There's a hamburger-and-ice-cream place not far from where I live, called Popey's. The line to order sometimes stretches all the way to the door -- as it did one evening last summer when my wife and I stopped for dinner. We inched along for 10 minutes, then, finally, it was the turn of the guy directly in front of us. He looked up at the menu -- which is printed on a big board above the counter -- and said, "Uhhhhhh..."
I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, do you play golf?" He'd had 10 minutes to decide between french fries and onion rings, yet when he got to the front of the line, he acted as though "May I help you?" was a trick question. On golf courses, I often get stuck behind guys like him. They play a shot, then go into a coma. Only when it's their turn to swing again do they wake up and realize they don't know their yardage, or the club they used for the previous shot might not work for this one, or their grooves need cleaning, or the wind is blowing, or not all putts are straight.
Griping about slow play is about as productive as griping about bad weather. But we should all be concerned about time -- not only because slow golfers annoy fast golfers, but because endless rounds are one of the main frustrations cited by people who give up the game. We need those people, especially now, because every golfer who quits means higher dues and fewer options, eventually, for those of us who remain, as well as a smaller pool of potential lowlife friends.
Most of the guys in my Sunday-morning group play fast, but a few are dawdlers. When we draw for partners, you can usually predict which teams will get back to the clubhouse last. I've studied the slow guys for more than a decade, and I've concluded that the main problem isn't that they're slow; it's that when it's their turn to play they're never ready. That's good news, because anticipation should be easier to teach than efficiency.
So, all you tortoises out there: Keep your pointless, Jim Furyk-inspired pre-shot routines, and take as many practice swings as you like. Just start 15 seconds earlier, while your playing partners are hitting. In other words, play slowly, if you feel you have to, but do it on your own time.
SLOW-PLAY MYTH: WALKING
All my buddy Herb and I wanted to do was walk instead of ride. We didn't think it was a big deal, but it took special permission from the director of golf and a lecture from the starter about maintaining the course's four-hour, 15-minute pace of play. Two holes into the round a ranger drove past and let us know we were the first people he had ever seen walking this central Florida course.
For those of you lucky enough to play a course that allows walking, you should know that places like this course exist. Walking is often the exception and not the norm. Why? Some courses insist they don't allow walking because they need the golf-cart revenue. But the reason you'll most likely get is that walking slows play.
Hearing that makes me cringe -- kind of like when I'm told all the money generated by a state lottery goes toward education.
Think walking slows play? Tell that to golfers in Scotland who get lapped by other walkers if they don't finish in three hours and change. My round with Herb took 3 hours, 48 minutes, and we waited for a foursome in carts on nearly every hole on the back nine. The low point came at the turn. The director of golf saw us and asked if we were too tired to continue. I laughed and told him the course was easy to walk. That's when I noticed two guys sitting at a snack table eavesdropping. "They're walking," one mouthed to the other. It was as if he had just seen a yeti.