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A new poll of golf insiders reveals the extent of slow play problem—and what can be done about it

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Kevin C. Cox

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Power Poll, a Golf Digest content partner.

Slow play certainly strikes a chord with people. Whether or not the PGA Tour and other tournament-running organizations think it’s an issue worth addressing, our Golf Power Pollsters definitely believe it is.

A hearty 94 percent of poll respondents think slow play is a problem that needs to be fixed in tournament golf. And they heap the lion’s share of blame for slow play in the game on the shoulders of the players and tours (cumulative 79 percent). Most generally agree with PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, who strongly weighed in on the matter before winning at Oak Hill, saying, “it’s never quick.”

“Yeah, there's a lot of guys out here that take their time. I think it is a problem,” Koepka said. “Technically in the rule book it says you have 40 seconds to hit your shot. I think that's what it is. If you are taking over, technically you're breaking the rules, right?”

Among Golf Power Poll commenters, Steve Habel, the owner and publisher of GolfDaily.com, put it succinctly.

“There is nothing worse than slow play on the golf course, even at the high-handicapper level,” Habel said. “It can literally sap the fun out of a day on the course and break a player's rhythm. At the pro level that tactic is used as gamesmanship, but there need to be penalties for repeat offenders. I know there is a lot of money on the line but come on, hit it already.”

When it comes to naming names, however, the general consensus regarding the worst slow-play offenders on both the men’s and women’s tours is that we simply don’t have the data to make a fair accusation. Patrick Cantlay gets more than his share of blame because he’s the No. 4 player in the world and he gets shown a lot more on television because he’s in contention more often than others. So “too many” was the most common answer when we tried to point fingers at particular offenders.

As for fixes to the problem, there is a wide range of suggestions. Gary D’Amato, the longtime Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel golf writer now with Killarney Golf Media, says the problem is broader than the tours and requires developmental measures to resolve.

“Slow play can't be blamed on one segment but on all of them,” D’Amato said. “It starts in junior and high school golf. That's where pace of play issues need to be nipped in the bud. If we don't speed up players when they're 15, we won't speed them up when they're 25.”

Once again, our poll respondents had a lot to say on the subject. Here’s a breakdown of the results and some responses to this week’s Golf Power Poll questions:

Question 1: Is slow play a problem that needs to be addressed in tournament golf?

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Yes - 94% (101 votes)
No - 5% (5 votes)
Don't Know - 1% (1 vote)

This response came in pretty cut and dried – slow play is a problem and tournament officials need to address it. Our pollsters overwhelmingly feel strongly about this (94 of 101).

“Institutions and individuals in golf have failed to associate pace of play with golf's core principles of sportsmanship and respect,” says Tim Gavrich, senior writer for GolfPass. “The bottom line is that playing slowly is disrespectful to one's playing partners and golfers in other groups on a given course. This is true in competition and in casual rounds. The fact that pros play as slowly as they do with near impunity means that other golfers can fairly assume they, too, can play excruciatingly slowly, because there's no great evidence to the contrary from golf's seats of authority. Until there's better leadership – penalizing and fining slow pros would be a start – the problem will keep getting worse.”

Hank Golf, a freelancer since retiring as the longtime New York Daily News golf writer, calls it “paralysis by analysis.”

“Not sure the PGA Tour is serious about addressing the problem,” Gola said. “Until the Tour starts to assess penalties, nothing changes and as long as the TV broadcasts move along – that's all that matters.”

Question 2: What would be the most effective method to speed players up in tournament golf?

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More Penalties - 54% (58 votes)
Shot Clock - 23% (25 votes)
Caps on Round - 6% (6 votes)
Course Setup - 4% (4 votes)
Other - 13% (14 votes)

Brooks Koepka made no bones about how he would address the problem: “Honestly, I would start stroking guys. If you are going to take that long, you have to get stroked.”

Our pollsters largely agree with the five-time major winner, as more penalties (be it in the form of strokes or fines) topped out the solution suggestions at 54 percent with a shot clock coming in second at 23 percent.

“I have been involved in pace management for many, many years, and unless the Tournament enforces existing rules (which are more than sufficient to address the problem ), nothing else matters,” said Ed Gowan, a senior staff writer with the USGA. “The vast majority of tournament officials look the other way for reasons not to penalize, rather than follow a published Rule. The result is the players have no respect for the Rule. We are guilty to some extent.”

Longtime South Florida golf writer Craig Dolch agrees: “Whatever causes slow play to percolate, the PGA Tour can end this with shot penalties. Warnings are useless. The slow players speed up and the fast players fume.”

Rick Woelfel, a golf course industry contributor, thinks hitting tour players in their wallet is the solution: “The most effective way to combat slow play is via fines and suspensions, whether the fines are real or virtual (i.e. deducting the $$$ from their earnings on the money list or perhaps points on the points list). Tour players set a bad example for golfers at other levels in terms of pace of play.”

