2005: Our Opinion - Quick fix for slow play

Slow play has become one of golf’s hot buttons.

At the Booz Allen Classic, Rory Sabbatini lost his cool over Ben Crane’s slow play.

In a U.S. Open sectional qualifier at McKinney, Texas, amateur standout Trip Kuehne was part of a threesome that incurred a controversial slow-play penalty of one stroke apiece.

In the West, many golf associations have followed the lead of the British Columbia Golf Association of Canada and adopted a new get-tough policy to govern the pace of play in tournaments.

If the growth of the game is hindered by slow play, as many critics claim, it’s time to make changes. That’s exactly what was done in British Columbia.

BCGA executive director Chris Jonasson spearheaded a policy that has spread to associations such as Pacific Northwest, Oregon, Northern California and Arizona. Basically, the policy emphatically tells golfers it is their responsibility to keep up with the group in front, rather than simply staying ahead of the group behind.

Players are given mandatory times for nine and 18 holes, and punch clocks are used for their scorecards at the ninth and 18th greens. Furthermore, players are informed that an entire threesome or foursome (most associations use threesomes in competition) will be penalized if the group fails to meet two criteria:

The first is finishing within the established time limits. The second is finishing within a specified number of minutes of the group in front.

The result? Across the board, times have dropped by an average of about 45 minutes per tournament round. Most rounds are completed in less than 4 1/2 hours.

“It really works,” said Jim Gibbons, executive director of the Oregon Golf Association. “We have groups that finish like clockwork every 11 or 12 minutes. All the spokes of the wheel are turning together.”

If a group is saddled with an unusually slow player, or if there are extenuating circumstances such as a lost ball, players are asked to talk with a rules official.

“There are built-in safeguards,” Jonasson said. “Rules officials are there to help the players.”

Kuehne’s threesome was penalized one stroke each because it missed its 18-hole target time of 4:30 by two minutes and failed to finish within 13 minutes of the group ahead, which ran between shots on the final hole in an effort to make its target time.

“We hear it all the time: ‘Nobody warned us.’ ” said Dick Rundle, the head rules official at the McKinney qualifier. “Well, we had three or four officials on that (Kuehne) group. Later it occurred to me that one stroke for being two minutes late might be considered a bargain.”

A different pace of play policy is in effect at the U.S. Open, where individuals, and not entire groups, are subject to slow play penalties. Once a golfer is put “on the clock,” a “bad time” (more than 40 seconds to hit a shot once it is the player’s turn) results in a warning. Only after a second bad time does a player incur a one-stroke penalty.

Still, the general focus on fast play for entire groups seems likely to increase. Play slow, add one.

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