It's About Time!
When the Rules and Pace of Play Conflict
by Ed Mate, CGA Executive Director
Why is golf taking so long! As part of a comprehensive strategic plan that was completed in 2012 the USGA has identified Pace of Play as a major undertaking to address the game's sagging popularity. One of the challenges the USGA will face are conflicts between the Rules of Golf and creating an environment where rounds take less than five hours.
First and foremost a distinction needs to be made between casual golf and tournament golf. Since the Rules of Golf are "optional" for casual golf and since this is a "Rules" segment, I am going to focus on tournament golf. Over the past twenty years the way pace of play is addressed in tournament play has changed significantly. When I first began my career in golf administration in the mid-1980s there was very little talk of pace of play and it didn't seem to be a major issue. When pace of play did become an issue the standard policy was to time groups that fell out of position and try to determine who should be singled out - this, by the way, is still how pace is monitored on golf's professional tours.
Beginning in the early 2000s, state and regional golf associations began adopting a "group" or "checkpoint" policy that held the entire group accountable if they failed to meet time requirements and/or were out of position on the course. Today the overwhelming majority of amateur associations use some form of this policy in their state or regional championships. Initially, there was a lot of discussion about how this policy conflicted with the rules. How can you penalize a player under the Rules of Golf for something outside of their control? Some still struggle with this, but the results are irrefutable - based on survey results the average state association has saved between 20 and 30 minutes per round as a result of this policy. Further, under Rule 6-7, the player is required to adhere to the pace of play guidelines established by the committee.
While the checkpoint policy has helped significantly, it has not eliminated slow play. The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) has been one of the leaders in this area and was among the first golf associations to adopt the check point policy. In addition to this policy the AJGA takes things a bit further. In many AJGA events the first player to hole out on a hole is required to go to the next tee and tee off while the second and third players complete play. Doesn't this conflict with the rules (and golf etiquette) by ignoring Rule 10 (Order of Play) which states that the side with the lowest score plays first? Answer, yes, but the time savings cannot be ignored. Another AJGA policy that goes against the grain of tradition is to have players play first before assisting a fellow competitor in a ball search. This simple change can save significant time as it keeps play moving for critical minutes (they all add up) rather than having a five-minute road block (sometimes more if the player did not play a provisional ball) that will ultimately be added to the finish time of every group.
The bottom line in both tournament and casual play is to keep play moving and for players to be ready when it is their turn to play. Look for much more from the USGA on the subject of Pace of Play which will be announced during U.S. Open week later this month. It is a complicated issue with no simple solutions but kudos to the USGA for taking it seriously - it's about TIME!