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Slow Play in Golf – What Could and Should Be Done to Remedy it?

Slow Play in Golf – What Could and Should Be Done to Remedy it?

Anyone who watched this past weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – or most any golf addict is by now aware that Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were “put on the clock” for slow play – resulting in what some are claiming may have affected the outcome of the match.

Tiger has been pretty vocal, complaining that they should not have been put on the clock. There was some talk that Tiger might receive a fine from the PGA for complaining on air. Not so says Woods. I found Tiger’s comments kind of cool in that he felt so strongly that he slammed European Tour chief referee, John Paramor for his decision to put them on the clock.

“I’m sorry that John got in the way of a great battle because it was such a great battle for 16 holes,” Woods told reporters after clinching his 70th PGA Tour victory by four shots.

“We’re going at it head-to-head, and unfortunately that happened. I think being on the clock influenced him. I’m sure he would have taken a lot more time on his third shot to try to figure out how to play it, where to place the next one.”

While on the clock, players must play their shots within an allocated time or risk an intial warning followed by a $5,000 fine and a one-shot penalty for a second offense.

Whether or not the referee’s call had an influence on the account is up for debate; after all Harrington had already hit his worst shot that caused him to be out of position and chances are he’d have lost a close one to Woods anyway.

Paramor defended his decision, “Padraig and Tiger’s group were 13 minutes over time through 11 holes,” he said in statement. “We could have put them on the clock at the 13th but we opted to cut them a bit of slack due to problems up at the 16th green at that time.”

I think the thing that puzzled most observers was THE TIMING of “putting them on the clock”. Had officials done so at 11, rather than with only two and half holes remaining and millions of dollars on the line, then there probably wouldn’t be as much talk about it two days later.

According to Paramor, officials felt Harrington and Woods would be able to make up the time but, when they reached the 16th tee, he said they were 17 minutes behind schedule.

“The 16th hole had opened up before they cleared the 15th green and therefore we had no choice but to put them on the clock at that stage,” he added.

I was watching The Golf Channel late on Tuesday and there were pros on both sides of the argument. Ernie Els had a very diplomatic response that left me with the feeling that he supported the decision, just not the timing. Els stated, “There was nobody behind them and Harrington was out of position. If he’d had the luxury of looking at all of his options to escape the trouble he was in, perhaps he’d have done better.”

Harrington was actually quite cool about it and was way more upset at himself than at any referees. However, even he offered some measure of an excuse, “When you’re out of position, it’s difficult to be on the clock,” the three-times major winner said. “I was out of position on the tee shot, second shot and third shot.”


First, those of us who are average duffers should pay special attention to the fact that even though Woods and Harrington were being penalized for slow play, they were ONLY 17 minutes slow on their round. (I only wish that I could get in a typical round of golf these days with only 17 minutes longer than the round should last.)

The pro guys and gals have a lot on the line when they play a round of golf. One or two strokes can mean the difference in making the cut and playing into the weekend and higher in the money. If one stroke meant a $100,000 difference in your paycheck then you and I would probably take a lot longer per stroke, if for simply having to calm the shaking in our knees between each shot.

Frankly I think most professional golfers play slow as Christmas and I’ve often thought that Woods is the slowest guy on the course on any given day. He’s probably caught a warning or two and perhaps even a fine or two, but he’s laughing all the way to Fort Knox.

I personally have NO problem with the pros playing it slow.

However, I am 180° on the other side of the argument when it comes to the rest of us. I have only played one round of golf in the last three years that took less than five hours. I have played several rounds that began at around 4pm, wherein I had to quit early – only 11 holes into a round – because of ridiculously slow play on the part of the average golfers who just HAD to be playing in front of me.

This particular year I have been playing with several “newbies” to the game of golf and slow play is rampant amongst these guys. I’ve made several remarks about being ready with your clubs, taking a putter with you when you’re going to chip a shot, so that you don’t have to go back to the cart, etc, etc and I think so far the only lesson learned is that these guys think that I’m a bit excessive about trying to keep a good pace. (Excessive might be too nice a word as far as these guys are thinking.  “jerk” might be more accurate in how they feel towards me as I attempt to get them up to speed. I hope not, but I remember when I first started playing.)

The professional golfer might take about 30 strokes fewer per round than a 20-handicapper. Those 30 fewer strokes played means more time to spend on each stroke that is played – without it causing a five hour round of golf. When an average 20 handicapper fires a 92 that could mean a 7.5 hour round if they took five minutes to get to and hit each shot. Even 210 seconds per shot (sounds fast) would mean that a round tool 3.8 hours (which is totally acceptable). Many golf courses have notes posted on their golf cards or carts that ask groups to allot just 15 minutes per hole. That sounds pretty good to me, but it is rarely adhered to. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a golf course ranger come around and ask to speed up play.


Before I get into the subject of “the cause of slow play”, perhaps (especially for my newbie golf friends) I should first address “WHAT IS SLOW PLAY”. Nobody is looking for us to race to our shots, whip out a club and hit it as fast as we can. That’s polo isn’t it?

