Monday, December 17

The Six-Hour Round

RECENTLY, AS YOU MAY KNOW if you follow this blog, I had the privilege of playing three exceptional golf courses in Pebble Beach: The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links. It was the first time I played 18-hole rounds on three consecutive days in, well, I don’t even know—20 or 30 years.

A small fleet of golf carts. (Kinmartin)
As I’ve already reported here, it was absolutely incredible. I can also tell you that those were long rounds, each one six hours or more. Not that I’m complaining. There were some legitimate reasons why they were on the slow side. (It was a corporate event, the Lexus Champions for Charity, that loaded up three championship courses with golfers of all skill levels in a shotgun start.) Nonetheless, it got me thinking about slow play as a persistent problem of the game.

(Read How Pebble Beach Is Improving Pace of Play)

In many cases, I think slow play is ridiculous. Five or more hours to play a round of golf seem excessive. I don’t play much anymore—and I do love the game—but if it takes that long to get around, is it any wonder that people will find other things to do? I have zero desire to play five- or six-hour rounds (unless it’s Pebble, of course). I’d walk away, too. Yes, there are a lot of other sports and entertainment options and people do have short attention spans. But hasn’t the game also hurt itself immensely by evolving into a slow-play culture?

As I played at the three Pebble Beach-area courses, I was reminded of some aspects of the modern game that can slow it to a snail’s pace.

For instance, do I really need to know exact yardages? Is about 150 yards good enough, or do I need to know it’s 147 or 153? How long, and from how many angles, do I need to look at a putt? Do carts speed up the game, or does cart-path golf actually slow things down? Golfers of all skill levels used to walk and get around in four hours.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about what can be done to draw more people to the game. Some of the ideas are radical. I’d hate to see the game cannibalized in some respects—12-hole courses, six-hole rounds and such. I wonder what if people just played at what used to be a normal rate—two hours (or less) for nine holes and four hours (or less) for 18? Is two hours too long for a recreational activity?

If that’s too long for some people, then perhaps golf isn’t for them. I’d rather take that approach then try to turn this great game into something that’s palatable for a wider group of people—in essence, giving in to a popular culture of short attention spans and instant gratification.

In his first column for, Arnold Palmer outlined some of his concerns about the game, which included slow play:
Slow play is turning time-starved people away from the sport. We need to encourage nine-hole rounds.
I think nine-hole rounds are a great idea. But, again, what if 18-hole rounds could be played in four hours (or less)? Do you remember those days?

They weren’t really that long ago.


Howard Gluckman said...

Fortunately, at my club rounds at about 4 hours are the norm. Even then, they could be faster. When we play early in the morning, my wife and I regularly finish in about 3 1/2 hours. We often play 9 in the early evening (in the summer) in about 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours.

There are a number of things that slow down play. I think cart-path-only is terrible. There's no way that can be fast. Many courses today seem to be set up for slow play with long walks from the cart path down to the green, and they take you off the course too far from the green - unless you're hitting the green with your approaches all the time. Yardages by themselves are not the problem, although people obsess over them. Lasers and GPS devices should make getting a good enough yardage fast.

The real problem is golfers just not being ready to hit their shot when it's their turn. A little common sense, and being in position when it's your turn goes a long way.

Brian Kuehn said...

You are so right that the length of a round of golf is inversely proportional to the popularity. Pebble/Spyglass/Spanish Bay are probably not the best measures of golfing speed. Everyone playing those venues has forked over a small fortune or are probably only going to have the experience once. As you did, you chalk up the snail pace as part of a once in a lifetime experience and enjoy the round no matter how long it takes.

When one returns home, however, the 5-6 hour round at the local muni or public play course is totally unacceptable. I lay a lot of blame on the course owners. They sometimes create courses that are too difficult or not conducive to a 4 hour round. They refuse to give course marshalls the tools to assist players to faster play or issue on the spot refunds to the tortises. Slow players are rarely aware of their pace. Educating the golfing public is largely pointless since the turtles think the message is for someone else.
If course owners want to grow the game, they need to come up with the solution.

Kevin Markham said...

I love the stats that come out about, let's say, 1000 golfers being asked the biggest scourge of the game today - to which over 95% say slow play. But when asked if they are slow, not one admits to it.

In Ireland, we don't struggle as badly as our brethren in the US, but - and apologies - many Irish golfers fear being behind Americans and caddies on the big links. They want to take it all in but they bring their approach to the game with them and 5/6 hour rounds are typical as they do exactly what Neil says - fuss over whether it's 150 or 153 yards to the pin and agonise over putts.

I have yet to meet a Ranger who actually does his job properly and most golfers are apprehensive of asking to be allowed to play through, because abuse is often the result.

The Armchair Golfer said...

Howard: I think you're right about people not being ready to hit their shot. Sometimes too much information -- having to have and consider it -- can get in the way.

Brian: Course difficulty can definitely be a problem, too, and lack of awareness.

And, like Kevin says, no one wants to admit to the problem even though there's a lot of lip service about slow play.