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Slow-Play: The Hidden Culprits

By Bobby Weed, Special Contributor

You have just finished a five-hour round at a high-profile resort course. You kept pace with the group ahead, and you were not holding anyone up. So why did it take so long? And why do you have a hazy feeling that paying so much for this "privilege" is a rip-off?

The culprit may not be the obvious suspect usually blamed for slow play, like forced carries or novice golfers. Operators and architects can make a series of minor mistakes whose cumulative effect creates a tremendous drag on the round. Today, with time replacing money as the No. 1 reason players are leaving the game, these mistakes can no longer be ignored. Here then, are five subtle causes of slow play you might not have noticed:

Awkward circulation from the parking lot to No. 1 tee. A round really starts when the golfer passes through the entry gate. The sequence of dropping your clubs off, paying a green fee, changing shoes, warming up and teeing off should be as logical and efficient as possible. Minutes can be added to the day by forcing golfers to wander back and forth or step in and out of cars, carts and buildings.

Lengthy green to tee walks. In today's world where riding is the rule, most think that green-to-tee distances no longer matter. Not so. Consider the time it takes to get in a cart, wait for your partner and ride to the next hole. Compare that with walking off a green, not getting in your cart, exchanging putter for driver, and teeing off. If just 45 seconds a hole is saved, a round will be shortened by almost 15 minutes.

Getting off to a slow start: 8-minute tee times jam groups too closely together for efficient play. Studies have shown that tee times spaced 10-12 minutes, separate groups more effectively. The longer interval actually allows more golfers onto the course each day.

Also critical is the design of the opening three holes. Water hazards, par-3s and reachable par-5s should not be in the mix. A couple of good, full length two or three-shot holes will get groups spaced out and moving smoothly.

The back tees markers are set out. Its well known most golfers believe they are capable of playing from a set of tees that is too long. If the back markers are out, there will invariably be one group that cannot resist the temptation to "see the whole course." Like a slow motorist in the passing lane, that group slows everyone behind them down. What's wrong with the old Scottish custom of asking permission to play the medal tees?

Lack of visibility. Visibility is a critical element for increasing speed of play. Striped 150-yard poles allow walkers and riders to estimate their yardage while approaching their ball. Good visibility to the target lets golfers get more comfortable with their shot and hit more quickly. Routing cart paths so golfers can see their balls in the fairway or green surrounds allows them to plan their approach or chip before they even get out of the cart. They also pull the right clubs to bring with them.

Consider how long it takes to look for a sprinkler head, decipher a yardage book, or run back to the cart for another club. It may only happen once or twice a round to each member of a foursome, but that could easily extend the day by 5 or 10 minutes.

Slow play is a bane to the future of the game and is a symptom of a golf course with multiple ills. Conversely, a course that can be played quickly is usually efficient to operate and maintain. Today's industry professionals must maximize the economy of minor design details whose cumulative effect has a powerful impact on the pace of play. The next time you are subject to a five-hour round, why not spend the extra time digging deeper to see if you can spot one of these hidden culprits?

Weed Design is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Noted for design-build & their hands-on approach--Weed and his two associates, Scot Sherman and Chris Monti, invite you to visit their Web site at www.bobbyweed.com

Bobby Weed, Special Contributor

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