What the pros and experienced golfers are trying to get those guilty of slow play to realize is that the biggest CURE is simply being ready to play as soon as it’s your turn to play. In other words, instead of sitting in the cart watching one of your playing partners hitting a shot, be at your ball so that when it’s your turn you can take your time and hit your shot.

I’ve compiled some tips to cure slow play, but just know that most of them are designed NOT to hurry your game, but to rid our rounds of wasted space.

Here are some tips for speeding up slow play on the golf course:

• Choose the correct set of tees from which to play. If you’re a 20-handicapper, you have no business playing the championship tees. Doing so only adds strokes, which add time.

• Members of a group should not travel as a pack, with all members walking together to the first ball, then the second, and so on. Each member of the group should walk directly to his own ball.

• When two players are riding in a cart, drive the cart to the first ball and drop off the first player with his choice of clubs. The second player should proceed in the cart to his ball. After the first player hits his stroke, he should begin walking toward the cart as the second golfer is playing.

• Use the time you spend getting to your ball to think about the next shot – the yardage, the club selection. When you reach your ball you’ll need less time to figure out the shot.

• If you are unsure whether your ball has come to rest out of bounds, or may be lost, immediately hit a provisional ball so that you won’t have to return to the spot to replay the shot.

• If you’re following the rules, you won’t be using mulligans. But if are using mulligans, limit them to no more than one mulligan per nine (you should never hit a mulligan if players behind you are waiting – or if you want to later claim that you played by the rules).

• Begin reading the green and lining up putts as soon as you reach the green. Don’t wait until it’s your turn to putt to start the process of reading the green. Do it as soon as you reach the green so that when it’s your turn you can step right up and putt.

• Never delay making a stroke because you’re having a conversation with a playing partner. Put the conversation on hold, make your stroke, then pick up the conversation again.

• If using a cart on a cart-path-only day, take more than one club with you when you walk from the cart to your ball. Getting to the ball only to find out you don’t have the right club is a huge time-waster on the golf course.

• After putting out, don’t stand around the green chatting or take any practice putting strokes. Leave the green quickly so the group behind can play. If there is no group behind, then a few practice putts are fine.

• When leaving the green and returning to your cart, don’t stand there fussing with your putter or other clubs. Get in the cart, drive to the next tee, and then put away your putter.

• Likewise, mark your scorecard after reaching the next tee, not while lingering on or near the just-completed green.

• When using a cart, never park the cart in front of the green. Park it only to the side or behind the green. And don’t mark your scorecard while sitting in the cart next to the green (do it at the next tee). These practices open up the green for the group behind.

• If you are searching for a lost ball and are willing to spend a few minutes looking for it, allow the group behind to play through. If you are playing a friendly game where rules aren’t followed closely, just forget the lost ball and drop a new one. If you’re not playing by the rules, you should never spend more than a minute looking for a lost ball.

• Don’t ask your playing partners to help you search for a lost ball – unless you are absolutely certain there is time for them to do so (e.g., there is no group behind waiting). If the course is crowded, your partners should continue moving forward, not slow things down further by stopping to help your search.

• On the tee, pay attention to your partners’ drives. If they lose sight of their ball, you can help direct them to it and avoid any searching.

• When waiting on the tee for the group in front to clear the fairway, don’t be so strict about order of play. Let the short hitter – who can’t reach the group ahead anyway – go ahead and hit.

• Work on building a concise pre-shot routine. If your pre-shot routine is a lengthy one, it’s probably in your best interest to shorten it anyway. Limit practice strokes to one or two at the most.

• Don’t bother marking lag putts – go ahead and putt out if it’s short enough.

• Leave your cell phone in the car.

• Carry extra tees, ball markers and an extra ball in your pockets so you never have to return to your bag to find one when needed.

• When chipping around the green, carry both the club you’ll be chipping with plus your putter so you don’t have to return to the bag.

• Try playing ready golf, where order of play is based on who’s ready, not on who’s away.

…and I’m going to add one more with some emphasis for my newbie golf friends: If you are actually so new to the game that you’re actually taking 144 strokes to complete a round of golf, be willing to pick up after one errant tee shot and hit your second shot at a playing partner’s ball. Too many new golfers hit two or three tee shots from numerous tee boxes and the golf course is not the place to get your swing corrected. Get yourself to a practice range with some frequency so that you can get your swing and swing speed working to more accurately hit shots once on the golf course.

…and FINALLY, if you’re prone to hitting dozens of errant shots per hole/round, then by all means, please buy yourself some cheap/old golf balls so that WHEN YOU LOST three dozen of them you don’t feel the need to go hunting for them. Nothing slows up play like looking for out of bounds balls.


Add Your Comments:
What are some of the things you’ve seen golfers do on the course that slow down play? And what are some of the ways that you speed up play? Send your comments, emails, photos, etc to [email protected]  or [email protected]

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