What’s not to love about Masters champion Bubba Watson? He shows emotion, seems like a great family guy, and dresses like the Good Humor man. He also gave us perhaps more nutritious food for thought on the topics of speed golf and pace of play.
Watson said he wishes he could ride in a cart so that he could “just fly around the golf course.”
This idea of flying around the golf course came to fruition on Monday at Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland, Calif., when 19 golfers set out to play 100 holes in a nine-hour block of time for the benefit of the First Tee of Oakland.
There were format adjustments to speed the pace:
- It was a two-person scramble.
- The par-3s had a 10-foot circle around the hole, and anything inside the circle was deemed holed.
- A Gimme Stick made 27-inchers automatic.
- The flagstick did not ever have to be removed.
- Scores maxed out at double bogey.
All players rode, and Sequoyah’s 99-year-old design expedites the transition from one green to the next tee. The usually slick greens had recently been punched, minimizing the usual putting agonies. Snacks (including, yes,beers) were free and accessible, and restrooms were well positioned.
Mainly, however, players hurried. They did not take practice swings, use rangefinders or toss grass into the air. One player drove, the other scored. Conversation was minimal.
Later, all said they had fun — and were exhausted.
What we can all learn from speed golf
Five minutes a hole surely is too fast to play decent golf — especially for the average female golfer, who hits the ball not as far as the average male golfer and prizes the game’s social attributes more than he does. Five minutes a hole requires good ball striking without chitchat.
According to a 2009 research study by the Little Family Foundation, women who play recreational golf are out to have fun with friends and get some exercise. They also want a stress-free, embarrassment-free experience.
They’re also busy, with jobs, homes, families and other obligations. So let’s enforce a pace of 10 minutes per hole, or 3 hours per 18. Suddenly, golf becomes better exercise and takes a smaller chunk out of the day.
Out with marathon golf, in with a brisk pace of play.
How we can play golf at a faster pace
There are tons of resources with tips for playing golf at a faster pace. The USGA even has a “Pace of Play” brochure in its store.
Here are a few pace-of-play tips that comply with USGA rules:
- Limit practice swings.
- Go directly to your ball and be prepared when it’s your turn.
- Hit a provisional ball if yours might be lost or out of bounds.
- Position your cart or bag so it’s on the way to the next tee.
Recreational golfers could step outside those rules and follow these pace-of-play tips:
- Play when ready.
- Leave the flagstick in and adhere to a gimme-putt range.
- Pick up when triple bogey is no longer possible.
- Employ lateral hazard rules rather than returning to the tee when a ball is lost.
So why don’t golfers play faster?
One of the problems, as Pat Mateer noted in his book “The Return of the Four Hour Round,” is that no one looks in the mirror and sees a slow player. Most golfers agree the game takes too long, and they also agree that they’re not the reason!
Which brings us back to Bubba, the PGA Tour and, worst of all, the LPGA Tour. Every weekend recreational golfers witness the professionals consulting their caddies, taking six practice swings, waiting for the breeze to stop (or stop), flinching at coughs in the gallery and agonizing over 3-foot putts.
And then all the recreational golfers go out and mimic the highly paid professional athletes. Suddenly, a game that could be played enjoyably in 3 hours, is expected at most country clubs to be played in 4 hours, and tends to take the pro athletes 5 hours now is taking 6 hours!
Bubba Watson might be able to fly around the golf course he can now afford to build. But at any public course he’ll fly smack into a roadblock of recreational players tediously following the examples of his peers. Here’s hoping the Masters champ’s affection for fast play rubs off — on all of us.
Get us moving, Bubba!