplate their four-foot putts for 40 seconds too long, and hunt endlessly for the plugged drives that, by some Easter miracle, found the fairway.
Your early season round is marred by a pace of play that only the Ents, and maybe a handful of people on LSD, would enjoy. Golfers, this has to stop!
There’s no shortage of discussion lately about how to speed up the pace of play in golf so that more people can enjoy a round without losing their job, or endangering their marriage because they are always either on their way to the course, on the course, or on their way home from the course. Too many people cite too many times how golf takes too long to play for them to continue playing. It is the Number One reason players drop the game, especially in those years when there are already many other activities, little things like family and job and yard work, vying for your precious time.
The best way to speed up your game, by the way, is to shave strokes from your score.
The USGA has proposed a slew of new rules, each one designed to speed up the pace of play, and make the game of golf somehow friendlier to those who struggle with rules. We have a few suggestions on how to play your round faster, without actually having to play like you’re hurrying. Just a few simple things we can all do to keep that group behind us from getting impatient, angry, or worse – hitting into your group with the intent of sending a potentially dangerous message.
The first suggestion we have might seem at odds with the goal of playing faster: Walk, don’t ride. This is especially true if you’re playing in a group of two or more. We acknowledge that you can play really fast golf with a cart, if you so choose. But, our experience is that many golfers use the cart to drive to each others ball, watch each others shot, and then off to their own ball, while the partner sits in the cart and watches your shot. This may work if you and your partner consistently hit to the same spot, or if you have the course to yourselves, but that rarely happens. If you fan out on foot, each player getting to their own ball as quickly as they can, playing Ready Golf, the group can move up the fairway much more efficiently.
Speed of play aside, to really appreciate the pastoral beauty of the game, one must walk the course, and that’s all there is to it.
A a rule, we like to speed the pace of play up from tee to green, taking less time with practice swings and waggles and impersonating the Jason Day-visualization trance on the drives and long irons, than we do as we get nearer to, and on the green. Play more efficiently on the tee box and fairway, and you’ll have more time to study the green, perhaps taking fewer putting strokes in the process.
Always be sure to have two golf balls in your pocket, at least a couple of tees in the other, a ball marker or two, in the event marking your partners ball will speed things up a bit. If you are driving, and need to walk from the cart path to your ball, bring the club you think you’ll need, and one above and one below, to avoid the long trek back to the cart to get the right club. And, please, walk with determination, not like you’re walking the plank, even if the ball is lying in a pot bunker.
Don’t look for your ball for longer than a minute or two. Don’t engage the help of your entire foursome to find your ball. Take your penalty and move along. Always be preparing for the next shot while approaching your ball, so that by the time you arrive, you are ready to play.
Playing faster golf is never an excuse for neglecting to take good care of the course. You should still find time for replacing or filling divots, raking bunkers smooth while not being Buddhist about it, finding and fixing your ball mark on the green. Take advice from Bill Murray in Cinderella Story: fix a couple extra ball marks while you are at it and the fairies that live in the greenside bunker will reward you by nudging your close putts into the hole. Trust us on this one, it works!
Try and think about your round as consisting of two categories of activity – the actual hitting of the ball with the club; and all the other stuff. Try and spend less time on the other stuff, or at least perform the cleaning of your clubs, recording the score, getting stuff out of your bag, having a smoke, getting a drink, checking your phone, quickly and quietly while the others in your group play their shot. And don’t start that story that has to be listened to until after your round, if it can wait. The group waiting for you to move on so they can hit really don’t care how the story ends, only that it does end, and now.
Most of this, we realize, is the equivalent of “Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten” behavior, still, we’re always amazed at how many times we encounter someone who, like that person in the supermarket who stares at the cookie display, completely oblivious to the fact that their shopping cart is blocking the entire aisle and several shoppers are backed up, waiting while they ponder Vienna Fingers or Nilla Wafers. We always choose the Vienna Fingers and move along.
If you are playing in a tournament, of course, all these suggestions go out the window. Just pretend you’re on TV, and even whisper a play-by-play to yourself as you meticulously approach each stroke.
What are your suggestions for improving speed of play while maintaining a relaxed atmosphere? Share your slow play stories, ideas and anecdotes in the comments section…
[All images courtesy of Old Golf Images, a specialist library dealing with The Royal and Ancient Game from its earliest days up to the 1970s]