Don’t turn pace of play into a race to disagreements

It’s that time of year when you can overdo a good thing.

Too many parties.

Too much chocolate.

Too much shopping (if you like shopping, that is).

And, over the weekend, I got a taste of the golf version of this holiday buffet:

Too fast.

When a buddy and I teed it up at our local muni on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, we were paired up with a gentleman who made it clear right from the start that he likes to get out there and go.

That’s great, we thought. We play fast, too. The next group was a couple of holes ahead, and there didn’t appear to be too much traffic. Maybe we’d scoot right through this round.

So off we went, commenting that we couldn’t have picked a nicer day to play. This was going to be a joy.

But then little things started happening.

We were playing so fast, we caught the group ahead of us by the third hole. Clearly, they were slow players. We shouldn’t have caught them that quickly.

Then our playing-companion-for-a-day announced to us that his regular group usually finishes 18 holes in two or 2½ hours … walking. That’s what he said. We were incredulous, too.

I have played 18 in two or 2½ hours, but it was with a cart, by myself, with no one in front of me. My flight from Maui was delayed for eight hours, so I rented a car, drove out to Wailea and made it a productive day.

To play 18 in two hours without a cart, as a foursome, you have to practically run from shot to shot, take no practice swings, practice “ready golf” and just keep moving. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining how that works on a regulation course with the usual delays, such as searches for lost balls.

But over the next few holes, we began to understand how this guy’s group could play so quickly. Even though we were in a cart and he was walking, we couldn’t even beat him to the next tee. Time and again, he would be teeing it up and addressing the ball as we drove up.

That was more amusing than annoying, but his habits in the fairway could get on your nerves. He’s a not-far-but-straight player, so he usually was hitting first. After he hit his shot, he would start walking up the fairway right behind you, oblivious, as you were hitting. It was more than a little distracting.

On the green, he didn’t notice when his shadow was in your line – he was more focused on his next putt. It felt like he was going to stroke his putt before your ball stopped rolling.

So we already were a little peeved when he did something that got the group in front of us peeved, too: He was so eager to tee off, he hit while they were still in range. His ball seemingly chased them up the fairway.

It was one of those moments where you’re watching someone address the ball and you’re trying to get the words out of your mouth:

“Uhhhhh, don’t you think you should … WAIT A MINUTE?”

Now we had a problem because a few holes earlier the course marshal had come by, and we had told him that maybe those guys in front of us could speed it up a little. He drove ahead and talked to them.

It hadn’t done any good. On hole after hole, we would get to the green and wonder what was taking them so long to tee off. The group in front of them seemed to have cleared. Clearly, they WERE slow. But, just as clearly, we were fast – and there were only three of us.

It all came to a head on the 11th tee. Now it had backed up to the point where we were waiting by the tee while they hit to the par-3.

After they finished and were walking to their carts, one member of their group, a really big, muscular guy, turned to our little playing companion and told him he didn’t appreciate the message that was airmailed a few holes before. He also defended their pace, insisting that they were waiting, too – which by then they were.

It should have ended there, but Mr. Two-Hours-for-18 decided to escalate it even though he’s about a foot shorter and 80 pounds lighter than his accuser. He came right back at him with a few choice words, and then they started jawing back and forth. But they still were about 50 feet apart.

Until the little guy told the big guy to go do something that’s anatomically impossible and dropped in a certain magic word for emphasis.

Uh oh.

The big guy climbed out of his cart and strode purposefully toward the little guy, his fists clenched. I thought I was going to see a fight on the golf course for the first time in my life.

“Guys! Stop! We don’t need this!” I yelled.

I tried to decide whether to run over there and attempt to play peacemaker, but I figured I’d give it a second. Fortunately, the big guy thought better of it as another member of his group pulled him away. Just as fortunately, the little guy stopped his aggressive behavior and backed down.

It had an interesting effect on the two gentlemen.

During the final eight holes, we couldn’t help but notice that the big guy was playing horribly. I’m sure it ruined his day.

And the little guy started backing off. On one hole, he didn’t want to hit until the group ahead was about 350 yards down the fairway – almost twice as far as he could hit it.

I’m glad they came to their senses. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my afternoon talking to the police and filling out a deposition.

It also taught me a lesson: Playing fast can be a bad thing if it means a breakdown in etiquette. Speed doesn’t always thrill.

So let’s be aware of the people around us out there, no matter how fast we play. Don’t turn a round into a race and spoil a nice day.

Fights on the golf course? Our great game doesn’t need this.

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