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Ron Sirak

Time To Get Moving

There's no better time than now to deal with the plague that is slow play

February 5, 2013

Of the thousands of rounds of golf I have witnessed in my 26 years as a sportswriter, one of my all-time favorites was the 18-hole playoff between Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst for the 2006 U.S. Women's Open at Newport Country Club.

That it was Sorenstam's 68th LPGA victory, 10th major championship and third Women's Open title was impressive enough, as was the near-flawless one-under-par 70 she shot in the Monday finish to win by four strokes.

But what has really stuck with me all these years was this: Sorenstam and Hurst, playing for the national championship in women's golf, covered 18 holes on an extremely difficult golf course in 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Now think back to that Monday finish at Torrey Pines a couple weeks ago and remember that the final group featuring Tiger Woods needed 3 hours and 51 minutes to play the last 11 holes.

Related: 10 things you should know about slow play

If for no other reason, that stark contrast is why anyone who cares about the game of golf should be celebrating the fact that USGA president Glen Nager made improving pace-of-play a centerpiece of his speech at the governing body's annual meeting in San Diego.

Taking on this crucial issue is a sign that the USGA has come to understand that it must be involved not just in its traditional role of governing the game, but that it must also be involved in growing the game.

Participation has been flat, at best, for a decade, and the time it takes to play 18 holes is right up there with price and the game's sometimes lukewarm embrace of new players as one of the reasons as many people quit the golf each year as take it up.

In a session with reporters before the annual meeting, Nager said slow play "has now become one of the most significant threats to the game's health" and that six-hour rounds "threaten to drive players away from the game."

Certainly, one of the impacts of the Great Recession is that all of those who didn't lose their jobs are working harder than they ever have, putting in longer hours and wanting to use the time they have away from work to be with their families and not stuck behind the foursome in front moving at a snail's pace.

"Slow play is incompatible with our modern society in which our personal time for recreation has become increasingly compressed," Nager said. "Slow play drains enjoyment from the game and discourages participation."

Amen, brother. But what can be done to fix it?

The USGA initiative will focus on four key areas:

Course design: This includes the overall length of the course, the distance to walk from greens to the next tee, and the location and number of hazards. A nice idea, but it can't fix the bad courses built for carts in the 1990s.

Related: The USGA is in a position to lead the game forward

Course management: Green speed, hole locations and the height of the rough are factors here. Not all greens need to be running at an 11, not all holes need to be cut on the edge of a ridge and not all rough needs to hide your shoes.

Player management: Forget seven minutes between tee times and opt for 10 or 12. Maybe you lose some revenue in the short run, but if it means not driving away those already playing and maybe attracting new golfers, the deficit will soon be an asset.

Player behavior. This might be the hardest to control. How do you get people using the proper tees? How do you get the 18-handicap to not play from the tips? Maybe create a financial incentive, like cheaper green fees for playing from shorter tees. Or maybe a strict handicap rule for each set of tees.

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