Neil and I recently visited our alternate course, the hilly fast draining one we play when our home course is booked up solid for days or closed in bad weather. Neil booked a tee time a few days ahead in a nice buffer zone of unbooked slots.
Ready to play
On the day of play, that buffer had vanished. The path to the first tee was lined with multiple socially distanced 4-balls ahead of us with only 8 minute start time intervals. Not promising. By the second tee we began to wait and the waits got longer. On the 5th tee the pair in front of us just gave up and walked in having warned us of the trouble ahead. We decided to press on. After 13 holes in three and a half hours of frustrating slow mistake ridden golf, Neil lost his cool, called time on the whole sorry escapade and uncharacteristically walked off in a moody huff. He was annoyed and I couldn’t blame him, so off we both stomped.
On the silent walk back I noticed a huge pile up of groups on 14-17, so I managed to persuade him to play the empty 18th to complete our spoiled walk. I could tell he was past caring when he hit as many shots as possible inside 409 yards of misery in an attempt to get his money’s worth.
I recently checked the Golf Now reviews and I’m sure he left a scathing report, taking no prisoners. So did many more. We, and many other annoyed reviewers, probably won’t be returning any time soon.
We must have all witnessed annoying behaviours during less than enjoyable slow play rounds. Here’s a few of my favourites that wind me up:
Slow to tee off
The fairway is clear, there’s nobody in driving range and yet the group ahead still hasn’t driven off. That’s perfectly fine on the first tee to maintain starting intervals but consistently throughout the round?
I have a lot of sympathy for first time visitors who get lost trying to find the next tee, particularly when the course relies on visitor revenue but has failed to provide clear “Next Tee” signage. However, most scorecards have a course map as a last resort.
Waiting for a green to clear with no chance of reaching it
Neil really hates this one. It’s a long par 5 into the wind. The group’s drives have landed in a wide spray pattern across rough and fairway 300 – 350 yards from the green. And yet they are waiting for the green to clear on the infinitesimally small chance that someone hits the shot of a lifetime. At least the shortest hitter could hit up to save time if there are any concerns of frightening the group ahead with an incoming shot.
Everyone searches for the lost ball – for a really long time.
I can understand it in a vital competition or to find the ball Tiger signed with a Sharpie but for friendly social golf on a busy course? A quick look for a lost ball is fine but when 3 Earth minutes have passed, the search is continuing and you still haven’t been waved on, its plain rude.
Never waving anyone through
They shall not pass. Lack of courtesy is annoying but I understand it on a busy course, even though it’s no excuse. When the course is packed, where are you going to go – except racing up to the next slow group? None the less, waving faster groups through is the right thing to do if searching for balls.
After you – I insist
We often see groups sticking religiously to the “farthest from the hole plays first” stipulation in the Rules of Golf. Totally fine during an unhurried round with nobody behind you. But on a busy course you need to be practical in stroke play. Within the R and A’s Pace of Play Manual, they talk about Ready Golf and when it’s appropriate and safe to play out of turn to avoid slow play. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s much awareness of this common sense.
You can definitely reach the flag ahead but your wait to play is lengthened as someone has left their bag or buggy on the side of the green furthest from the tee and takes an unnecessary walk. Again, understandable when visitors can’t see any ‘Next Tee’ signage.
Scorecard marking on the green
And then one of the group halts in front of the par 3 green, or within the greenside danger zone to mark their card or update their app, followed by a whole group negotiation about their individual scores. It was a 5. Trust me, I counted every stroke from the tee.
A slow green
We’ve often witnessed groups becoming too polite “No, I insist, after you”, and spending too much time surveying the terrain. We were very conscious of this with the PuttBANDIT and clear on our advice. I start assessing the putt when approaching the green and use time wisely while others putt. I don’t hang about. If gimme’s are allowed and agreed I’ll give them and move on quickly.
Keep calm and carry on
Here’s the challenge. If courses had standard 12 minute starting intervals and every player was polite, practical, courteous, fully aware of ‘Ready Golf’ and did all the right things, it would go a long way to improving the pace of play. But in the real world, when courses are crowded, we have to expect that hold ups are going to happen.
We can’t control those ahead of us, just how we respond to the inevitable delays, waits and annoyances that contribute to our frustrations on crowded courses. Perhaps tolerance, understanding and meditation might help or just being grateful we have the health and opportunity to be outdoors to play a few holes of the game we love. I gave Neil that same sage advice 3 seconds before he flounced off the 13th in a hissy fit. So much for mindfulness.
(Try to) Enjoy your game
Let us know about your experiences of slow play, what you do to avoid it and how you cope with the hold-ups. How do you manage your frustrations? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish some of the best thoughts in our monthly newsletter.
Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic improver. Paul currently plays off a handicap index of 12.3 unless playing on a crowded course with a fretful brother.