News & Opinion

Why the rush? It’s golf, so slow down and enjoy it

Ballybunion Golf Club at sunset
OK, so daylight might disappear if your group is stuck behind Julius Irving, but why not enjoy the sunset anyway?

In our hurry to pick up the pace, we’re too often quick to miss the beauty of a game best played at an easy tempo, not a timed sprint

As one of the three or four most impatient people on earth, I find my tolerance for slow play growing infinitesimally low, so to speak, perhaps because I have less time on this planet than I did 25 minutes ago. It’s one of the reasons I don’t play much anymore, along with diminishing skill, fear of failure, arthritic hands, extra weight and faulty right eye.

We’ve all got problems. Golf itself is no exception, having dealt with pace issues at both the recreational and professional levels for what seems like forever, which is how long it takes the foursome ahead to evacuate the sixth green. Realistically? There is no end in sight. The PGA Tour has done nothing to expedite the process of completing 18 holes. That would ruffle too many feathers. And management at the high-end public isn’t about to space tee times more appropriately. That would cost too much money.

And so the game trudges on. Is that really such a terrible thing? There is very little evidence, if any, to suggest that golf’s popularity has been negatively affected by the five-hour rounds and 10-minute waits on a tee box. Yes, it’s frustrating, infuriating, maddening and ridiculous, but how many guys decide to sell their clubs because every Saturday morning is getting swallowed in its entirety by the sport’s lethargic crawl?

For every golfer who gets fed up with the situation and can’t take it anymore, there are a half-dozen just like my next-door neighbor. She’s 61, started playing six years ago, and now you can’t find anyone who loves it more. She delivers babies for a living, works 12-hour shifts and has a two-hour round-trip commute. Christy could not care less about a few minutes of idle time at the par-3 fourth. There is simply nowhere else she would rather be.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling anguish while you languish. Slow play is more of an annoyance than a crisis, an imposition on one’s free time, not a life-threatening illness or a call from the IRS. Nobody hops into the car just to go spend an hour dead-stuck in traffic on I-405. One could reasonably surmise that because golf is such a blast, all that wasted time on the grounds only feels more excruciating.

That said, golf is not a race. My editor, who played in college, meets up with his buddies at various courses in central Florida most Friday afternoons. I frequently make it a point to ask him what he shot, although his reply is almost always the same.

Steve shot an 82.

He doesn’t hit it as far as he once did.

They played in 2½ hours!

It’s as if the speed of the round is more important than the quality of the golf, which is only a slightly modified version of defeating the purpose. The guy who handled my copy for years at Golf World was the same way. He would shoot 85 on something close to a dead run, almost always by himself, usually late in the afternoon at his club. What is it about grammar experts that motivates them to traverse 6,500 yards faster than the speed of sound? Do they miss the alphabet that much?

Anything over four hours is inexcusable. Anything under three is a good jog spoiled. The combination of camaraderie and competition is what makes the game special, particularly with a bit of United States currency involved. Better to bet on one’s self than some horse you’d never heard of three minutes ago, but even a modest wager certainly isn’t for everybody. Whatever floats your boat, provided that ship moves faster than the Mayflower.

OK, so it was 1620. Four-hundred years later, there’s no reasonable explanation as to why 18 holes can take five hours. The closest anyone can come is to blame the ignorance/lack of awareness factor commonly associated with those new to the game, but we all know plenty of kindhearted souls who have played for decades and still move slower than a state employee. Former NBA great Julius Irving now lives in Atlanta, where he plays a ton of golf and has earned the nickname “Midnight” from his fellow members.

That’s what time you’ll get done if you tee off after the Doctor.

It is a quandary for which everyone has answers but nobody is empowered to apply a practical solution. Bad golf, like fine wine and 17th-century boat rides, takes time. As for those who play it best, there’s no appreciable damage to professional golf in terms of product appeal. Television ratings haven’t fallen due to pathetic pace. Viewers see a consistent flow of shots until the final stages of a tournament. Those sponsor-related cutaways and deluge of PGA Tour promos are of far greater annoyance than watching Bryson DeChambeau survey a putt.

The only people hurt by plodding play at the game’s highest level are the guys who play fast. And though the same can be said among those who play for fun, the simple fact of the matter is that you embark on the endeavor at your own risk. Nobody gets thrown off a golf course for impersonating a tortoise. Not after paying $100 for the green fee and another forty bucks for the cart. Between the searches for lost balls and lengthy stops at the halfway house, all the plumb-bobbing and hobnobbing, golf is an exercise in slow-motion futility punctuated by fits of anger, stretches of self-worthlessness and an occasional interlude with joy.

None of that ever will change. The faster you play, the longer you’ll wait, so relax and try to embrace things for what they are. If that doesn’t work, you can always whip out the Monopoly board. That shouldn’t take more than three hours.

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