Commentary: A plea to speed up the game

Louis Oosthuizen after winning the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

In October, the game’s leaders will be gathering at the St. Andrews World Golf Forum to discuss the sport’s future. The powers that be should leave the home of golf with one common aim – to speed up the game.

Speed is the key to the survival of this great game. Without it we will continue to see players leave the game and courses close.

Pace of play is the most important issue affecting the game right now. It is the proverbial elephant in the room, the one issue the governing bodies have failed to address.

I never thought there would come a time when I’d see courses going to the wall in Scotland, the birthplace of the game. Yet in recent months at least three clubs have had to close their doors due to financial problems.

The Machrie on Islay is in trouble and is in the hands of the bank. The future of Letham Grange near Carnoustie is in doubt. Meanwhile, Craibstone Golf Centre near Aberdeen has gone under.

The fairways of Lamerwood not far from where I live in Hertfordshire, England, are now overgrown after the gates closed last year. Clubs nearby are crying out for members. All around the British Isles, clubs are offering deals to try to get new members.

There has never been a better time to join a golf club than at the present moment, but numbers are going down not up. I think time is the reason.

Quite simply, the game takes too long and something needs to be done to speed it up. What the experts at St. Andrews need to discuss is how to improve pace of play to attract new players in the Internet age.

When kids can get instant gratification from going online and playing computer games, then why would they want to spend a minimum of four hours playing golf?

Harry Redknapp, manager of English football team Tottenham Hotspur, made an astute observation a couple of years ago. Redknapp said: “Football cannot compete with and X-Box.” It was part of a lament about witnessing empty playing fields around London.

Well if the world’s most popular sport can’t compete with an X-Box, then what chance the royal & ancient game? No chance.

To the shame of governing bodies, global golf associations and administrators, the game is slower than it has ever been. Despite technical innovations – golf carts, easier-to-hit clubs and distance devices – five hour-plus rounds are still the norm. That doesn’t cut it in the Internet age.

The aim at St. Andrews in October is simple: Take drastic steps to speed the game up. Otherwise, prepare to suffer the consequences.

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