Gaines: Slow play is not all the player's fault
Slow play at every level has been discussed for years. In 2012 we heard Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A calling pace of play the major deterrent to growing the game.
This year, newly re-elected USGA president Glen Nager said, “Pace of play has been an issue for decades; but it has now become one of the most significant threats to the game’s health. Five-hour plus rounds of golf are incompatible with life in modern society...”
Let’s face it, in this modern era of instant everything, no one has five hours for a round of golf - unless you play on a college golf team where a six-hour round is almost standard.
Each week television shows us the best golfers in the world taking what seems like forever to hit a shot or make a 2-foot putt. However, to be fair to the PGA Tour, what television misses is how fast the players walk from tee to fairway and fairway to green.
Still it’s not unusual for the average round to take over four hours. Watching that on television and not understanding how the tour monitors pace of play, it’s no wonder amateur golf is such a painfully slow game.
Here’s where the issue of pace of play gets a little dicey - it’s not all the players fault. When you try to get 156 players around a course like they do at the Humana Challenge, you’re going to wait. The play is going to be slow and the players are going to hurry up and wait!
After years of studying the 34 Rules of Golf and the 582-page Decisions book, the last thing in the world a rules official wants to do is monitor pace of play. But it’s an important part of the job and the PGA Tour takes it seriously.
With all the talk about bifurcation, or slightly different rules for amateur and professional, the one rule on Tour that absolutely will not change is Rule 6-7.
It states in part: “The player shall play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines which may be laid down by the Committee”.
The PGA Tour has a Pace of Play Guideline as part of its “Player Handbook.” In that Guide it clearly spells out what is expected of each player and each group relating to their pace of play along with what consequences are waiting if the guide isn’t followed.
Although not perfect, the PGA Tour is quietly aggressive in monitoring their pace of play.
Here’s a behind the scenes look at how it works.
Each group has a starting time - usually in 10-minute intervals; 8:00am, 8:10am, 8:20am and so on.
Once the group has started, the Pace of Play Guide generally allows the player 13 minutes for a par-3, 14 for a par-4 and 15 for a par- 5 depending on the hole’s difficulty. Doing some simple math, it should take four-hours and twenty minutes to complete the round.
Each rules official has a Pace of Play Chart and it shows where each group should be on the course at any given time.
If the first group at any time during the round, takes longer than its allotted time to play they are considered out of position. If any following group reaches a par-3 that is free of play, a par-4 or par-5 and they have not played a stroke from the tee before the group in front of them is off the green, they are also considered out of position.
Once a rules official has determined that a group is out of position, or a certain player, because of his own slow play, is causing the group to miss its allotted time, the official will notify the group or player that they are being timed.
When timing starts, or what might be called the “shot clock” in other sports, the player is permitted 40 seconds to play a stroke, however, he gets an extra 20 seconds for a total of 60 seconds if: he is the first player to play on a par-3, the first player to play a second shot on a par-4 or par-5, the first player to play his third shot on a par-5, the first player to play from around the putting green or the first player to play a stroke from the putting green. It’s really not as complicated as it sounds once you think about it.
At this point, if the player has taken longer than his allotted time he is informed by the rules official that he has a bad time. What the viewers watching on television don’t know or understand is that there could be a monetary consequence for having a bad time.
If a player during his round receives one bad time he gets a warning but no penalty. His second offense can result in a one-stroke penalty, third offense a two-stroke penalty and the fourth bad time could lead to disqualification.
Here’s how it can affect his wallet. When a player receives his first bad time of the year there is no fine. If he has a second bad time during the year, he can be fined $2,500. If the player is still slow enough to have three or more bad times, he could be fined $5,000 for each offense. The Players Handbook actually states that a player can be fined up to $10,000 in certain instances if he’s out of position and being timed due to slow play.
Here’s how aggressive the PGA Tour has become to stop slow play; penalties and fines are cumulative throughout both the round and the year, and, they carry over from tour to tour. If you have a bad time or get fined on the Champions Tour and the next week you play the PGA Tour- the bad time and fine goes with you.
Being a Rules Official is not an easy job. Some days you’re trying to get 156 players around a course that’s spread out farther than you can see with only a hand-full of officials. Anyone can sit at home and yell about slow play but it’s not easy going up to a player and telling him he’s going to be put on the clock. Players can get aggressive in the heat of battle but it’s still a gentlemen’s game and I’d rather be a rules official in golf than any other sport.