Time to get serious about pace of play — let’s come up with incentives

The rain had poured down all night and had stopped just a little while ago. There were reports of flooding. Would the course even be open?

But we went out there because we love golf and, like so many of our kind, a little rain – check that, a lot of rain – wasn’t going to stop us.

So we ventured into the pro shop and, not surprisingly, discovered that more than a hundred people had canceled because they thought the rain would continue and/or the course wouldn’t be playable.

Great! More room for us. We could play faster on what now was a beautiful Sunday morning.

And you know what? It turned into one of the most enjoyable rounds I can recall.

Yes, the course was much wetter than normal. Several of the lakes sloshed over onto their fairways, making tight driving holes that much more constricting. We couldn’t even tell where the lake ended and the turf began.

Yes, there were spots where we had to tiptoe through the standing water to get to our ball.

Yes, most of the bunkers were miniature lakes, and sand shots were more like mud shots.

Yes, it was one of those hit-and-stick days – getting much roll out of any shot was virtually impossible.

But the threesome ahead of us on the first hole kept moving all day, and so did we. Not once did we wait on a shot, and not once did anyone wait on us. The perfect day.

But it got me thinking: Why can’t it always be like that?

If there’s one thing that stops people from playing more golf, besides the weather and, for most of us, the challenge of getting that little white ball into that little cup, it’s that it takes just too doggone long.

Together, we’ve got to change it.

We’ve heard the same message for years: The goal is to play in 4 hours, 15 minutes. We’ve had rangers trying to move things along. Occasionally, we’ve expressed our displeasure with the group in front of us.

It hasn’t worked. It shouldn’t take an empty golf course to have a 4¼-hour round.

I think part of the problem is eight minutes between tee times, the standard at many courses. How often do you play a par-4 in less than 10 minutes? The eight-minute gap almost automatically creates traffic jams – we’re waiting to tee off, we’re waiting on the first fairway, and then we keep waiting all day.

How about 10-12 minutes between tee times and then some sort of reward if you can check in back at the pro shop within that magical 4 hours, 15 minutes – and an even greater reward if you can do it in less than four hours?

It wouldn’t have to be a big reward – a round of iced teas or sodas for your group. It would cost the golf course only a few pennies, but the goodwill it would create is worth much more.

If they don’t want to do that, how about a punch card like the kind you get at a coffee shop? Get a specified number of rounds of a specified length, and you qualify for some small pro shop goodie or something a little better than an iced tea. Again, it wouldn’t cost much, but it would create a reward for being focused on playing fast.

The point is, there haven’t been enough incentives to play faster. The only incentives have been threats.

I think that part of the problem is that, for all of our talk about pace of play, we like our great game too much. I don’t know about you, but I get this strange feeling of sadness every time I head into the last few holes.

I also get a good feeling, however, every time I jam a tee in the ground and start another hole. There’s just something satisfying about starting anew 18 times and seeing how this one will turn out.

It fascinates me every time I go out there, no matter how I play. But it’s a much better experience when I can play without needless waiting. It shouldn’t take a big overnight rainstorm to make that possible.

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