"While we're young" – The curse of slow play
I’d like to know what other people think of the USGA’s new series of commercials discouraging slow play. I’m not quite sure how to interpret them.
In two of them, it appears to me like the dawdler in question (Tiger Woods in one, and Clint Eastwood in the other) doesn’t speed up at all, but rather is just amused (Woods) or irritated (Eastwood).
And the catch phrase itself – a Rodney Dangerfield line from “Caddyshack” (which many people don’t realize, despite other commercials focusing on the proper Dangerfieldesque delivery) – is sort of rude, isn’t it? Certainly it was delivered in the movie with a certain air of audacity.
This being said, I’m not sure if there’s a more polite way to ask someone to speed up; even asking politely to play through is often awkward. So perhaps I’m completely wrong about the USGA’s efforts. Maybe it’s smarter than it looks, just like Dangerfield was. (But I still think several of the commercials are ambiguous at best.)
What I do know though, is that slow play is both miserable and widespread. When I’m reviewing a course, I often play alone. If I’m the first one out in the morning, I can play two balls, take photos and detailed notes, and be done in just under 2.5 hours.
I’m a terrible waiter. If I have to wait to play a shot, chances are, it’ll suck. As all of my regular playing partners know, I don’t spend a lot of time over the ball. Just this past weekend at my home course, one of my buddies started telling me, “Hit it here on the left edge” as I was pulling the putter back. He had expected me to look at the hole a few more times and take some practice strokes. I don’t do either of those things, and I make a pretty decent number of putts, like I did that one, despite the well intentioned chatter.
What causes slow play? On this morning’s edition of Morning Drive, they had a former USGA rules official on, and tried to suggest that slow play is caused by players who don’t know the rules. This struck me as profoundly off-target. If anything, a healthy disregard for some of the more ridiculous rules of golf SPEEDS PLAY, rather than slows it. Imagine the glacial pace of play if everyone who hit a ball OB or into high grass or foliage that is not marked with a hazard line went back to the tee (or wherever) to replay the shot? Or how much time it would take to get a club out and actually measure and mark two club-lengths for a drop from a hazard or one club length from a cart path, announcing their new ball to everyone, asking a playing partner to come over and observe, etc., etc.
But I’m just getting started. What if no one ever gave anyone a putt during non-competitive stroke play? By the rules, all the gimmes during friendly stroke play are illegal. Consider also the habit of many very good golfers who routinely roll their balls over to get a better lie, a practice that undoubtedly results in better shots, fewer strokes, and faster play.
The polite conventions of the game slow play down even further. Whose tee is it? Who friggin’ cares? If you’re ready, get up there and hit. Who’s away? Again, who cares? If you’re ready, hit.
Some of the niceties of golf that are NOT causing slow play: fixing ball marks, replacing divots, and raking sand bunkers. I know this because, based on the conditions of courses I’ve played in the U.S. from Arizona to Minnesota to Massachusetts to Florida, 80 percent of players do none of these things. I routinely fix 4-5 ball marks per green, and find myself raking multiple footprints out of traps. Unless Jesus was walking with me in the trap (along with several of his disciples), these other tracks in the sand were not made during my shot. (And given the general effectiveness of my sand play, I’m pretty skeptical of divine intervention.) Don’t even get me started on fixing divots in the fairway; it’s like a freaking minefield out there.
Some of golf’s modern conveniences have also slowed play. In my view, golf carts are a major culprit. Most golfers have no clue how to drive a cart efficiently. Furthermore, the ubiquity of the golf cart has also prompted course architects to build layouts with half-mile drives between holes and daredevil routings over and through areas that are rife with hazards that eat up time with the same voracity that they devour golf balls. As far as I can tell, I and my regular playing buddies, nearly all of whom walk 90 percent of the time, play faster when we’re walking than when we’re driving.
Finally, despite the fact that the makers of GPS and laser range finders claim that these devices speed up play, I’ve seen way too many guys wander up to the tee (where the yardage is marked anyway!) or up to their ball, check the yardage on their device, and then wander back to their bag or cart to pull a club. If one of these guys has the tee, I drop my ball and hit. Screw that.
