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Golf Insider: Remedy for slow play on golfer’s shoulders

PGA Tour official Gary Young (left, in cart) follows golfer Kevin Na (right) down the 10th fairway during the third round of the Valspar Championship earlier this year. Na is notorious on the Tour for slow play, a problem that bogs down courses everywhere
PGA Tour official Gary Young (left, in cart) follows golfer Kevin Na (right) down the 10th fairway during the third round of the Valspar Championship earlier this year. Na is notorious on the Tour for slow play, a problem that bogs down courses everywhere

In past years, Naperville’s Tamarack Golf Course ran a promotion aimed at keeping play moving along at a good pace.

Golfers would get money back if they failed to play an 18-hole round in less than 4 1/2 hours.

“We did it on days when we knew there were no outings or we knew it wouldn’t be hard to finish in 4 1/2 hours, and what we found in some cases was people would start taking their time — even cut in back onto holes they already played — so they could finish up in over 4 1/2 hours and get a refund back,” Tamarack general manager Brett Hafstad said.

So much for the best laid plans. Slow play remains a main reason golfers decide to quit or greatly decrease the amount they play.

While there are different causes and ways to address them at different courses, the ultimate responsibility rests with individual golfers.

“So much of it is just caused by lack of awareness,” Bartlett Hills pro Phil Lenz said. “The slower players just don’t know or even realize they’re slow.

“One group falls behind and it’s a domino effect.”

It’s also a problem that puts golf course management between a rock and a hard place.

“You don’t want to chase people away, but at the same time you need to make them realize they have to play faster,” Hafstad said. “On the other hand, you have people who want to play at a faster pace than 4 1/2 hours and you don’t want to anger them because they might be people you’re going to have back at the course.”

There are subtle suggestions courses can make. Settlers Hill in Batavia used to be a part of the “clock watchers” program that put back-set clocks every few holes to indicate whether golfers were ahead of schedule or behind.

“We tell people they should play in 4 1/2 hours or less,” course manager John O’Connor said. “That’s 15 minutes a hole. “

Slow players often lead to confrontations, which can get touchy for a course ranger.

“We try to be courteous in every way and not confrontational,” Fox Valley Golf Club pro Jeff Schmidt said. “We ask how we can help them to play faster. People don’t respond as well to threats, obviously.”

Hafstad said his course treats the situation much the same way, but added that if players continue at a slow pace, “Our rangers might have to ask them to skip ahead a hole.”

Golfers have to think ahead, so to speak.

“They should keep an eye on the group in front of them and maintaining pace with that group,” Schmidt said. “Too many times you see people glancing back at the group behind them. Looking ahead is the key.”

O’Connor cited a creed repeated often at courses around the country.

“They have to be ready to play when it’s their turn,” he said. “That would solve a great deal of the problem.”

The USGA issues numerous suggestions, including taking 20 seconds to go through a pre-shot routine until hitting. They also recommend being realistic by playing from proper tees instead of the tips.

Golf courses can also help.

“If we know we have an outing, or are expecting a large number of players who might lack experience, we’ll have the pins in easier places to reach and the tees up,” Hafstad said.

Bartlett Hills went from eight-minute intervals on the first tee to nine-minute intervals in an attempt to combat the problem.

“It helped a little bit,” Lenz said. “It’s similar to an expressway at rush hour. You get too many cars on the road too fast and it jams up.”

The USGA last year put out a lengthy pledge it wanted golfers to sign that was aimed at promoting fast play. A more practical approach than reading a meaningless 215-word pledge and signing it would be to simply use common sense.

“The thing about slow play is that not everyone plays at the same pace or is even capable of that, but it’s also not hard for an individual to take measures to play as quickly as they can,” Schmidt said.

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