Is Slow Play Ruining Golf?


Slow play, is the bane of the modern game, in particular on professional tours.

I doubt there is a topic in golf that is likely to cause more debate in clubhouses around the globe.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes, why people find it irritating and ways to combat the slow-play problem.

is slow play ruining golf
Photo Geoffrey Baker – Seriously, could you be any slower?

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Causes of Slow Play

I covered many of these topics in “how long does it take to play a round of golf”, but I’ll go over some of them here.

Course Setup

The way a course has been designed and is set up for play can have a great influence on how quickly a round can be completed.

Some of the factors that will cause the pace of play to slow include:

  • “Reachable” par-5s and “Driveable” par-4s.
  • Difficult greens.
  • Especially long “championship” venues.
  • Courses with lots of hazards.
  • Deep rough.
  • Blind shots.
  • Very firm greens.
  • Narrow fairways.

If you want your club to attract prestigious national events then the design and presentation will need to be difficult.

If you keep the setup consistent then this will mean your ordinary members and visitors will face the same challenges.

Unfortunately, many golfers will end up playing slowly because they are unable to cope with these demands.

Colin Montgomerie on slow play

Player Attitude, Ability and Behaviour

While course setup can have a major effect on the pace of play the biggest problem is the players. Almost everyone says they hate playing slowly but very few will admit that they are part of the problem.

The average amateur handicap hasn’t improved all that much down the years. Your typical 15-handicapper is likely to play slower than a guy off scratch because they take many more shots.

Competition rounds will almost always be slower than casual golf because they know that every shot counts.

They will spend more time studying their putts, checking their yardages etc.

Golfers have also been indoctrinated to believe they need a pre-shot routine. While this can help with handling pressure situations, spending 90 seconds or more rehearsing your swing is not a recipe for success!

Multiply that by the number in the group and the number of shots they take and all of a sudden you could be looking at an awful lot of time.

If everyone in a fourball shoots around 90 and they took 90 seconds over each shot then that would add up to nine hours! That’s without even counting the time to walk around!

If you think that’s ridiculous here is a video of Bryson DeChambeau taking over two minutes to line up a putt of 8 feet!

He missed it too!

Not being ready when it’s their turn to play.

Golfers who leave their bag or cart in the wrong place. It either interferes with their swing or means it takes them extra time to retrieve when the hole is finished.

Why is Slow Play Irritating?

To outsiders, it may seem odd to often hear moaning about how long it took to play. You are out in the fresh air enjoying the company of your friends, why wouldn’t you want it to take as long as it takes?

Well, everyone has their own natural rhythm. If you are unable to play at your pace then it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain concentration.

In inclement weather standing around waiting for long periods may mean you almost need to do a warmup before every shot!

The only thing more annoying than being in a group that is moving slowly is being stuck behind a group that is moving slowly! Having to watch someone decide what to hit, take half a dozen practice swings then change their mind and go through it all again is excruciating. Especially if the group in front of you is not keeping up with the group in front of them.

Many amateurs will get upset by slow play to the detriment of their own games. They lose concentration and focus because they are expending too much mental energy on the group ahead or the total time it is taking to get around.

If you are standing around waiting it is impossible to get into any sort of rhythm. You are likely then to start hitting bad shots yourself. For many people, this will increase their sense of irritation and ruin their round.

What to do?

Firstly let’s take a look at what the players themselves can do to improve the speed of their round.

How Golfers Can Speed Up

In general, I am all for upholding the traditions of the game but I think that sticking rigidly to the honor system on the tee is one thing that has to go.

People should play ready golf, except in matchplay situations. This should speed up everyone’s round. If you are ready to play and it is safe for you to do so then by all means play.

Both professionals and amateurs should be ready to play their next shot when it is their turn. That doesn’t mean ready to start thinking about their shot but actually ready to hit. Most of the time you can do your calculations or read your putts while others are doing the same.

Speed up your pre-shot routines. A study by RSM Player Performance showed that professionals tended to score better when their pre-shot routines were quicker.

Golf’s Eight Second Secret by Mike Bender contends that almost all the greats of the game had a routine that lasted eight seconds or less. Measured from the point they set their lead foot to when they finished their swing.

I’ve certainly played with many amateurs that would do well to read that book and listen to its advice.

Obviously, this doesn’t include any deliberation time but even then it’s not stretching the total time taken to more than 20 or 30 seconds. You aren’t playing for money so why do you need to take so long?

Play tee boxes that are most suited to the distance you hit the ball. One suggestion is to take your five-iron yardage and multiply that by 36 and then use the tee boxes that are closest to that figure.

If you hit your five iron 150 yards then that would be 5400 yards (36 x 150), for someone hitting their five iron 200 yards that would be 7200 yards (36 x 200).

