I know, I know, after my whole diatribe on slow play recently and it’s causes and potential cures, I’m sure there are those of you who might think I’ve gone over to the dark side for even mentioning anything suggestive to the contrary, but if you will hear me out and promise to keep an open mind I believe there’s at least a small chance you’ll agree with what I have to say, and at the very least, have a slightly different perspective on the whole pace of play issue in golf today.
With ongoing campaigns like the USGA’s “While we’re young” and the PGA’s Golf 2.0 putting the pace of play in today’s game front and center one could easily get the impression that modern golf has evolved into a proverbial death march, but could it possibly be that the pace of our rounds of golf are actually perfectly appropriate? Could there be even a small chance that we might need to learn to make the pace of our busy lives adapt to the pace of the game, rather than trying to make the pace of the game adapt to us? Are we beating our proverbial heads against the wall by insisting that we need to find ways to improve the pace of play so that more people can squeeze a round of golf into their hectic schedules? Maybe each of us should be taking a hard look at what consumes so much time in our lives that we now find it difficult to set aside the appropriate amount of time to relax and enjoy a round of golf? I won’t pretend to suggest that I have the answer to all these questions, but if you at least consider some of the following, you might think about things a little differently the next time you’re stuck behind a group that you’d swear teed off somewhere just prior to the Nixon Administration.
Golf is an inherently slow game. Despite golf carts, GPS devices, and all our best efforts, the fact remains that the average 18 hole round at the average par 72 course still clocks in at just over 4 hours. And while we actually only engage in the playing part of the game for 15 to 20 minutes during those 4+ hours, we still have all that in between time getting from point A to point B over a near 5 mile landscape. And we do that all while looking for (lots of) errant golf shots, deliberating over the merits of a 7 Iron vs. an 8 Iron (when we really need a 5 into that two club wind), discussing the merits of Callaway vs. Taylor-Made, arguing about whether the Democrats or the Republicans are to blame for the mess in Washington, and even occasionally admiring the often awe-inspiring beauty of the near idyllic settings we find ourselves in. This doesn’t even take into account the potential business deals we might be striking, the dormant friendships we are often re-kindling, the life-lessons to our children we are hopefully teaching, and the all-important quality time with our spouses and significant others we are spending, discussing everything from the grocery lists to the mortgage to the health of aging parents whose future we must now decide upon in a one of life’s most ironic role reversals. All of these things are important things. Time well spent and invested. And in today’s busy life, the golf course and during a round of golf is often one of the few times and places we slow down long enough to have these conversations.
And the advent of those modern golf carts and GPS devices haven’t helped the matter as much as we’d like to believe. Golf used to be played primarily by men and women who traversed that near 5 miles on foot. And for those of us who had trouble lugging a 20 pound bag of sticks over that landscape or figuring out the distance from point A to point B there were caddies. And while it definitely took longer to get from shot to shot when we walked, amazingly, the group in front of us was very often gone by the time we got there. Don’t get me wrong, golf carts are here to stay, and they often allow many golfers to extend their playing careers years well beyond when they would be forced to hang up the spikes if required to walk, but they also have created a big part of the perception problem when it comes to pace of play. The hurry-up-and-wait phenomenon.
Yes, golf carts allow us to get to the ball much more quickly, but the game is not yet a polo match and last time I checked you actually had to stop and get out of that golf cart to strike the ball, not to mention wait for the group in front of you to do the same. Some of the street legal carts I see driving around go more than 30 miles per hour, but the problem with that, psychologically, is much the same as what people experience in stop-and-go traffic. We hate waiting, and many of us, when faced with a similar situation in our cars will actually take a longer route to get somewhere if we know it affords us the opportunity to drive straight through without stopping. It’s a peculiar quirk of human psychology and a likely by-product of our fast-paced lifestyle. It’s one of the largest factors in road rage, and so it’s no small wonder when we witness little episodes that are eerily similar on the golf course they often end with someone hitting into the group in front of them to quote “send a message”. I know we aren’t likely turning back the clock to a time when people walked the world’s courses more than they rode, but it is more than a little curious that pace of play isn’t near as big of an issue on most courses in the U.K. where the majority of players still walk a majority of the time.
And how much have those other modern technologies we have at our disposal really helped? The smart phones and GPS devices that have made all of our lives so much easier in so many ways have also managed to do their fair share to contribute to our issues. Sure we can get a much more exact yardage to the flag these days, without walking it off from the nearest marker, but we can also track the distance from shot A to shot B, track how far each club goes, how far it is from every conceivable hazard on the course, and even the slope and wind direction if we really want (throwing up a few blades of grass was just too hard). All this on a little hand-held device that sometimes feels like it takes an advanced degree from MIT to figure out and just about as long to operate. And with our smart phones we are now connected to the pro shop, the beverage cart girl, the snack bar, and the rest of the world unlike anytime before. Once upon a time I can remember playing a spirited game of knobs (or blocks) when we found ourselves waiting on the tee, but now we are more likely calling the pro shop to complain, conducting a little business, checking scores of the game, posting to facebook, or any myriad of other things when we’re waiting on a slower group, none of which really involves actually engaging with our playing partners.
Now with all this in mind, I think we need to really take a hard look at why we are playing in the first place and figure out why we are in such a hurry. Isn’t the golf course, after all, the place that we’ve worked so hard to have the opportunity to spend time at? Has the stress, fast pace, and perceived time famine of the modern lifestyle become so great that we can’t at least mentally step off the merry-go-round during those times we’ve set aside to do just that? Has the thought of actually stopping to smell the roses (or fresh cut grass in our case) become so cliché that we merely nod and pay homage to it as the quaint notions of a time long past? I hope not, for if we cannot slow down long enough to enjoy and engage in the most important reasons we are out here in the first place then our game might actually be in trouble. Studies done by the PGA have determined that the vast majority of players play the game for reasons mostly aligned with it’s social aspects rather than anything related to competition, so if we are trying to eliminate or at least mitigate those elements of our game in the hopes of reducing the amount of time we are out there are we not potentially alienating the largest part of the game’s participants by eliminating the reasons they play in the first place? I know there are other factors that contribute to these issues, but the next time things slow down out there I hope you will stop a least moment and consider what about this game is most important to you and where you’re really in such a hurry to get to. And in the spirit of that the following is my adaptation of a little poem titled Slow Dance, by psychologist David L. Weatherford. I call it Slow Down. And for your sake I hope it doesn’t resonate too loudly,
Have you ever taken out a kid for their first round, or played through the rain, slapping on the ground?
Ever followed your ball’s erratic flight? Or do you just look away, disgusted at the sight?
You better slow down, don’t play so fast. Time is short, this round won’t last.
Do you race through each round on the fly? Ask a partner how are you, but not hear their reply?
When the round is done do you lie in your bed, with only bad shots running through your head?
You’d better slow down, don’t play so fast. Time is short, this round won’t last.
Ever told your child, I’m late for my game, we’ll play tomorrow? And in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let your old foursome die? Cause you couldn’t find time to play or at least call and say hi?
You’d better slow down down, don’t play so fast. Time is short, this round won’t last.
When you try to play so fast just to get somewhere, you’ll miss most of the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your round each day, it’s like and un-opened gift thrown away.
This game is not a race, do take it slower, and figure out why your really out there before the round is over.