Golf course operators have heard all of the excuses as to why fewer people are playing golf lately: It's too hot. It costs too much. Work takes up more and more time.
But there is one excuse that is bound to make them cringe: It takes too long to play. There isn't much operators can do about the weather or work, but when it comes to pace of play there are some things they can do to speed things up.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina tested a program this summer aimed at having golfers play a round in three hours or less. The resort set aside tee times in the morning and mid afternoon for singles, twosomes and threesomes who wanted to play a quick round before returning to work. Instead of sending off groups in 10 minute intervals, groups were sent off every seven minutes.
The only restriction was that golfers must be able to keep pace in order to use these tee times.
"One of the major challenges that keeps many golfers off the course is the amount of time it takes to play 18 holes," Brian Gerard, Kiawah Island Golf Resort's director of golf, said in a statement about the program. "In response, we've developed this test program aimed at getting players around the course in less than three hours.''
Locally, Mangrove Bay Golf Course in St. Petersburg is one of the most played courses in the area. During the peak of golf season, which is right around the corner, Mangrove can reach 300 rounds in a day. The average is more like 255 during winter months.
Getting those players around in a reasonable time is the goal of general manager Jeff Hollis. The last thing a course needs is a reputation for slow play.
"The first thing we recommend is that players use the right tees for their skill level,'' Hollis said. "If you get on the wrong tees it can be a challenging and frustrating day, and the key is to have fun.
"Secondly, the biggest issue we have is the spacing of tee times. If we can get groups off in intervals of seven to eight minutes, then our pace of play is fine. If we get them off too soon, then we have a log jam and there's nothing the rangers can do. Also, our staff and starter tracks time through the day. At the end of the day, our staff gets information on pace of play. We have a goal of being around four hours for morning play, about four hours, 15 minutes for afternoon play. If it's off, then we evaluate why that happened and what we can do to not make it happen in the future.''
This week on Tour
PGA: BMW Championship, Today-Sunday, Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, Lemont, Ill. TV: Today-Friday, 3 p.m. on Golf Channel; Saturday, 10 a.m. on Golf Channel, noon on Ch. 8; Sunday, noon on Golf Channel, 2 p.m. on Ch. 8.
LPGA: Navistar LPGA Classic, Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Prattville, Ala. TV: Today-Friday, 12:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m. on Golf Channel.
Champions: Songdo IBD Championship, Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, Incheon, South Korea. TV: Friday-Sunday, 1 a.m. on Golf Channel.
PGA Europe: Seve Trophy, Saint-Nom-la-Breteche Golf Club, Saint-Nom-la-Breteche, France. TV: Today-Friday, 8:30 a.m., Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. on Golf Channel.
Nationwide: Boise Open, Hillcrest CC, Boise, Idaho. TV: Today-Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m. on Golf Channel.
Tips for playing ready golf
While the courses do their best to ensure manageable rounds, some responsibility falls on the golfers as well. Here are some simple tips to shave some minutes off your round:
1. Don't waste time on the greens: You are not on Tour. Give your putt a quick look and then make your stroke. And don't get stuck on the honor system. If you are ready and your partner is going to get his putter, go ahead and play.
2. A lost ball is not the end of the world: Don't be the person who spends forever hunting for their ball. Spend a minute or two searching the brush, but don't wade in with your 3 iron until you find it. It's just a ball, and the golf gods usually even things out by letting you find another one later in the round.
3. Be smart with the cart: Don't park your cart on the opposite side of the green from the next tee box. If you need to chip from off the green and the ball is on the other side, take your putter with you. Smart cart parking can save you about 30 minutes per round.
4. Ready, aim, fire: Normally, if you're playing tournament golf, the player with the best score on the last hole tees off first. But for an informal round, the first one ready should hit.
5. Let them play through: If you are taking too long to play, or if the group behind you is faster, it's okay to let them play through. Finish your hole and then let them tee off ahead of you. It's not a sign of weakness.
6. No such things as mulligans: Nothing is more frustrating than playing behind a group and watching a player reach into his pocket to grab a ball and take another shot. Unless it's a provisional, hit your shot and chase it.
7. Bring the right clubs: If you are on the opposite side of the fairway from your cart partner, take the clubs you think you'll need and walk to your ball. That way you'll be ready to hit after your partner takes his shot. In some cases, you can take your putter as well.
8. Speed up sand play: When hitting a shot from the bunker, make sure you put the rake next to you. That way you'll be ready to rake right after you nestle your shot next to the cup.
9. Count the strokes later: Here's another pet peeve; after everybody has holed out, one of the players whips out the scorecard and begins writing down scores on the green. Wait until you're on the next tee to start writing down scores.
Now that's fast
Here are some ultra fast rounds by the numbers:
29:30: Minutes and seconds famed miler Steve Scott played a regulation round in 1979 at a Las Vegas golf course. He used only a 3 iron and shot a 95.
27:09: The fastest round ever played in a speed golf or x-treme golf event. Players wear running shoes and carry a lightweight bag with no more than six clubs to see how fast they can play a 6,000-plus yard course.
One hour, 24 minutes: Fastest round in a PGA Tour event. Greg Norman and Mark O'Meara played the final round of the Nabisco Championship at Pebble Beach in 1998 quickly because weather threatened to cancel Norman's flight to Australia. Both players shot a 79.
7:56: Time in minutes and seconds a group of 40 players took to play the Boyne Mountain Resort in Michigan in 2008. As soon as a player hit his opening shot, another player in the fairway ran out and hit the next shot. A group of players by the green putted. Once the ball was in the hole, the player on the second tee hit away. This continued for all 18 holes.