By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Secretary
Ask any random group of club golfers what their main gripes are, and the chances are that pace of play will be high on the list.
Of course, no one will admit to being the cause of (or part of) the problem, so it is perhaps unsurprising that little progress seems to have been made over the years.
However, there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The proposed changes to the rules of golf have a strong emphasis on speeding up play, and so far they seem to be getting a positive response.
Trying the new rules out at club level (but not in competitions) is being encouraged by the Royal & Ancient, including the adoption of “ready golf” as a key element, so rather than waiting for whatever 2019 brings, perhaps it’s time to have a close look at what can be done right now.
The first – and most important principle – is that the whole club needs to commit to ready golf, otherwise different groups will be playing at different paces and potentially even more frustration will result. Secondly, health and safety is paramount. You need to be aware of where your fellow players are at all times, and be particularly careful if they are in front of you when you play a shot.
Next: use your common sense – ready golf is not speed golf. If your objective is to get from the 1st tee to the 19th hole in the shortest possible time, then I suggest you and your group book the first tee time of the day, and go for it. Otherwise, the aim should be to cut out some of the time wasted by sticking strictly to the current rules around who has the honour, and waiting for the player who is furthest from the hole to play first.
As an example, if the player who has the honour is not ready to play for whatever reason: putting on wet weather gear, taking a laser measurement (by the way, it’s not necessary for all four players to laser a par 3, as I’ve seen on a few occasions), writing down the score, searching for a tee or any of the other things that delay teeing off. It may go against the grain to relinquish the honour, but if it is clearly helping to save time, I’m sure we’ll all get over it.
Hit your shot before helping to search for a lost ball, where it makes sense.
Usually the player has the best idea where his/her ball went, and four searchers don’t necessarily find a ball four times faster. If everyone goes searching before they have played their shots, you will simply be adding time to an already delayed hole. In any case, the R & A is wanting to reduce the allowable search time to three minutes from 2019, so we may as well get used to speeding up this area because the current five minute allowance is often stretched beyond the limit to become a major factor in slow play.
Quite a lot of time can be saved around the greens as well by not sticking rigidly to the current order of play. Players can start putting while another is raking a bunker, and putt out where possible rather than marking their ball.
There are of course plenty of other ideas for speeding up play (see for example my article “Let’s speed it up in 2016” from two years ago), and perversely, these may have exacerbated the problem. In a game already over-endowed with rules, regulations and protocols, golfers don’t like to be told yet again how to suck eggs. The beauty of ready golf is that it is about using your initiative and common sense according to the situation, and most of us are already using the principles some of the time.
Where it has been tried on a larger scale, the results have been impressive: groups in the R & A’s spring meeting this year were told to adopt ready golf, and completed medal rounds on the Old Course in an average of three hours and 38 minutes.
It’s all about small gains: it’s not difficult to save a minute and a half per hole by following the suggestions above, which might not sound a lot, but amounts to 30 minutes across a whole round.
If you think that’s worth having, why not talk to your club and PGA professional, and give it a go?
By Duncan Simpson