Time-limit caps on rounds is another concept that got 6 percent of the vote but targeted support in comments.

“State and Regional Golf Associations have long levied penalties on tournament players not meeting prescribed time requirements,” said Terry Moore, founding editor of Michigan Golfer. “Players in threesomes are expected to play each nine in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Only five players were penalized last year in tournaments conducted by the Golf Assoc. of Michigan. Penalties, not fines, will work on the PGA Tour.”

Said Douglas Maida, the World of Golf news editor and podcast host: “For tournament golf, each and every player should be assigned an allotted time (e.g.: 4:15 hrs per round) and the players can have control over where and when to take their time (e.g.: hazard shot, or penalty shot vs. standard 175 yards from the fairway to the pin.) If they exceed the allotment, then add 2 penalty strokes per round.”

In terms of trickle-down solutions at the recreational level, Kevin Drum, the owner of Drum Media Group, thinks “slowness on the greens is the problem” and can be handled with rules to govern habits. “The everyday player should not have the option to take pin out – this (is) slowing up play. And also while we are on it, while the player away should start first, each everyday player should putt through the hole because (we) all are wearing soft spikes or sneaker-like shoes anyway (with) no spikes.”

Question 3: Who/what is responsible for allowing slow play to become an issue?

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Players - 41% (44 votes)
Tours - 38% (41 votes)
Coaches - 7% (7 votes)
Courses - 0 votes
Other - 14% (15 votes)

Courses and their setups got none of the blame from our poll voters, who lay the blame mostly at the feet of the players and tours. Golf course architect Tom Doak, however, takes a wider view on the issue.

“Slow play is everyone’s fault, and it’s easy to point the finger elsewhere and do nothing in your own space,” Doak said. “As an architect, it’s important to focus on shorter transitions between holes and not building overly difficult courses for public and resort golfers. But to me, the single biggest leap would be to change the focus away from posting a score on every hole for handicap purposes, and encourage match play and foursomes play, which help make the game so much faster overseas.”

That won’t fix the problems on tour, where GWAA member James Davis believes the culture is the problem.

“Players are slow because the prevailing culture of pro golf tolerates it,” Davis said. “With all the books and notes and maps and guides they carry and consult for near every shot, the purity of the game is diminished and they become no more than tech consultants. I'd eliminate all that stuff. Look at the lie, the wind, the grass, and use your abilities and instincts to judge distance. Caddies are there to assist in this not collaborate on elaborate deliberations based on maps and guidebooks. I want to see shot-making based on skill and good judgment that comes from one's individual assessment of the shot at

hand and not minutes taken consulting books. Walk to your ball, see what needs to be done and do it. A simple recipe.”

Fellow GWAA member Howie Smith thinks the tour needs to enforce its own rules and “the rest is moot” until they do: “Tournament golf needs a set of slow play guidelines, other than the standard enforcement of the three-minute search rule, and these guidelines need penalties which must be enforced.”

Question 4: The professional tours do not publicize any individual pace-of-play stats that they possess. Who do you believe are the biggest “slow-play offenders” in men’s and women’s golf?

This turned out to be a pretty unfair question, leading to the most prominent players being targeted.

“Truly an impossible question to answer,” read one of the open-ended write-in responses. “Unless you watch them all – and no one does. We only watch the players who are in the spotlight most frequently and it's too easy and very wrong to circle only those players. Players could best police. They know who the slow players are.”

“There are more offenders on Tour than in an episode of ‘Cops,’ but we'll award Patrick Cantlay the ribbon for Tortoise of the Year at this point in the season,” said another.

Cantlay has been singled out a lot recently and led all responses with 40, followed by Bryson DeChambeau and J.B. Holmes with 12 each and Jordan Spieth with 8. On the women’s side, Danielle Kang (7) and Lucy Li (5) were singled out the most.

Most responders, however, think it’s unfair to point fingers when we don’t have the data for every golfer and tend to single out more prominent players: “Too many to name … the vast majority … 90 percent … almost everyone …” were common comment themes. Regarding the LPGA Tour, multiple comments suggested that it’s “even slower,” with one stating “I don't know for sure, but I struggled at times to watch a women's tournament on TV because the pace of play is so slow.”

Nicholas Heidelberger, editor of GolfLink, put it clearly: “The TV viewer doesn't have enough information to say who the biggest offenders are. Social media snippets of isolated incidents don't paint the whole picture. I don't have a problem with players taking their time over a few particular shots during an important round. How long are the other players in their group taking? Where are they in relation to the group ahead? Where is the group behind? Do certain players always play longer rounds than others? We need these answers before calling out specific players.”

Dave Perkins, the retired golf writer for the Toronto Star, summed it up another way.

“Slow play is always somebody else's problem,” he said. “I never heard one player admit to being slow. It was always the other guy who was taking too much time. Not me. There are stats for everything else, so put the clock on each player and show him or her just how glacial they really are, then penalize the worst of the turtles accordingly.”