By Ryan Herrington
FAR HILLS, N.J. -- Playing ready golf. Using the right set of tees. Accepting slower greens and shorter rough. Not counting every shot.
These were just some of the ideas attendees discussed during a day-long symposium hosted by the USGA at Golf House that focused on the issue of slow play.
Titled "While We're Young: Golf Pursuit of A New Paradigm For Pace of Play," the Nov. 7 gathering brought together leaders from various constituencies within the golf industry -- panelists included representatives from the PGA and LPGA tours, PGA of America, junior organizations, regional golf associations, course management companies, architect societies and the golf course superintendents association. Subjective observations about factors that create pace-of-play issues were used to frame the extent of the problem while objective data being compiled by various research groups on recreational golfers at courses around the country was shared to help identify some fact-based solutions that can be used at facilities to address slow play's true root causes.
Matt Pringle, USGA technical director equipment standards, presented data the USGA has gathered over the past year that emphasized the importance of maintaining "cycle time"--how many minutes between when groups finish--starting with the first foursomes that tees off each day. The longer course operators can keep these cycle times in acceptable levels--often a function of the interval in which tee times are set--the less disruptive slow play will become during the day. But if the second or third groups off the first tee fall even 30 seconds behind the golfers in front of them, Pringle showed how it can add 30 or more minutes to the rounds for groups not far behind them.
Arguably the most intriguing suggestion, however, was one not often raised in the debate because it's generally viewed as being off the table: simplifying the Rules of Golf.
During one roundtable discussion, John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director/rules, competitions and amateur status, said that a reduction in the amount of time allowed to search for a lost ball (currently five minutes) was under consideration. Rules that incorporate stroke-and-distance penalties are also being reviewed to see if changes there could be made that would maintain the integrity of the game while also helping with pace of play.
"From a holistic standpoint, the Rules of Golf committee I think is willing to take a different perspective [regarding rules changes] that extend beyond simply from a competition standpoint," Bodenhamer told Golf World.
USGA executive director Mike Davis said a general review of how to simplify the Rules of Golf overall is ongoing but that pace of play is a specific prism being used to identify areas for potential change. To wit, Davis mentioned that situations where players take drops is something being looked at and whether players should be required to take a second drop in instances where the first one results in balls still being out of play--or whether they should simply place the ball at the spot the ball hits the ground as they would with a second drop.
Mind you, expecting significant changes to the Rules of Golf for the next cycle that begins Jan. 1, 2016, is a stretch. Still the possibility that some tweaks could happen in the future on the Rules front--in addition to the innovative steps already starting to be put in place to address pace of play--suggests that the problem has a genuine chance at being properly solved.