Pace of Play – The Courses Reply

Golf course operators have to put up with this slow play nonsense as well.

Throwing Darts We have spent the last week addressing what may be the number one issue in golf today – the insane amount of time required to play a round of golf. It is all too common to spend five or six hours on a course. That’s just way too long. Is it feasible however to have a four-hour round (or even less)? Do pace-of-play policies work and if so, how are they enforced? To answer these questions we thought we would ask the people who have to deal with this on a daily basis.

Today’s quick interview features two guests: Robert Clark, Director of Golf Operations for The Architects Golf Club located in Lopatcong, NJ and Tim Kuebelbeck, Director of Golf for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board who oversees seven courses located throughout the city of Minneapolis, MN.

TST: If you have a pace of play policy, what is it?

Robert: Architects does have a sign with regards to the pace of play. We suggest a four-hour round. I however do not think that is realistic, I believe a 4½ hour round is much more achievable.

Tim: Our Pace of Play Policy is two-fold. First, our starters let each group know that time par expectation is 4:25. From there, our rangers monitor the groups and are trained not so much to look for gaps, but time pars.

TST: How do you enforce your pace of play policy?
Architects Golf LogoRobert: Like most courses we enforce pace of play with a staff of rangers. During our peak season we attempt to have both a front-nine and a back-nine ranger. It is very important for these rangers to be visible. If our golfers see the rangers several times during a round, typically fewer problems arise. Perception is everything.

Tim: Each group has an expectation based on the hole they are playing as to what time in their round they should be at to finish at our goal of 4 hours and 25 minutes. If they are behind, they are warned. After they are warned, the group is moved into position based on time par. If they continue to fall behind, the group is removed from the golf course.

TST: How do you see pace of play at your course and nationwide: big problem, non-issue…?

Robert: In my opinion pace of play is directly related to the number of players on the golf course. Pace of play at the Architects is more of an issue on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday simply because there are more people playing our golf course.

Tim: It’s a problem, but not one that can’t be managed. All course operators have days where nothing is going to work. The course is loaded and playing slow. How can you move 25 groups all at once? Simply impossible.

The key is to enforce and monitor the early groups so the day and course can be managed. If you have a full tee sheet and you lose the pace of play in the morning, good luck with the rest of the day. Effective use of Starter Times and preparing a tee sheet in advance are also management tools that when used effectively can help alleviate some problems.

TST: In a perfect world, what solutions would you have for curing the problem? What could golfers do to speed up and what could courses do to help them play more quickly?

Minneapolis ParksRobert: The golfer can begin by playing from the appropriate tee box. Too many times we see a 25 handicapper playing the back tees and that just does not work. Also, playing smart ready golf, meaning limit yourself to one waggle and practice swing, if a course is cart path only, bring a couple of clubs when hitting your next shot instead of having to go back to your cart to get another.

The golf course superintendent plays a huge roll in effecting pace of play, when the rough in left too long, green speeds running at a 10-11, and keeping carts on the paths instead of letting them scatter all are contributing factors in affecting the pace of play. In my opinion the golf course superintendent plays the largest roll in whether we have a four-hour or a five-hour round of golf.

Tim: Golf is a game. It should be enjoyed. If that means you hit four shots and are still 200 yards from the green, pick up your ball and go to the putting surface and finish out the hole. Players with an expectation that the hole needs to be played from tee to green is simply unnecessary.

How much enjoyment can you have on the golf course when taking a 12 on golf holes? Enjoy the game. Enjoy the company. Enjoy nature. But, enjoy the rest of your life as well and get off the golf course in 4 hours and 25 minutes.

12 thoughts on “Pace of Play – The Courses Reply”

  1. “TST: How do you enforce your pace of play policy?

    Tim: …If they continue to fall behind, the group is removed from the golf course.”

    If some one does get removed from the golf course, I could see a law suit for discrimination coming into play.

  2. The best and worst thing ever invented is the corporate or company scramble tournament. Best, because it introduces people to golf in an atmosphere that is fun. Worst, because it is not real golf played by yourself therefore people do not realize how bad they really are while playing in such a format.

    People that are not very good at the game ie. lost balls, rehits, losing sight of their shots, etc… drastically slow the game down. People that are not very good at the game do this the entire round not just on the odd hole.

    Any private clubs I have ever played all have had rounds that are under 4 1/2 hours. Why? because the people that play there are somewhat decent at the game.

  3. Robert nailed it when he said that “pace of play is directly related to the number of players on the golf course.” This is a bigger factor than that of selfish or ignorant golfers.

    In Palm Springs I played a round at Indian Wells. They were putting foursomes out every 7 minutes! We were backed up on the 1st tee through the 18th and spent nearly 6 hours on the course. I will never play that course again.

    The bottom line is that slow play should be blamed entirely on the golf course – for both greed driven tee time spacing and a lack of enforcement my rangers.

    I’ve found that 10 minutes between tee times keeps the pace of play moving just fine. Less than that, and you get backed up.