How, then, can we all speed up play? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Learn how to drive a flipping golf cart. Drop off your cart partner at his/her ball, and, if yours is not in the line of play, drive over to it while your partner plays. Then he/she can walk over to the cart while you hit your shot. Park between balls and both go hit. Drop off your partner with a few clubs to look for his/her ball while you go hit, then come back to help look or pick him/her up. One of you take your clubs out of the cart and walk up to the green while the other guy takes the cart up around the green. Etc., etc., etc.
2) Golf course operators: Change all OB to lateral hazards (i.e., use red paint/stakes to demarcate them, rather than white), and tell everyone when they tee off to just drop a ball with a one-stroke penalty as close to where it went out as possible. Tell them to NOT spend time looking for their balls or trying to hit out of the hazards, and that if your marshals see them doing so, they will be asked to leave. Maybe see if you can get a ball company to give you a deal on balls, and GIVE EVERYONE a sleeve as they tee off. (Maybe you could even have the reminder “KEEP UP THE PACE” on each ball?) That way they won’t mind abandoning the occasional wayward shot as much.
3) Golf course operators (again): Mark the yardages CLEARLY, CONSISTENTLY, and COPIOUSLY, and/or provide GPS in every cart.
4) Play more match play. Stroke-play, nearly unknown at some courses in Scotland and Ireland, has damaged golf in the US. Americans for some strange reason are infatuated with counting every stinking stroke. Maybe it’s because we, as a nation, can’t do math, and so we want to avoid trying to figure out handicaps, etc. when playing match play. But whatever the reason, match play is much faster, as one can legally pick up and concede putts. Sometimes, the hole is over before you walk off the tee.
5) Give up looking for balls sooner, and let your playing partners take a free drop if everyone saw that the ball landed safely but no one is quite sure where it is. Forget the “lost ball” penalty. Just drop one and hit. If everyone does this, chances are you’ll find more balls than you lose, anyway.
6) Let faster players play through, whether or not they get snarky with a “While we’re young” comment.
7) Quit gambling on golf. The only reason most guys give a flying fart about their score or yours is so they can win $5 from you. Cripes, I’ll GIVE you $5 if you’ll just speed the hell up. Again, more match play, but not for money. I won, you won, who cares at the end of the day? It’s just all for fun. Check your ego at the first tee and satisfy your urge to wager somewhere else.
8) Choose the tees that match your game. Most of the time, you’re playing too far back. Again, leave your ego in your car.
9) Learn how to use those range finders, and if it’s your home course, put them the hell away. You should know how long the 4th hole is by now – you’ve played it 400 times!
10) Golf course operators (again): Train your marshals and drink cart drivers how to promote, rather than interfere with pace of play.
11) Golf course operators (again): How about charging by the hour? Full price for a 4-hour round. 25 percent discount for 3-hour round. 25 percent increase for a 5-hour round. Put taxi meters on your carts, and charge accordingly. (I’m only half-joking about this one, actually—I should probably patent this idea…)
12) Back to completely serious: Play fast, but don’t rush. Alacrity is good, haste is not. This is a very fine line, I’ll admit, and I often cross it myself. But the distinction is important in golf and in life in general. If you succeed in finding the balance, you will play better. I promise.
Well, this has been one long-ass blog. If you’re a speedy player, you could have played 2 holes in the time it took you to read this. If you’re a dawdler, you’re still on the first tee. Don’t be a dawdler.
Oh, and I am truly interested to hear your impressions of the “While we’re young” campaign…
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I had a similar reaction myself ... not sure that the tone and manner is entirely appropriate. Certainly the acting and delivery by the selection of golf celebrities is 'wooden'. I like to imagine that the agency that pitched the concept at least tried to negotiate with the estate of Rodney Dangerfield or the makers of Caddyshack to use his actual image to kickoff the campaign.
As a former ad guy/creative director what I do appreciate is that by having a handle like 'While we're young," guys making the complaint have a way to make light of the situation and avoid the potential conflict that calling out slow play and slow players usually causes.
Per slow players themselves, they are the scourge of the game. I have quit country clubs because of them; stood on my head on a towel in the middle of the fairway to get their attention; and seriously considered giving up the game entirely after a few particularly annoying outings.
It is the disrespect and the utter self-absorption that is most offensive. With each practice swing, plumb bob and laborious contemplation they torture everyone unfortunate enough to be in their company or who are forced to play behind them.
I dare say has it never occurred to them that golf is a game of rhythm and momentum that rewards continuity of play? I can virtually guarantee better scores when the game is played quickly and continuously and professionals should teach this,