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Time Keeps on Turning: The Curse of the Six-Hour Round

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Think of all the things you could do in five hours. Let's say you are a Kentucky basketball fan, and on a whim you decide to fly to Syracuse, N.Y. to see the Wildcats in action against the No. 1 seeded Maryland Terrapins in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament on Thursday.

You could go from good seat in a sports bar in Lexington to painting your face blue and white in some dark corner of the Carrier Dome in five hours.

Let's say you were holed up inside your house in any town Minnesota for yet another afternoon of television, couch sitting, and cheese puffs, when you decided to pull the trigger on that E-Saver flight to Phoenix for a last minute golf binge.

You could go from wind chill to sunburn in five hours.

In five hours, Beethoven could write a symphony, John Feinstein could write a book, and John Daly could drink two kegs.

Oh, and based on the current acceptable pace of play in many of this country's most vaunted golf destinations, you may be able to fit in a round of golf in five hours.

But my money is on Daly.

"The problem with pace of play is the money end of golf in Myrtle Beach," say Ben Hunt, a golf course consultant in Myrtle Beach. "There are 120 courses and each one feels that it has to get it while they can, in other words make as much money as possible during the spring months off cart fees."

From where I sit (which is on the 10th tee box at a course in Myrtle Beach in my mandated golf cart, on my way to a nice six hour round), a golf course relying on a cart fee for a profit is like McDonald's counting on that McRib thing that comes out once a year to push it over the earnings edge.

If you can't turn a dime on greens fees, range balls, gear, and grub, maybe your track is mismanaged.

Then again, maybe you are just trying to pay for the two million dollar, seven-mile ribbon of concrete cart path that runs over your facility like some Lilliputian Interstate system.

Memo to the golf course development industry: we need golf carts because you make us need golf carts. And don't try to pass your buggies off as time savers, because if you give me a pull cart or a double strapped bag, I'll go John Henry on that EZ-Go.

"We wonder why the number of players entering the game equals the number of players leaving the game every year," says one head golf pro from Phoenix wishing to remain anonymous so as to keep collecting his fee (read salary) and not a cart fee. "Who wants to have to deal with a five to six hour round? It takes up your entire day. And when you are a beginner, and struggling, who wants to hack it up for that long?"

Our friend from Phoenix made a visit to the cart path only, carts only world of Ocotillo Golf Club in Chandler the other week, and almost walked off the course when the elapsed time of his round hit five hours when he was on his 16th hole.

"There are lots of nice ponds out there, and I was thinking, 'man, it would be sweet if I had my fishing rod,'" he said without any hint of deadpan in his voice.

Ever wonder where those old wooden signs with the "You Should Complete Your Round in Four Hours" went? They've become an X-File, and since David Duchovny prefers the hardwood to the fairways and is basically off the show, we'll never find them anyway.

How bad has it gotten? Cigarette Smoking Man could mow down a carton before putting out on the 18th in most golf destinations.

In a sampling of six golf courses in the Grand Strand, four hours and 30 minutes was the posted pace of play goal. In an actual sampling of these six golf courses, five hours was the average actual time.

"It is a problem and its an ongoing problem, especially in the spring when you get some five and six hour rounds," says Patrick Crean, general manager of Crow Creek Golf Club in Calabash, N.C. "You have to have people that are trained properly, from rangers to the beverage cart. In Myrtle Beach, you have big groups and they were out late the night before drinking and they show up late."

You know who you are: the guys with the extra big bags and the coolers full of cold beers to wash away the cobwebs from the night before. We don't care if this is your one big golf trip of the year. It doesn't give you free license to play three balls, measure up your putts like Tiger Woods, or look for your ball in the woods for ten minutes.

So which came first, the slow golfer or the golf cart? The golf cart, of course. But now we are dealing with its ugly offspring, and no one seems ready to do anything about it.

"Rangers in golf destinations like Myrtle Beach want free golf, and not a four hour round for the players," Hunt says. "The golf cart is here to stay in the Grand Strand."

And so is the five-hour round, apparently.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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