One week after the PGA Tour announced it is “exploring whether to expand its policy” on slow play, it turns out the European Tour has been moving a bit faster than its New World counterpart. In a move first discussed in May and ratified two months later by its Tournament Committee, well before the recent controversies surrounding Bryson DeChambeau, the Wentworth-based circuit has announced an extensive and hopefully ground-breaking four-point plan to “tackle” slow play.
To be implemented in the 2020 season, the new system will focus on four key areas: regulation, education, innovation and field sizes. Key to the regulation changes will be a player only having to breach the time allowances twice in a round to incur a one-shot penalty. In addition, there will be significantly increased fines for players who are regularly placed “on the clock” throughout the season, alongside reduced times for players to hit shots.
“We are already at the forefront of pace-of-play management in the professional game, but after being mandated by our Tournament Committee to be even firmer in dealing with this issue, the time was right to take these additional steps,” said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley. “I believe the plan we are implementing for the 2020 season will bring about meaningful change that will make golf even more enjoyable for the players and our fans, whether they are at the course in person or watching on television.”
A bold claim, but one that has clearly been given a lot of thought over the last few months.
Specifically, when players are “out of position” and either being monitored or timed, a one-shot penalty will be incurred after two bad times. Players will, however, have the option to request a one-time extension per round, giving an additional 40 seconds to hit what will be a (presumably) especially difficult shot.
“In position” timing, introduced at the same time as monitoring, also will be strengthened. The time allowed to play a shot while still “in position” (currently double the “out of position” times), will be reduced by 15 percent, from 100 and 80 seconds down to 85 and 70 seconds, respectively, for first and second/third golfers to play.
Referees also will be proactive in targeting known slow players for in-position timing. Fines for consistently slow players who are regularly officially timed during the season will increase significantly. For example, a player who is timed 15 times in the 2020 season will have to pay £26,000 in fines as opposed to £9,000 this season.
All new tour members also will be assigned a dedicated referee to help educate them on pace of play. As part of retaining their membership, every member will be required to pass an interactive online rules test. Repeated every three years, this will be implemented for existing members towards the end of the 2019 season and all new members early in 2020.
Regular educational videos on key rules and pace-of-play policies will be produced by the tour’s social media team and shared with the players throughout the season in an effort to avoid unnecessary—and time-consuming—rulings.
A trial pace-of-play system will be conducted at next month’s BMW PGA Championship. This will provide referees with the times for every group through every hole to make sure that no gaps are missed. In an innovative development, on-tee displays on a minimum of three holes will provide players with information as to their position in relation to the group ahead.
Perhaps most controversially—at least amongst the tour’s rank-and-file members—field sizes at fully sanctioned events will be reduced from 156 to a minimum of 144 so long as all entered players in Category 18 (the final 111-125 on the previous season’s Race to Dubai) and above make it into the event. The thought here is that this will create space for referees to push groups along during the Thursday and Friday rounds. Larger starting intervals will also be built into play on Saturday and Sunday to create a better flow between groups.
“There is no doubt that pace of play is a hot topic in golf and as players we were keen to explore ways to address these issues in various areas,” said tournament committee chairman David Howell, a two-time Ryder Cup player. “We have had some very interesting and robust debates in the process of agreeing to the new initiatives. But with a combination of education, deterrents, technology and modifications to the fields, we believe we have arrived at a set of fair and proportional measures to improve the experience for everyone involved in the game.”
On that, only time—and timings—will tell.