Two Easy Ways to Speed Up Golf

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My golf course closed for the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day before that, thirteen guys showed up for the final 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. I wasn’t there, because I was on my way home from a non-golf reporting assignment in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California—poor life-management on my part. The following Sunday, though, Hacker (real name), Mike B., Gary, Ray, three of Ray’s friends from other clubs, and I played at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a 36-hole facility owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut:

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The Wheel (as it’s known to friends) is the main winter golf hangout for a lot of guys in our region, because it’s so close to the coast that it doesn’t get much snow. It’s where S.M.G. played last year on New Year’s Day:

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The Wheel is also the home of an extremely successful chapter of The First Tee, which served more than 600 kids last summer:

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One of the volunteer coaches is Richard Hunt, an honorary S.M.G. member. That’s him at the far left in the photo below, which was taken at Twisted Dune during S.M.G.’s fifteenth annual golf trip to Atlantic City, in October:

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Each summer for the past ten years, Richard has spent his Saturday afternoons at the Wheel introducing youngsters to golf. This year, his First Tee chapter named a trophy after him: the Coach Rick Award, which goes to the scoring champions in the Ace/Birdie division. (He’s also pretty good at teaching grownups; he’s a marketing consultant in Manhattan, and he oversees the Venture Creation Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where he is a mentor-in-residence.)

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A couple of weeks ago, Richard attended the U.S.G.A.’s Pace of Play Symposium, at which two dozen speakers spent two days talking about how to make golf go faster. “I thought the event was quite valuable,” Richard (who took the photo below) told me. “This is exactly the kind of thing they need to do ‘for the good of the game.'”

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Richard’s report:

Turns out, there are way more problems than your buddy plumb-bobbing his third putt. A major culprit is tee-time spacing, which is way too short at most public courses, and even in professional events. The L.P.G.A. did a test this year, and was able to reduce playing times an average of fourteen minutes per round just by moving tee times slightly farther apart, from ten minutes to eleven, and asking players to keep up with the group in front of them. Easy stuff. In addition, course setup, design, and facility management policies are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I was in Arizona, I had dinner with my old friend Shelby Futch, the world’s greatest golf teacher, whose company owns several courses in the Scottsdale area. At one of them, Shelby reduced playing times by offering forty dollars in grill-room credit to each day’s first group if they finished in less than four hours, and by asking the groups behind them to keep up. Easy stuff.

I asked Richard whether the kids he teaches play quickly—and, sad to say, he said they don’t:

Trust me—we don’t teach them to play slow. Yet on late summer Saturday afternoons, during our team matches, my young charges struggle to beat darkness every week. I myself blame CBS, NBC, and the Golf Channel. Maybe Fox will only show golfers in action next year, instead of repose.

Easy stuff.

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Winter Update: Wearing Shorts, Trimming Trees, Rebuilding the Pump House, and Using Air Horns to Improve Pace of Play

20121214_135605Nobody wore shorts on Friday (see above), so nobody got extra handicap strokes. But Doug wore shorts on Saturday (see below) and therefore got two.

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He also wore his daughter’s hat and brought three swing aids. His team still lost, though.

During our round on Friday, some tree guys were trimming and cabling the two huge oaks in front of the clubhouse:

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During our round on Saturday, some construction guys were laying a concrete-block foundation for our new pump house, next to the pond on the fourth hole. (See photo below.) We played that hole from the women’s tees, because when we play from the men’s tees bad drives that miss the pond often hit the pump house.

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Friday’s round took more than four hours—an inexcusable pace, we agreed, even though we were playing as a sevensome. One reason we were slow is that one of the guys was a newcomer, and he still does things the rest of us stopped doing years ago, such as taking practice swings and not hitting or putting unless it’s his turn. But we’ll break him.

On Saturday, we played as two foursomes and finished in less than three hours. During that round, Tim, who was in my group, thought of a way to incorporate speed into our regular game, by allowing teams that finish early to replay holes until the slowest team has putted out on its final hole. Here’s how it would work: We would shot-gun all the groups, so that nobody had a head start, and each group would carry one of these:

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When your group finished its regulation round, you would blast your air horn to let the other groups know that you were now playing bonus holes and potentially improving your score. And you would get to keep playing bonus holes until the final group’s horn had sounded. Further study.