Venting by a former avid golfer
I have enjoyed my daily fix of Morning Read for a long time now. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't, but mostly I am entertained and enlightened. For the first time, I feel compelled to respond to some submissions.
I was an avid golfer for more than 35 years. At my peak, I carried a plus-1 handicap when I competed in college, but mostly carried a handicap in the 3-7 range. Despite my love for the game, I entirely gave up the sport about two years ago. This was mostly a function of ever-increasing costs, ever-increasing duration of rounds and the gradual deterioration of etiquette among many participants.
That said, I can't go without commenting on three submissions (“From the Morning Read inbox,” Feb. 9, http://bit.ly/2nO6RiQ).
It is almost laughable that Mark Anderson is suggesting that it is time to develop a program called “ready golf.” What? This is from a PGA of America member. “Ready golf,” and ways to implement it, has been around ever since I took up the game in the late ’70s, and even before that. Maybe that is part of the problem. Some of these issues have been around so long without any discernible improvement that they are regurgitated in hopes that maybe they will make a difference now.
Second, Mike Villarrubia seems to suggest that we may not have a problem with slow play at all. Somehow, through the magic of television, it all but disappears. Fact is, we do see it, and we are seeing it more often. Even if Villarrubia were right and we don't see it, the problem is that just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't actually happening.
Over the course of a PGA Tour season, millions of spectators do watch live, many of whom are youth. They are there to see their heroes play, only to observe that many play excruciatingly slow, only to then emulate those same traits when they get on the course. This doesn't even mention the impact that slow play has on the fairness of the competition itself.
Do you think that Alex Noren, the 16th-ranked player in the world and a nine-time winner on the European Tour, isn't impacted by slow play? Noren was sitting just 230 yards out at the par-5 18th at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Jan. 28 after a 308-yard drive to the left side of the fairway. Noren needed a birdie for his first PGA Tour victory. Because of J.B. Holmes, Noren had to wait four minutes and 10 seconds to hit his approach to the green, which ultimately sailed over the green (“Keeping score,” Jan. 29, http://bit.ly/2EqwRb8). He salvaged a par and headed into a playoff, which he subsequently lost to Jason Day. Do you think that Noren wasn't impacted by slow play? Noren, to his credit, was gracious in his response. Fellow PGA Tour members, historically tight-lipped on calling out colleagues, were not so understanding. Just read the comments of Daniel Berger, Luke Donald and Mark Calcavecchia.
Ed Smilow, an attorney practicing golf course law, asserts that the decision by Montana high school golf's governing body to ban spectators from events is correct based on legal liability (“Montana’s stymie of parents defies logic,” Feb. 8, http://bit.ly/2BiXXl5). He states, “non-paying people wandering a golf course expose themselves to all sorts of dangers . . .”
Every moment I am upright and breathing I expose myself to all sorts of dangers. If I don't use common sense and make good choices, some of them may harm me. Should I really be barred from doing things because of possible ramifications? Whatever happened to basic common sense and personal responsibility? Yes, if I am on a golf course I may be hit by a ball; if I walk by a player in the middle of his swing, I may get hit in the noggin with his golf club. I may walk into a tree. I may trip over a blade of grass. If I don't use the bridge to get over the water hazard, I may get wet or worse. Yes, coffee is hot, knives are sharp, and if I put a plastic bag over my head I may suffocate. Does that give me the right to sue if I burn my lip, cut my finger or pass out? Should those really be the basis for a lawsuit? I sure hope not, not in the world I want to live in. Do we really need to put a warning label on everything to seemingly protect ourselves from ourselves? When does it all end? Life should be enjoyed, not feared.
And the leaders in the golf industry wonder why this long-time golfer with lots of disposable income has left the game he enjoyed for decades.
Thanks for letting me vent.
An agent of change
If you are a serious player or fan of golf, you are aware of and annoyed by slow play, especially by professional tour players.
I have contacted the USGA, R&A, PGA of America and the PGA Tour complaining about the pace of play by tour players. In hindsight, I realize I was naive to think or assume that any of these ruling bodies would even respond to my communication, much less have any interest in doing anything about it. They are complicit in this problem but will never try to stop it unless their No. 1 reason for being involved in golf is jeopardized: money. When any or all of them start to see the cash flow begin to take a downward turn, perhaps they will realize their mistake in judgment. I boycott them.
I canceled my membership in the USGA, stopped attending professional golf tournaments, seldom watch golf on TV anymore, canceled any golf publications and do not respond to any Internet communication from any golf-related business, except for public courses where I play. In my own – albeit small – way, that is how I assess a penalty for slow play.
That said, I still play as frequently and as fervently as I ever have, and continue to enjoy everything that attracted me to golf. The money I save is simply redirected toward paying for green fees on a public course with my fellow grassroots golfers.
Suggestions on pace of play
My observations on slow play:
1. If the cart has an electronic yardage indicator, ban personal devices. I play with a group of 20 or so, and the slow guys are obsessed with their yardage tool and then still check the cart's device to try and decide the right club from 100 yards. It’s crazy.
2. Have the cart manufacturers introduce a single rider that courses could afford. Again, in my men's club, there are the two-man cart "groupies" who cluster at each guy’s ball and discuss the world’s problems. Single carts would keep them moving.
3. Have GPS and speakers on the carts to monitor each group. If they fall more than two holes back, tell them to catch up. If not, send the marshal.
4. No more alignment lines on balls. I watch guys realign their ball two or three times and still miss a 2-footer.
5. Definitely play ready golf and announce that on the scorecard and with a sign on each tee box.
6. Have the starter explain to each player, "This is a 4½-hour course, and you must maintain pace” so it's in the player's mind right away. Offer a 45-cent beer or soft drink if they finish the round on time.
Dana Point, Calif.
The writing is on the ball
Surely if drawing lines on a golf ball is forbidden, the Sharpie lobby will howl. Next, we would have to ban the lines engraved on just about every putter being made today. And what about that two-ball putter. Make that illegal also?
Golf courses are wasting money placing 200-yard markers on each hole. They are totally useless for most golfers, because we can't hit it that far anyway. But I do like to know the difference between a 90-yard shot and one that might be 65 or 75. Sometimes I can actually hit one the correct distance, even if the naked eye is not able to judge it.
The only solution to pace-of-play issues is to add strokes to the score. The PGA Tour is apparently unwilling to do this. I work a fair number of collegiate events each year, and I find that telling players they are being timed always will result in a faster pace. Maybe a shot clock would work, if it would be enforced.
St. Augustine, Fla.
Morning Read invites reader comment. Write to editor Steve Harmon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide your name and city of residence. If your comment is selected for publication, Morning Read will contact you to verify the authenticity of the email and confirm your identity. We will not publish your email address. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and brevity.