Don’t stand around talking or telling jokes when the fairway or green is clear for you to play. That’s what the clubhouse is for!

Unless your ball is on or close to someone else’s line you don’t really need to mark it.

When you finish a hole don’t stand on the green totting up how many shots you took, move to the next tee and figure it out there.

Watch carefully where your ball finishes and also your playing partners and try to pick a landmark that will allow you to find it.

Under the new Rules of Golf, you only have three minutes to search for lost balls. You are more likely to find your ball quickly if you’ve actually watched where it finished.

If you hit your ball into trouble then play a provisional especially if you are in a competition.

Don’t play with expensive balls if you are really worried about losing them!

Try playing in different formats. Play foursomes once in a while, you may find the faster format more enjoyable now and again.

If you have already had two more shots on the hole than your handicap allows then maybe think about picking your ball up.

Bunker with a revetted face
Tricky for many amateurs to escape from!

How Golf Courses Can Improve Pace of Play

If your club becomes renowned for being slow it is going to be difficult to retain members or attract green fee payers. Here are some tips on how to keep the pace up.

Don’t make the setup overly difficult.

While 15-yard wide fairways and knee-length rough might be okay for the U.S. Open, is it likely to improve the speed of play? Even low handicappers would struggle to play quickly in those conditions.

I’m not suggesting that you make fairways 80 yards wide and cut down all trees but there has to be a balance. For example, I’ve never understood the point of deep rough in the middle of a wooded area. You are already in the trees so why make it difficult to find the ball as well? Most amateurs will struggle to escape from the trees anyway.

Similarly, if you have your greens running at 14 on the stimpmeter then your typical amateur is going to be three and four putting more often.

Try to avoid groups of different sizes being out at the same time. For example, you might prefer to limit the first hour of tee times every morning to 2 balls. That way people looking for a quick game can get around easily. Indeed some clubs will insist that you play foursome golf if you want to go out in groups of four. They would only allow fourball golf on certain days or times.

Perhaps you could have a shotgun start in the morning which gets the maximum amount of people around at the same time. This should leave more space in the afternoon for those wanting to play quickly.

Don’t try to pack too many people onto the course at the same time by having starting intervals too close together. If you’re starting intervals are less than 10 minutes then they are almost certainly too close together. Especially if we are dealing with four balls.

You could try to bring in some incentives to make players speed up.

This would vary from club to club depending on how popular it is. If you are already struggling to retain members then continually punishing people for being slow is only likely to make them leave. On the flip side, how many members will you lose who are continually stuck behind the tortoises?

Daily fee facilities might offer discounts on future rounds for faster groups. Members’ clubs could offer discounts on food and beverage to get their members playing a little quicker.

For daily fee clubs or those that accept lots of visitors make sure your course signage is clear. You don’t want people wandering around wasting time looking for the next tee.

a tortoise
Faster than some professional golfers!

What Should Administrators Be Doing?

All professional tours need to start getting their acts together. They are setting a terrible example with rounds taking more than five hours on occasion. It is a contributory factor to why amateur golf is so slow. It also makes watching golf on TV painful at times.

The English Tour pro, Eddie Pepperell (@PepperellEddie) has been particularly scathing in his criticism of the slow coaches. Singling out Bryson DeChambeau in particular.

Just look at Tommy and Justin, both looking completely bored. Slow players do this to their playing partners making the game less enjoyable. Problem is, the unaffected single minded twit in this instance, doesn’t care much for others.

Eddie Pepperell commenting on Bryson DeChambeau’s slow play

You have to ask yourself if even tour pros are complaining about the slow play issue then how slow has it become?

I know commentators like to make excuses for the professionals but really there’s no excuse for 5 and 6 hours!

Is Slow Play Ruining Golf: Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen an influx of people either starting or returning to golf as it is one of the few activities they were able to do.

If we’re not careful then they could all soon disappear when they realize that five-hour rounds are often the norm!

What do you think? What is your longest round (or 9 holes)? Can anything be done? Are the PGA Tour and European Tour (DP World) doing enough? Should there be a bigger penalty for the biggest culprits?

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]

How do you fix slow play in golf?

The best way to fix slow play in golf is to start with the professional game. Start applying strict penalties (shots and bans) to slow players to make them speed up. There is no need for rounds to take 5 hours!

Amateur golfers might then start to realize that even 4 hours is too long!

How to avoid slow play?

– play at quiet times of the day
– tee off first
– play the back nine before anyone else gets there
– park your bag/trolley/cart on the side of the green that is most convenient for you to get to the next tee
– line up your putt while others are lining up theirs
– be ready to play when it’s your turn
– watch where your ball goes and where your playing partners hit it as well!

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