Anyone who watched the Masters last month know that Trevor Immelman — and I’m being diplomatic here — is a deliberate player. Okay, he’s slow. And I’ve admitted to enjoying the Masters on my PVR, where two clicks of the fast forward button blasted through a minute of Immelman’s pre-shot routine and took me to the actual contact with the ball. If it wasn’t for my PVR, I might have been forced to commit hari kari through boredom. In the end, despite playing in twosomes, Immelman and his playing partner, the quick Brandt Snedeker, got around the course in more than five hours. In fact a snail toured the course four minutes faster.
Anyway, slow play and what can be done to combat it was a big part of the R&A’s pre Open Championship press conference. Now Peter Dawson, head of the R&A, says five hour rounds aren’t part of the British Open, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned:
Q. We had a situation at The Masters this year where Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker took five hours to play in a two-ball in the final round. I believe that Adam Scott’s group on Sunday was three hours for nine holes. Obviously slow play is the cancer on the game. How do we get players to move quicker around the golf course?
PETER DAWSON: I think we will certainly be aiming to do better than five hours and ten minutes. I think in recent times, particularly on the weekend, we’ve actually done quite well at the Open. Basic play has not really been an issue, and I’m quite confident that we can do an awful lot better than that.
Q. It’s not an issue at the Open perhaps but it is an issue generally. It is getting abysmal. I’m wondering with the R & A as a governing body, how do we get them to get a move-on?
PETER DAWSON: We are concerned about this. We did see some very slow play at The Masters. That’s not a criticism of the Augusta event, it just happened to happen. I wasn’t aware of the Adam Scott group statistic. But we do have a meeting coming up in two or three weeks of the World Golf Foundation, where everyone around the table who runs professional golf will be there, and we have put the subject on the agenda, and we hope we will be able to get some meeting of the minds that it is a problem and start to work towards some improvement.
But as you say, it certainly needs something doing about it, not just for the running of these events but for the effect it has on grass-roots play. We do see people not unnaturally copying the stars, and I think it has had an effect on pace of play generally. We all know, don’t we, that pace of play is one of the issues cited for participation, and the time that golf takes is an issue that’s been cited for keeping participation levels down. It’s clearly an issue right across the game, top to bottom, up and down the game, and I think it behooves all the governing bodies in golf to address it.
Just to put the facts on the Open, they were 3 hours, 45 minutes at Hoylake and 3 hours, 50 minutes at Carnoustie on the final day in two-balls. I think we should be mindful, there are quite long walks at this course between greens and tees, which obviously have to be taken into consideration, but we’ve certainly never gone beyond four hours on the last day to my knowledge. Having walking rules officials does help.
In a normal press conference of ink-slingers that would have been it. They would have moved on to questions about alterations to Birkdale and whether Elin would appear in the tabloids when the Woods come to visit. But no — my peers pushed forward!
Q. I just want to return to the slow play issue. I just wonder, what is it that the pros do that the amateurs pick up on the most? You talked about the effects at the grass-roots level.
PETER DAWSON: Well, if I can just reverse that for a minute, there is an issue in amateur golf where the top amateurs that are moving through to the pro game are quite slow. Anecdotally one hears that this is because college coaches encourage pretty elaborate pre-shot routine, as do national coaches in Europe. Quite often the amateurs that are moving across to the pro game are having to speed up to play professional golf. So the amateur game has a piece of the blame here, I think, at elite amateur level.
I think what we see is a combination from grass-roots golfers of perhaps not being pace of play aware. We all know about the people who put the trolley on the wrong side of the green and go over and back and mark their scorecard before the leave the green and so on. But also I think there’s an element of copying this pre-shot routine and pacing around the greens to line up putts and so on that spreads downwards into the game. And it’s certainly true that what used to be a morning occupation now feeds into lunchtime quite a bit. So it has slowed up.
Q. In this meeting of minds that will take place in a few weeks, are we guaranteed that something will come out of this? There was a meeting of minds a few years ago at St. Andrews on slow play, and I don’t think anything concrete came out of it.
PETER DAWSON: I can’t guarantee anything. The subject is on the agenda. We’ll see what happens.
My expectation — nothing will happen. But slow play is a plague on golf. It keeps people from the game and makes the game less enjoyable to watch and participate in. On Tuesday I played — admittedly in a cart — 21 holes at Eagles Nest in just over three hours. I’ve walked courses like Scotland’s Montrose in less than three hours.
There’s no excuse for golf — at any level — to take more than four hours and 15 minutes.
It is time professional golf made this an issue — and Dawson compared the matter on the level of importance with testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
He’s right. Now let’s see if anyone steps up to do anything about it.