published Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

USGA puts emphasis on speeding up pace of play

Jim Fischer gets Jeffery Cunningham’s time and score on the 17th hole Tuesday afternoon during an AJGA tournament at Windstone Golf Club.
Jim Fischer gets Jeffery Cunningham’s time and score on the 17th hole Tuesday afternoon during an AJGA tournament at Windstone Golf Club.
Photo by Connor Choate.

SPEED IT UP

Start smart: Arrive early, be warmed up and ready to go and have your gear ready, including an extra ball and tees in your pocket.

Tee it forward: Play from the teeing grounds that are comfortable and more enjoyable.

Keep up: The correct position on the course is immediately behind the group in front of you, not just ahead of the group behind you.

Try new formats: Instead of always playing stroke play, try match play, a Stableford or best-ball format.

Plan your shot: Think ahead once you’re off the tee and gauge yardage and select a club before it’s time to play.

Shorten the routine: Pick your line, trust yourself and take no more than two practice swings before setting up and playing.

Use the buddy system: Don’t waste time in the cart waiting for somebody else to hit. Hoof it to your ball and get ready to go.

Help out others: Follow the flight of all shots, fill in somebody else’s divot or rake a bunker for a playing partner or competitor.

Source: USGA

Waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles is not fun. Waiting to hit shots on a golf course is only slightly more enjoyable.

But not much.

Slow play is seen as a sin of the game, but it happens every glorious day on almost every golf course. It angers not only groups playing behind the offenders but the rangers trying to keep golfers on time and the superintendents and golf professionals managing the schedules.

"The cry that pace of play has become one of the most significant threats to the game's health has become louder over the last year," USGA president Glen Nager said in a release earlier this year. "Industry research clearly shows that slow play and the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf detract from the overall experience and threaten to drive players away from the game.

"The problem touches every golfer, from the professional to the elite amateur to the collegiate player to the millions of recreational golfers at both public and private facilities."

Pace of play became international news in the overall sports world, not just the golfing world, when 14-year-old Tianlang Guan of China was assessed a one-shot penalty at the Masters.

Rules official John Paramor determined he violated Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the tournament's pace-of-play policy. Augusta National spokesman Steve Ethun told ESPN.com that there were no records of the penalty ever being assessed during the Masters.

The penalty arose again last weekend on the grandest stage of the collegiate game: the NCAA Division I National Championship. Texas A&M sophomore Ty Dunlap incurred a one-stroke penalty in the final round of stroke-play qualifying. The penalty sank his team from sixth place into a four-way tie for eighth.

The Aggies did not advance to match play and missed out on a chance to win a national championship, all because one player played slowly.

"They made a decision and that's the way it went," Dunlap told a GolfChannel.com reporter. "And that's the way we have to live with it."

Slow play creates problems at every course in the Chattanooga area and beyond.

"It's a problem industrywide, and it always will be," said Bear Trace at Harrison Bay head professional Robin Boyer. "We have to educate people as we go. Communication is a critical part of the process."

Boyer said Bear Trace allows a maximum of 15 minutes per hole. It's posted in all golf carts. Golfers are informed of the pace-of-play policy when checking in and again by a starter on the first tee, and occasionally they are given suggestions to help speed up their game.

And rangers are willing to, first, suggest that a group pick up its pace and then ask, then demand and if necessary, offer a rain check or a refund if a group will not comply with the state park's policy.

"We do everything we can on our end," said Boyer, who is teaching a beginning golf class for Chattanooga State. "I instruct them to play ready-golf. Have an idea of what you're going to do, prepare for your shot and be ready to go when it's your turn."

The American Junior Golf Association has a "time par" for every tournament including the Ringgold Telephone Company Junior Classic, with six timing stations. The goal is to teach competitive junior golfers about the importance of playing at a good pace.

"We have a pace-of-play program to help improve the next generation of golfers," tournament director Katie Tahara said. "There's a lot of slow play and we want to make a difference, and hopefully that can help in their next step of golf."

Slow play is such a problem that the USGA announced earlier this year that it will develop a set of initiatives to identify challenges and solutions, according to a release, so all golfers can enjoy the game more and participation can increase.

USGA executive director Mike Davis noted that he's recognized that PGA Tour players, including those in USGA events, take far to long to play the game. That tendency trickles down to those who watch golf on television one day, then emulate the behavior the next day.

"It is appropriate for the USGA to examine pace-of-play issues in part because we experience them at our own championships," Davis said in the release. "Six-hour rounds are just not good for the players, our championships or the game. Slow play is incompatible with our modern society in which our personal time for recreation is compressed.

"This is an issue that demands our complete attention."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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