Golf course operators have heard all the excuses as to why fewer people are playing: It's too hot. It costs too much. Work takes up more and more time.
But one excuse is bound to make them cringe: It takes too long to play. Operators can't do much about the weather or work, but they can do some things to speed play.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina tested a program this summer aimed at having golfers play a round in three hours or less. The resort set aside tee times in the morning and mid afternoon for singles, twosomes and threesomes who wanted to play a quick round before returning to work. Instead of sending off groups in 10-minute intervals, groups were sent off every seven minutes.
The only restriction was golfers had to keep pace to use the tee times.
"One of the major challenges that keeps many golfers off the course is the amount of time it takes to play 18 holes," Brian Gerard, Kiawah Island's director of golf, said in a statement. "In response, we've developed this test program aimed at getting players around the course in less than three hours."
Mangrove Bay Golf Course in St. Petersburg, Fla. is one of the most played courses in the Tampa Bay area. During the season's peak, which is around the corner, Mangrove can reach 300 rounds in a day. The average is around 255 during the winter months.
Getting those players around in a reasonable time is the goal of general manager Jeff Hollis. The last thing a course needs is a reputation for slow play.
"The first thing we recommend is that players use the right tees for their skill level," Hollis said. "If you get on the wrong tees, it can be a challenging and frustrating day, and the key is to have fun.
"Secondly, the biggest issue we have is the spacing of tee times. If we can get groups off in intervals of seven to eight minutes, then our pace of play is fine. If we get them off too soon, then we have a logjam, and there's nothing the rangers can do.
"Also, our staff and starter track time through the day. At the end of the day, our staff gets information on pace of play. We have a goal of being around four hours for morning play, about four hours, 15 minutes for afternoon play. If it's off, then we evaluate why that happened and what we can do to not make it happen in the future."
So here are some tips for playing ready golf:
-- 1. Don't waste time on the greens: You are not on a pro tour. Give your putt a quick look and make your stroke. And don't get stuck on the honor system. If you are ready and your partner is going to get his putter, go ahead and play.
-- .2 A lost ball is not the end of the world:
Don't be the person who spends forever hunting for his ball. Spend a minute or two searching the brush but don't wade in with your 3-iron until you find it. It's just a ball.
-- 3. Be smart with the cart: Don't park your cart on the opposite side of the green from the next tee box. If you need to chip from off the green and the ball is on the other side, take your putter with you. Smart cart parking can save you about 30 minutes per round.
-- 4. Ready, aim, fire: If you're playing tournament golf, the player with the best score on the last hole tees off first. For an informal round, the first one ready should hit.
-- 5. Let them play through: If you are taking too long to play, or if the group behind you is faster, let that group through. Finish your hole and let them tee off ahead of you. It's not a sign of weakness.
-- 6. No such things as mulligans: Nothing is more frustrating than playing behind a group and watching a player reach into his pocket to grab a ball and take another shot. Unless it's a provisional, hit your shot and chase it.
-- 7. Bring the right clubs: If you are on the opposite side of the fairway from your cart partner, take the clubs you think you'll need and walk to your ball. That way you'll be ready to hit after your partner takes his shot. In some cases, you can take your putter as well.
-- 8. Speed up sand play: When hitting a shot from the bunker, make sure you put the rake next to you. That way you'll be ready to rake quickly.
-- 9. Count the strokes later: Wait until you're on the next tee to start writing down scores.
NOW THAT'S FAST
-- 29:30: Minutes and seconds in which famed miler Steve Scott played a regulation round in 1979 at a Las Vegas course. He used only a 3-iron and shot 95.
-- 27:09: Minutes and seconds of the fastest round played in a speed or extreme golf event. Players wear running shoes and carry a lightweight bag with no more than six clubs to see how fast they can play a 6,000-plus-yard course.
-- 1:24: Hour and minutes of the fastest round in a PGA Tour event. Greg Norman and Mark O'Meara played the final round of the Nabisco Championship at Pebble Beach in 1998 quickly because weather threatened to force the cancellation of Norman's flight to Australia. Both shot 79.