B Y RYAN HERRINGTON
Iwas talking on the phone with a staffer at a regional golf association last fall. We had some business to discuss, but he put it on hold to first tell me about the men’s college tournament he had worked the previous weekend as a
rules official. He’s a thirtysomething who played college golf
himself but hadn’t been to an event in several years. With
bewilderment he described what he witnessed: Despite good
weather and a friendly course setup, competitors took more
than 5½ hours to play 18 holes. For more than 5½ minutes,
he spoke with exasperation until finally, exhausted, he
paused and asked a simple question.
“Does this happen all the time?”
Sadly, it does. And at every level of competitive golf that
I’ve covered—colleges, pros, juniors, men and women alike.
Pace of play is a scourge that has, regrettably, developed a
It’s why I was happy when USGA president Glen Nager
declared at the association’s annual meeting that the
governing body was stepping up its efforts to deal with the
issue. Likewise, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem
announced last month his organization would be launching a
year-long review of the subject. Granted, I’d have preferred
to have heard both men articulating definitive steps rather
than merely outlining additional studies in the works, but
I’m hopeful they won’t slow-play us regarding their findings.
With the problem reaching a new threshold in golf’s social
conscience, I return to the collegiate game because, frankly, I
believe college coaches should start getting nervous. At some
point, with all this investigating going on, the game’s collective
eyes are going to begin to stare at them and wonder what the
Back to school
COACHES AND PLAYERS AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL NEED
TO PICK UP THE PACE IN ADDRESSING SLOW PLAY
heck they are actually doing with their
To ascribe pro golf’s slow-play dilemma—
much less the recreational game’s—on the
short-pants set is assigning them too much
blame. Still, it doesn’t excuse their culpability.
Particularly when you consider the efforts
of various junior organizations to lay a foundation for speedy play. Much has been made, and
rightfully so, of the AJGA taking overt steps to
improve pace of play at its events. The average
round for threesomes at all AJGA tournaments
in 2011 was 4: 21, down 10 minutes from the
previous year. In 2012 it was 4: 23.
Somewhere along the way these good habits
are being forgotten or, worse, ignored. There are
too many anecdotal stories about never-ending
rounds and too few about how quick things are.
There are causes that explain the effects. A lack
of officials enforcing pace of play at regular-
season events prevents any sense of urgency in
competitors’ minds. Without the long arm of the
law present, time ticks away unfettered. Of
course, aren’t we playing a game where we police ourselves?
More problematic is the frequent interaction between
coaches and players during a round, the dialogue especially
around the greens often bringing things to a crawl. Coaches
understandly argue that they’re doing their job, just like
their colleagues in football and basketball who work with
players throughout their games. Would you ask Nick Saban
to stop coaching on the sidelines?
The harm, though, is that the advice is undercutting the
notion of self-reliance, something that is trying to be
nurtured at the junior level and will be needed when players
graduate to the pro game.
Certainly, there are some coaches looking to change the
culture. Three years ago Matt Thurmond at Washington
developed an “Under Four” campaign and succeeded in
getting it adopted at a handful of tournaments. But Thurmond
has a program to run in Seattle, not a movement to fuel
around the country. This needs to be a collective endeavor.
I’ve asked college coaches about what can be done, and
my favorite response came a few years back from Rick
LaRose, now retired from overseeing Arizona’s program.
His solution? Have a basketball-style shot clock on every
hole that would time each player between shots. When the
clock hits zero, the entire course would know if somebody
wasn’t keeping up.
Extreme? Perhaps. But in the spirit of addressing slow
play head on, I’m ready to give it the old college try. N
College players are no strangers to rounds that can last five-plus hours.