Rulebook: Keeping Pace

Nobody likes slow play; even golf professionals
Nobody likes slow play; even golf professionals
Nobody likes slow play; even golf professionals

As officials we are programmed to HATE slow play. Okay, maybe “hate” is a bit strong, but it’s not too far from the truth.

Pace of play has always been a subject of concern in golf, and no more so than in the last few years where specific targeted campaigns have been launched by the world’s governing bodies to address the situation. At the tournament level, referees, and even whole teams of timing officials, are tasked with making sure that players get around the course in a timely fashion. Penalties can be, and are applied for slow play. At the club level, this job falls to the starters, rangers, and marshals. Over my years of officiating and playing, I have observed more than a few of both good and not-so-good examples of pace of play.

I have always believed that there is a “sweet spot” in the flow of a round where everything moves like a well choreographed ballet. Not too slow, not too fast (yes, I believe you can also play too quickly). As an official, It’s a thing of beauty to watch a good flowing round unfold from a distance. However, things do happen that can disturb that flow. It’s like a car tapping the brakes on the highway. It has a ripple effect, and if you’re not careful, you have a major traffic jam.

Here are a few tricks that I’ve learned to help you keep the pace, and minimize your time spent in – or causing – traffic.

Be Prepared

It works for the Boy Scouts, and it can work for you. Make a checklist of things that are meant to be in your golf bag at all times, and make sure they’re always there before you step on to the first tee. Check the weather forecast the night before your round, and pack accordingly.

Carry extra snack foods and water. Courses love for you to spend money at the halfway hut, but if the 10th tee is open, save the purchases for the post-round debrief. Or, many courses will offer you the opportunity to call a few holes ahead of the turn to place your food/beverage order, so it’s ready for you when you make the turn. If you want to patronize the beverage cart, be aware of your surroundings when it’s coming by to make sure you won’t be holding up other players. If you meet near a green, ask the cart person to follow you to the next tee, or far enough out of the way so you’re not blocking someone’s approach.

Be on Time

There’s nothing more stressful in golf than running to the first tee with your shoes still undone, a breakfast sandwich hanging from your mouth, and your clubs jangling around in your golf bag. Hopefully, you’re at the course ahead of time to hit the range, or hit some putts on the practice green. Be at the first tee 10 minutes ahead of your tee time. It helps you focus and get the last little things done before you tee off. It can make the difference between a good and bad round.

Play Ready-Golf

Unless you’re playing a match, order of play is mainly a suggestion. I know that no one want’s to step in front of the player who just made the great birdie on the last hole, but if they’re not near the next tee yet when you’re ready to play, fire away. This includes continuous putting. If you can comfortably hole-out right after your approach put, and not mess up someone else’s line, do it. If you’re the first one in the hole, grab the flagstick.

There’s a bit of an art to the ready-golf thing that takes a bit of practice, but it can create a nice flow to the round. If you’re playing with friends that you play with all the time, it should become second nature. If you’re playing with people you’re not as familiar with, ask on the first tee if it’s okay to play “ready”.

Keep Your Head on a Swivel

Golf is a solitary game, played alongside and around other golfers. Being aware of your position on the course is an important part of the game. If you can ensure that your group stays glued to the group in front, you’ll stay away from slow play warnings and penalties, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with a stressful shot when it happens. In tournament play, this is especially important. If you’re keeping up with the group in front, the officials will leave you alone.

The Spaces in Between

If we take 40 seconds per shot, and multiply by say 80 strokes, that’s 3200 seconds, or approximately 53.5 minutes. But a round of golf is 4-4.5 hours?? How can that be right? That’s because the majority of your round is time spent between shots. The more quickly and efficiently you can move from shot to shot, the more time you’ll have for a less-than-ideal situation, and more prep time for your next shot.

Get your math out of the way while you’re waiting your turn to play. Lasers and GPS are such a big part of the game now, but these seem to be becoming part of the pre-shot routine. These extra moves really add up during your round. Things like measuring, checking the wind, club selection, etc. should be taken care of outside of the 30-40 seconds to actually execute your stroke.

Whenever possible, “fan out” from the tee to where your ball is. Don’t hang around with another member of your group while another player plays, and then move on to your ball. If you can get there, go there, and get ready to play.

No stories on the tee. I play in a regular weekend group of anywhere from 8-16 guys, and there are a couple of them that LOVE to tell stories. And we all love to hear them, just not during the round because they always take too long. It’s kind of a running joke now. If someone forgets the rule and starts to ramble, one of the others will cut him off barking, “No stories on the tee!” We’ll all have a laugh, and move on. Save your nuggets for the clubhouse after the round.

Time Your Pre-Shot Routine

A golfer’s turn to play starts on the tee when the player before you has completed their stroke, and has moved out of the way. In the fairway, it’s when the preceding player’s ball has come to rest after their stroke. 40 seconds is a time that gets batted around a lot by the governing bodies, and officials, and it’s not by accident. It’s a measuring stick that we use in timing individual play, when required, and a universally accepted period of time for a player to execute a given stroke. Now, 40 seconds may not seem like a long time, but in the realm of golf it really is. It’s a relative eternity in comparison to the time that it takes a player from the start of their backswing through impact to the follow-through. Have a friend or group member time your pre-shot routine. If you’re within 40 seconds, carry on. If not, you need to look at ways to streamline your routine. Remember, all these extra seconds add up.

I hope you find some or all of these tips helpful.

Have fun. Play fair. Play well.

/ Rich McLean 

Rich McLean is Golf Canada Level 4 Referee from Kanata, Ontario. He calls himself “a lifelong player, and fan of this great game.” You can find him on Twitter, @LobWedge.

“Golf has given me so much joy, and this is my small way of giving back.  Have fun. Play smart. Play well.”