USGA technical director Matt Pringle spent parts of both days at this week's Pace of Play Symposium in Far Hills, N.J., attempting to dispel the seeming contradiction. Arguably the best data he had to prove it came out of a joint partnership that the USGA entered with the LPGA in 2014 to try and improve pace of play on the women's tour -- one in which the average round time was reduced by 14 minutes.
At the start of the season, the LPGA employed 10-minute intervals between its starting times when playing in threesomes. Officials tracked times for the first six events of the year and passed this information on to the USGA. During these events the average time for a round was 4 hours 54 minutes, with the average time for the longest round of the day being 5:12 and the longest round recorded overall taking 5:35.
Analyzing the times, Pringle recommend to LPGA officials to try 11 minute intervals in their tee times, suggesting that part of the reason for the long rounds came from players waiting on groups ahead of them. LPGA chief tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said there was some apprehension initially from players concerned it might lead to more delays, not fewer, but they eventually agreed to try it figuring they could always go back if it didn't work.
In short order, the times actually did drop, with the average round taking 4:49, the average of the longest round of the day falling to 5:04 and the longest round overall coming in at 5:24.
Additionally, the LPGA also made a change to its own pace-of-play policy on tour, which went into effect at the Kingsmill Championship in May. Rather than assign a time par for all groups to conform to, only the lead group would now be required to meet the time or be subject to warning and individual timing over shots. Subsequent groups, meanwhile, would be responsible instead with maintaining position on the course in relation to the group preceding it.
"The time par policy [for all players] had people focusing on groups behind them and whether they had people waiting on them," Daly-Donofrio said. Conversely, the new policy emphasized focusing on the group ahead and making sure you're not too far back.
The combination of the new policy and 11 minute intervals has results in even faster play. The average round time fell to 4:40 -- 14 minutes quicker than at the start of the year. The average of the longest round was 4:54, the amount of time that previous was the overall average. And the longest round total dropped to 5:13, an improvement of 22 minutes.
As part of the two-day gathering -- pro/amateur golf being the focus of discussion Wednesday, everyday golf up Thursday -- Pringle will unveil a prototype tool the USGA has been developing that attaches to a flagstick (see photo) and can be used to track the time between groups on a course. The device is triggered when the flagstick is placed into the cup (which has sensors in it along with the bottom of the flag stick) by a group walking off a green after players have putted out. It then tracks the time until the flagstick is removed from the cup by golfers approaching in the next group. These "cycle times," measured throughout a course, can then be monitored collectively to address issues in real time to try and get groups moving.
According to Pringle, the USGA began looking into developing the flagstick tool to give course operators an inexpensive but practical way to measure pace of play at their facilities. "It's our feeling that there are a lot of golf courses that are going blind," Pringle says. "They have no means of measuring, and therefore controlling, pace in any way, shape or form. The thing is, you really just can't leave it to chance."
Indeed, Pringle will show the USGA, which is hosting the symposium for a second straight year, is doing anything but leaving things to chance regarding slow play when he and colleague Scott Mingay present data the association gathered during the summer. At more than 130 public and private courses around the country, golfers were given GPS loggers to track them during their rounds, recording their location and the overall time to play as well as time spent waiting to play shots, among other metrics.
Pringle says more than 5,400 rounds were tracked, with the numbers being used to help the USGA offer recommendations, policies and solutions to deal with slow play, some of which will be discussion points this week.
In trying to broadly study the problem of slow play, Pringle and Mingay have looked to other industries that similarly rely on efficiently moving people or products through a defined system. Think Walt Disney World and its lines for rides and concessions, or UPS processing and delivering packages around the world.
"I feel a little bit sheepish when I talk about this project," Pringle says. "I think what we're doing is very advanced for golf, but if you were in a factory, Henry Ford would have done this [100 years ago]. . . . It's kind of cold to describe it like that, but this is a time and motion study on a very complex factory."
By extension, the prototype flagstick tool (see the cutaway above) is an attempt to allow any facility the opportunity to study their own unique assembly line.
"We're not trying to make any money on this," Pringle says, "but we see it as an opportunity to help a lot of courses improve pace."
By John Strege
Kevin Na has become golf's poster boy for slow play, but is he being unfairly targeted? Is he even the slowest player on the PGA Tour?
Brandel Chamblee and Arron Oberholser engaged in an interesting conversation on Golf Channel's Golf Central Pregame Saturday morning and were in agreement on their answers.
Yes to the first question, no to the second.
Oberholser did not say who he thinks is the slowest player, only that Na "is not the slowest player out here...He is unfairly scrutinized for his slow play."
Chamblee, meanwhile, said that that honor of slowest player probably goes to Jim Furyk.
"Jack Nicklaus was slow...Bernhard Langer was probably the slowest player in history," Chamblee said, "and Jim Furyk is probably the slowest player on this PGA Tour. None of them were criticized or blighted by the stigma of slow play to the extent that Kevin Na is being subjected to."
One reason, Chamblee said, is that television viewers get to see Na's pre-shot incertitude.
"Jim Furyk is a slower player than Kevin Na, but Jim Furyk is consistent with his pre-shot routine. [Golf television producers] Tommy Roy and Brant Packer and Lance Barrow, they know that they don't go to him until he backs away from his putt the first time. You don't see all those deliberations that Jim Furyk is going through.
"The two instances on Saturday, 2012, the Players Championship, and last Saturday, Kevin Na was inconsistent with his pre-shot routine. They'd go to him and he'd back away, so there was no way for them to predict how long his pre-shot routine was going to take, so if you watching at home you thinking, 'gosh, he's the slowest player out here.'"
Na was being heckled by some in the crowd during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Friday.
(Getty Images photo)