It takes a mental leap to accept that an effective way to speed up play in golf -- whether at the competitive or recreational level -- comes by putting more time between groups on a course. Spreading out tee times intuitively would appear to have the opposite effect, making everybody's round end later.
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.