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Solutions to the problems concerning slow pace of play

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The eyes of the golf world will be upon you this week, Augusta National. But when they are done staring you down, maybe then can turn their steely gaze toward some basic grass roots topics.

Granted, we daily-fee-loving recreational golfers don't have to deal with the same hot button social issues as our private club counterparts, i.e. gender and race equity, whether to order duck or Cornish game hen for Saturday supper, and where the white tees will go for the annual member/guest.

But we have our own unique set of concerns, most of which can be boiled down to time and money (and for the sake of time, we won't even go into money).

For starters, we're sick and tired of a round of golf consuming more hours than a Ken Burns documentary. We've talked about the cause of slow play ad nauseam.

Let's talk about solutions.

One industry type recently proposed an elaborate system that is destined to be as popular as France at a Young Republicans meeting. Golfers would sign an agreement to play at stated pace before their round. Sets of lights mounted on golf carts would alert rangers as to a group's progress, or lack thereof. Violate the agreed upon pace of play a couple times and get the boot.

Why not just put electric shock collars around golfer's necks? Martha Burk, who obviously has plenty of time on her hands, could monitor every problem course in the U.S. via streaming Internet feed. If a group falls behind, cracks a blonde joke, or doesn't invite a woman to join it by the back nine. ZAP.

"There used to be some Nazi-like courses in Chicago and that approach doesn't work," says Doug Schmidt, president of Charleston Golf Partners and former executive with Kemper Sports. "We should not do anything to hinder golfers' enjoyment of the game."

One man's enjoyment, however, is another man's nightmare.

"I like to play in three hours or less, but I have played with guys who think they need five hours," says Schmidt. "The problem is behavioral, though, and it can't be solved with technology."

Not with little blinking lights on carts, carts themselves, or Global Positioning System units.

Schmidt proposes that courses move to 10-minute tee times and double-tee during peak times if they are battling pace of play problems. As far as golfers, Schmidt believes most minutes are lost around the green.

"Average golfers waste so much time before they putt," he says. "You have people out there plumb-bobbing, and I guarantee you most of them have no idea what they are doing. They need to work on the pace of the putt and stop worrying so much about the line. I think the PGA Tour does weekend golf a disservice. Your average golfer sees the pros taking so much time over their shots and they emulate this out on the course."

OK, back to reality for a minute. Ten-minute tee times can mean up to eight fewer golfers per hour at courses that are running at seven or eight minute headways. If your average fee per round is $50, well, do the math.

"You can't just go to 10 minutes without tying it to revenue," says Steve Taylor, a principal with TSC Golf Inc. in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "The solution to slow play (in theory) is to increase the intervals (between groups). But then the course has to charge more and you change the price point of your entire operation. The question then becomes, how much is that improvement in pace of play worth to the golfer?"

To his own question, Taylor has no answer. He says he and his partners are reluctant to experiment with price at their five Myrtle Beach area courses in today's shaky market. Instead, TSC is examining other options such as developing more executive courses and re-introducing the 12-hole layout.

Joe Livingood, a regional operations manager with Billy Casper Golf, Inc. in Vienna, Va., says that Taylor is on to something.

"There are things you can do with the design and set up of the course," he says. "If there's inclement weather, the tees should be moved forward to help golfers negotiate forced carries. If the greens are cut short, you should have favorable pin placements. But it really comes down to education, education, education."

When pressed on the details of how to educate golfers on pace of play, Livingood is as miffed as the rest of us.

"Your everyday (recreational) golfer is showing up five minutes before his tee time because he thinks he knows everything there is to know about pace of play," Livingood says. "Sometimes there's not enough time to educate golfers and then the only exposure to pace of play that they get is on TV."

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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