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How 'ready golf' could make the sport better for players and spectators

Mark Wehrly of the GUI explains how they shaved 45 minutes off the average round time.

Jason Day is notoriously, and unapologetically, slow.
Jason Day is notoriously, and unapologetically, slow.
Image: Ryan Kang AP/Press Association Images

TRADITION IS A guide and not a jailer.

I’m not sure what William Somerset Maugham’s handicap was — or if he even played golf — but the British playwright captured the essence of the sport with the quip above.

Some of golf’s traditions — shouting fore when your ball is about to strike someone, for example — have stood the test of time.

Others — like male-only clubs — belong back in the 18th century.

Two traditions that have come under the spotlight quite a bit of late have been golf’s ‘honour’ system whereby the person who has the best score on the previous hole tees off first on the next and, when playing a hole, the person furthest from the cup having the right to play first.

This has, along with other factors, lead to an increase in slow play, especially at the professional level, with five-hour plus rounds the norm on the PGA and European Tour.

It doesn’t bother some players.

The notoriously slow Jason Day said earlier this year that he “didn’t care much about speeding up” his game and would back off a shot as many times as he felt necessary.

And the problem is not just at an elite level however.

At last year’s Irish Close Championship, the average time for the first round was five hours and 15 minutes (with the quickest being four hours 40 minutes).

However, the average time for round two was four hours 30 minutes (with the quickest being four hours 10 minutes).

What changed?

The introduction of ‘ready golf’ for the second round.

“In order to follow the traditional rules of who should play the next shot in golf, it tends to add a minute here and a minute there and — shot by shot — the whole round slows down,” Mark Wehrly, Championships Manager of the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) told The42 this week.

“For the last few years there’s been a concerted effort from the R&A and the USGA to try make the game a bit quicker and one of the tools they’re recommending is ‘ready golf’.

“Basically, ‘ready golf’ means whichever player is ready to play first takes the shot, provided of course it is safe to do so.

“This tends to speed everything up in practise.”

3M Championship Golf Bernhard Langer has been accused of slow play for decades. Source: Andy Clayton-King/AP/Press Association Images

While Wehrly accepts that the pros could do more to speed up the game from a spectator point of view, he’s not convinced it’s their slow play that is having an impact on extended rounds at the amateur level.

“There is definitely more of an awareness now of the time it takes to play golf.

“That said, a couple of days ago I was looking at some old clippings and found an article from the Irish times in 1966 about the South of Ireland Championship in Lahinch and play was so slow that day that, without any weather delays or anything like that, they didn’t get the day’s play finished.

“At the same time, if you talk to people who’ve played the game of golf over the past few decades, they’ll probably tell you the game has got an awful lot slower but it’s probably that — with a premium on leisure time — there’s more of awareness of how much time a round takes.

“I think the GUI feel like we have a responsibility to track that. So at the Irish Amateur Open we measured it, and rounds were taking about four and a half hours and the individual shot times were well within the 40 seconds (35.5) recommended by the R&A.

“That being said, we’re always trying to make the game quicker.”

But how did the players respond at the Irish Close Championship the previous year given that ‘ready golf’ wasn’t in the plans until round one dragged on so long.

“The players responded really well to it and one of the reasons we felt it worked was because it really instituted a faster mindset and they were informed on the first tee about what was expected of them and that the referees on the course would be keeping a close eye on the clock.

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“It wasn’t even that they were going to be on their backs the whole way round, quite the opposite, the referees were going to assist them as to when it was appropriate for a player to play, etc and that just helped to move everything along.

“The result was a very significant improvement (45 minutes) in round time for round two.”

Source: Leaderboard Golf/YouTube

Obviously, because of the strategic nature of match play, ‘ready golf’ will only work in stroke play tournaments but it’s probably not the only weapon golf’s rule-makers have in their arsenal to speed up slow play.

“When we implemented ‘ready golf’, the players at the front of the field said they definitely felt a difference in the speed with which they completed their rounds, but the ones towards the middle and end of the round said it felt very much the same.

“The reason wasn’t because the round was slower, it was a lot quicker, but the waiting time on the tee-boxes was the same as round one.

“That really echoes something the USGA have been saying for some time. They’ve found that if a round of golf takes four hours 15 minutes to play, but you’re continually being held up, you’ll potentially be complaining about the pace of play.

“But if a round of golf takes four and a half hours but you’re never held up at all, then you’re not as likely to complain about the pace of play.

“I suppose it’s like picking a route to work in your car. If you’ve one route that takes 40 minutes but you’re continually moving and another takes 30 minutes but involves getting stopped at a lots of traffic lights or you’re held up repeatedly, you’ll choose the 40 minute option.

“So ‘ready golf’ is great and it’s a fantastic tool for unions and competition committees to use, but it needs to be used in conjunction with other things.

“The time-sheet is one thing that needs to be looked at. The intervals at which you put out golfers will determine a lot in how slow or fast-moving the golf course is.

“If you put golfers out at eight minute intervals but it takes them 11 minutes to play the first par three, then after ten groups you’re going to have a half an hour delay, so a smart approach needs to be taken there too.”

Genesis Open Golf Jason Day is notoriously, and unapologetically, slow. Source: Ryan Kang AP/Press Association Images

Wehrly says the GUI plan to use ‘ready golf’ in more tournaments this year, defying tradition for the good of the game.

He does, however, say it’s unfortunate that players like Day appear to put their own success ahead of the continued growth of the game.

“Just to put his quote into context, rule 6-7 in the Rules of Golf says ‘a player should play without undue delay’.

“I’m not quite sure if Jason’s intent was to abdicate the rules of golf but it could certainly be interpreted that way and that’s why it was unfortunate from him.

“It doesn’t necessarily help.

“In the past, I would have apportioned an awful lot of the blame for slow play on committees not actually taking their responsibilities seriously in relation to setting up golf courses fairly and in relation to tee-times and all the rest.

“But if a committee does everything to make the game quicker, then the players have to act in accordance with that. There has to be an effort to make the game quicker.

“It’s a difficult perception to overcome — that the sport is too slow — in modern society and if it stays that way then it will be really difficult to attract new people to it.”

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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