  4. Nice interview Mr. Olson, but it raises an interesting question: did you conduct the interview in person, or was it over the phone? If it was in person, I just have to ask if theses two guys were able to keep a straight face while they were suggesting that a pace of play in the neighborhood of 4 1/2 hours was reasonable. God knows I wouldn’t have been able to make a statement like that without laughing.

    Here are two Directors of Golf who ought to be poster children for course operators contributing to slow play. Beyond the ludicrous assertion that 4 1/2 hours is an acceptable pace of play, a careful reading of the interview indicates that neither of them has any plan or policy in place to correct slow play on their respective courses. Their only take on the problem seems to be to fill their tee sheets and hope the course doesn’t get bogged down. If it does, their solution is to point their fingers at guys playing the wrong tees and not picking up when they are on likely to shoot a 12 on a given hole.

    Mr. Kuebelbeck claims his course removes golfers who can’t maintain his 4 1/2 hour pace, but I’m going to have to take this one with a large does of salt. With such a ridiculous standard, how many times a year does he actually need to enforce that rule? When you start with a goal of 4 1/2 hours, how bad to you have to play to trigger the removal penalty? 5 hours? 5 1/2 hours? I play in excess of 70 rounds a year, on more than a dozen courses in a handful of different states, and can honestly say, after playing several hundred rounds in the last decade, that having a ranger even speak to a slow group is an unusual event, and I have yet to see anyone ever removed from any course for slow play.

    One of the most interesting parts of the entire interview is Mr. Clark’s statement that his pace of play sign says “4 Hours” rather than the 4 1/2 hour pace he feels is reasonable. I don’t blame him for posting a misleading sign; I wouldn’t have the gall to post the true pace of play either.

    The good news is that I will never set foot on a course overseen by either of these two guys, which means there will be one less unhappy golfer with whom either has to deal.

  5. I do think the overbooking of tee times on public courses on the weekends contributes to this problem. I assume this is because of no shows or people who book 4 and show up with two. In good weather this means that when everyone shows up, back ups are inevitable.
    Changing certain rules, stroke and distance etc., few golfers seem to hit provisionals.

  6. Nobody mentions course setup as a factor for slow play. Deep rough, low hanging bushes, narrow fairways, etc. will play havoc with pace of play. Nobody likes to spend five minutes looking for a ball that drifted a few yards off the fairway, but put in three inch rough and you can expect it to happen with frightening regularity. Once found, getting it back in play can be a challenge.

  7. Interestingly, Eastmoreland Golf Course here in Portland (a city-owned public course) tried an experiment a couple of years ago where they required golfers to sign an agreement that they would adhere to the time pars setup for the course, which then gave the marshalls greater freedom to do things like move slow groups to the 150 marker of the next hole, remove groups more freely, etc.

    As you would expect, the course immediately began to get a “bad rep” amongst the general Portland golfing public, and after seeing the number of golfers playing that course begin to decline steadily, the City rescinded that policy at Eastmoreland. Now, it’s just as slow as any of the other public/muni courses in town … sad but true.

    There’s an example where a course actually tried to operationalize policies designed to systematically eliminate slow play, and the golfing public’s response was to punish the course with declining business … damned if you do, damned if you don’t …

  8. Tim Kuebelbeck is expressing wishful thinking more than reality. I play the Minneapolis golf courses (almost every week) and there are no “time pars” enforced on the courses and there are no strict rangers at any of the Minneapolis courses. I won’t name names, but the rangers usually are retired fellows that drive around looking for lost balls. The courses need to enforce these rules so everyone can enjoy the game and good rangers is a good place to start. And maybe a boss who can be honest with himself about his courses.

  9. “Players with an expectation that the hole needs to be played from tee to green is simply unnecessary.”

    I understand the need to keep a reasonable pace but…aren’t we talking about golf here? That’s like saying you don’t ACTUALLY need to get the ball in the basket to play basketball.

  10. I am a Marshall at a busy public course in Alberta Canada. The couirse had a rep for 5 1/2 hour rounds regardless of the time of day or day of the week. This year after finally going to full time marshalling the pace has picked up somewhat. Today I complimented a group of senior ladies for their 3 1/2 hour round and got blasted by a group of 30 something men in carts who claimed the course is poorly designed and it is impossible to play in under 5 hours. The ladies walked to their respective balls, hit when safe to do so and putted until holed. The guys drove to one ball,then the next etc, as a group, dithered about club selection, took up to 9 practice swings before slicing or hooking balls into the rough or hazards. needless to say, the ladies played from appropriate tees, hit in bounds and likely scored in the high 90’s or low hundreds. The guys got beligerent when told to speed up and wanted to argue instead of accepting suggestions on how to speed up play. The biggest reason for slow play? incompetence on the course and egos way bigger than ability. The women could have played from the white tees, the men should have played from the junior tees in front of the reds.

  11. Marv Amos get up on that pedestal and take a bow,you have identified the number one problem ,guys whose expectations do not match their abilities or clubs .Just because Tiger or Phil hit it +300 does not mean they can,deflate your head a little and move forward to the next markers even if it’s not macho.Play to your abilities not tour player standard.

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