News & Opinion

Juniors’ slow pace of play signals bad omen

One in a series of stories about pace of play 

FRANKLIN, Ind. – No single factor will deter the growth of golf more than slow play with our current generation of juniors. It has reached epidemic proportions. Golf had better wake up fast and take some drastic measures before the sport dies a slow death – literally. 

Last month, my facility hosted an Indiana High School Athletic Association girls regional. The 18-hole pace of play for the final few groups was six hours and 45 minutes. As I patrolled the golf course, which was set up at 5,400 yards, I observed several blatant causes for the snail’s pace that had set in.

Let me be clear: I am not picking only on the girls. The things I observed also would be true in any of the boys’ events.

Pre-shot routines were excessive. Too many practice swings and other idiosyncrasies caused players to take too long to pull the trigger. Time spent on the greens was excruciating because many players waited to line up putts until it was their turn to play and then forced fellow competitors to suffer through meticulous pre-putt routines.

The use of push carts by many players added to the misery. Despite mild temperatures, players walked and stood beneath the umbrellas attached to their push carts. Between shots, many elected to rest on the attached seats. A push cart can’t always take the shortest distance to the next shot because of foot bridges, hazards or the terrain. Retrieval of the push carts around the greens slowed things up because some players don’t park their carts in strategic spots. As the day wore on, players walked to their balls at a much slower pace.          

“Slow play in IHSAA regular-season and tournament-series events continues to be a major issue of our game,” IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox said. “As I observe our matches, the round becomes more about grinding and unnecessary endurance rather than shot-making and navigating the golf course. I am encouraged that a meaningful dialogue and new educational pursuits will occur in our state to preserve the enjoyment of our game.” 

My facility hosts many junior events each year, but all are the same in one manner: The pace of play is way too slow. It has become golf’s greatest double standard. If any of my adult public players were to approach a 4½-hour round, they would proclaim it to be a death march. 

So, why are we letting our junior golfers off the hook? And who’s to blame?

Touring pros influence junior golfers. However, teaching pros have been the biggest contributors to slow play at the junior level. These kids with excessive pre-shot routines learned it from someone. Look no further than their instructors.

PGA Junior League is one of the fastest-growing junior golf initiatives in America. More than 30,000 boys and girls participate in the program each year. The PGA of America produces a 15-page handbook on the “conditions of play” for the program. It dedicates only a half-page to pace of play.

Rule 1 states: “A PGA Junior League golf match is a recreational match play in a scramble format and should never take more than 2.5 hours.”

Seriously? In a format in which players are encouraged to concede short putts, be ready when it’s their turn to hit and not spend more than 1-2 minutes deciding which shot to select … the PGA is endorsing a 2½-hour nine-hole round?

Thanks to Mike Davis, the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, his organization will be assisting golf leaders in Indiana during the next year with a pilot program aimed at improving pace of play in junior golf. The USGA will solicit input from the IHSAA, high school coaches, the Indiana PGA and other Hoosier golf leaders.

In Indiana, we realize that we have a problem, and we’re finally going to do something about it. Let’s hope that the answers can help the game for generations to come.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: tedbishop38pga@aol.com; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga