Does the occasion, or your level of golf, justify this before every shot?
We have all seen it; the European or PGA Tour player tossing up grass a couple of times and debating club choice from 200-yards out with his caddy. Reason? He often has about a three to five-foot circle in which to land his ball to avoid slopes and tough spots on a green. They also have millions of dollars and prestigious championships on the line. When Freddie the Farang, playing out of any of Pattaya’s 20 plus golf venues, consistently does this, he’s not only making a fool of himself, he’s guilty of slow play.
About twenty-five years ago, when my request for membership at my local golf club had finally been accepted, I received a letter from the club secretary informing me the date and time of my first game. I was also told I would be playing with the club captain whose responsibilities included advising new members on etiquette and pace of play. It was only after I had played this round that I was permitted access to the starting sheet. Contrast this introduction to what happens in Pattaya, especially the poor newbie whose visit to LOS coincides with their introduction to the game. Sympathies need also be extended to their playing partners, and in some cases, the entire bloody field.
But first we need to acknowledge a source of slow play that we can do nothing about. The five and six-ball groupings often encountered on Thai golf courses are part of the territory. Courses such as the Navy-owned and operated Plutaluang, Bangpra – subject to a thirty-year lease to Japanese interests – and Green Valley – indebted to the huge Korean tour-party market – are examples where we Farang need to appreciate our place, particularly in the high season. And that place is in a country where our requirements/wants/needs don’t matter all that much – especially so on public holidays. Irrespective of the imagined clout we may think our numbers warrant, as far as local course management is concerned, we have no right to expect much more than the significant green-fee discount already received. We’re not even Thai citizens for Buddha’s sake.
So what can we do about this? Not much. It is part and parcel of playing golf in Thailand. Thai logic and that other thing – face – means our complaints about the way courses choose to do things, including allowing five or six-balls on the course, mean very little. Yes, we Farang are used to limiting our playing group size to four, so the experience of playing behind a five or six-ball can be frustrating – if you let it. Better to accept your status as a guest in the Kingdom, and learn to relax, adopt Thai time. If you can manage to do this, your score won’t suffer as a result. Really, it is of little consequence when taking everything into account. So you are going to have a five-hour round, which will make you late, for what, precisely? No deviating on the way back to Pattaya? Not if you are going to make the presentation on time. Tough!
As an aside, some Thai five-balls are faster than many Farang four-balls. But playing behind five or six-balls is only an occasional event. It is not the main reason for slow play. The real culprit lies within our own ranks. It is us, or at least those of us who for whatever reason are slow.
According to the US National Golf Foundation, the number of rounds played in the US has been on a steady decline for the last 12 years. In the year 2000, roughly 518,000,000 rounds of golf were played in the US. By 2005 that number had fallen to 499,000,000. In 2011 there were about 463,000,000 rounds, down from 475,000,000 in 2010. And the main reason? Slow play – many players had had enough.
Let’s be perfectly clear about this, slow play can and does affect the perpetrator’s playing partners. It not only affects the quality of their golf, it can ruin their enjoyment, irrespective of the effect it may have on the standard of their golf. What right does anyone have of using a pre-shot routine that in effect denies the majority of their playing partners the joy they would otherwise have experienced? Doesn’t apply to you? Those that say you are a slow player are wrong? Ask around after the presentation. Ask for candid responses. Choose your own threshold, but mine would be if more than 50% reply in the affirmative, then it’s time for a change.
But first we need to understand what slow play is. There are players whose aggregate time spent on the course is long, but their actual pace of play is not slow. And there are players who take longer than most over their shots, but spend less total time completing their round.
Golf experts used to say a round should take less than three hours. Malcolm Campbell, a Fife-based golf author and a member of the R&A, stated recently, “There is no doubt that a round of golf is much slower than it used to be. Slow play has become the curse of the modern game and people should be told that if they can’t get through 18 holes in three-and-a-half hours then they should make way for those who can. Not being able to play well enough is not an excuse. Improve, or get off the course.” A tad harsh, especially for Pattaya, but a considered view nonetheless.
Many look to our role models and blame them – the professionals – however Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner, would reply, “If I’m watching a PGA Tour player, and I’m going to go through the same pre-shot routine that that player takes, and he’s hitting it 69 times and I’m hitting it 93, I’m going to be playing a lot longer than that guy,”
In similar vein, consider this: Golfer A has a set routine with every shot. When it’s his turn to play he invariably takes more time than Golfer B, whether on the tee, the fairway, or around the green. In fact, Golfer B walks fast, swings fast and wastes no time when over his shot. During the course of an average round, however, Golfer B will lose two balls. Golfer A loses a ball, on average, every five rounds. Who is likely to be the slower player?
When players first notice that someone is slow, they tend to do so on the teeing ground or around the green. An over-elaborate routine, or one which appears to have no purpose or benefit to the shot about to be played, can be irritating to those waiting – particularly so if it’s done more than once, on the same shot; Kevin Na, Ben Crane, Jim Furyk et al.
Most players will have idiosyncrasies that often remain unnoticed or inconsequential until just after your four-ball first notices it has lost ground. This normally means the distance between you and the four-ball in front is close to or exceeds one hole. All of a sudden, those idiosyncrasies that take up time start to get noticed, to the extent they now appear to take longer than they did previously. Your four-ball is now one lost ball away from having to ask the group behind to play through – ugh!
Having lost ground to the field, what can a four-ball do to pick up its pace? Etiquette says the lowest handicapper should alert his/her fellow golfers to the situation, but it could be anyone who picks up the mantle. He/she may then suggest certain remedies. The trick here is to recommend actions that do not impact on existing pre-shot routines, so it’s not a big deal, yet. This is phase one and could include:
- If playing stableford, have players pick-up when their score on any one hole exceeds net one-over-par. At this point their stableford score for that hole must be zero. Same applies to anyone completing a card for handicapping purposes.
- Introducing “ready golf” a common term used to encourage whoever is ready to go ahead and play their shot, whether it is their turn or not. Not normally imposed on or around the putting surface, unless some unfortunate is playing tennis between opposing bunkers.
- As soon as the first player putts out, have them proceed to the next hole and tee off, immediately. Then have the next player follow suit. Done properly this can be a big time saver.
- Encourage players not to mark their cards when it’s their honour. This is one of the most annoying habits a golfer can pick up. You have an honour – don’t abuse it by doing something that’s better done when it’s not your shot.
- While waiting on the tee, or at any point through the green, work out what club you are going to play, and how. When it comes to your turn, you should be good to go. Practise swings should normally be limited to one.
- If you need to read your putt from the other side of the hole, do so while waiting your turn. When playing a four-ball there is a great deal of downtime on the green. Use the time wisely.
- Pay attention to the line of tee shots, not just your own.
- If doubt exists over whether a ball is in play, or may be difficult to find, always play a provisional ball. Please note if your ball is believed to be in a hazard, the Rules do not permit the playing of a provisional ball. If you’re playing with a PSC group, however, your Local Rules state you must play a provisional ball, regardless.
- If carting on a day when they are restricted to cart paths, please, please take more than one club with you when unsure of your lie or distance.
- People sharing golf carts absolutely have to use them as a way to play faster, not as a way to be lazy and selfish. If four guys are playing in two carts, it is not necessary to drive to everyone’s ball. The fit guy that sits and waits in the cart to be driven across the fairway or fifteen yards from where the cart is stopped needs to get a life. That guy will bark back at you that he paid his money to rent the cart and if he only wants to have to walk five steps instead of 20 to get to his next shot, he has every right. It was only Bt500 for the cart — it’s not a license to act like royalty waiting around to have someone wipe your arse. Grab a couple of clubs and walk over to your ball. For Buddha’s sake, the group behind you wants to strangle you, right now.
If this has little impact, you could introduce phase two. This is more dramatic and will include talking directly to one of your fellow golfers about his time-wasting. If his routine needs changing, the best place to discuss this is over a beer. If the remedy needs addressing sooner, then do it out of earshot of the others. You should have no compunction about advising a repeat offender that anything more than one practise swing is not warranted – especially when playing catch-up. Same applies with putting. Whilst you won’t be thanked for it, you are doing him and everyone else a favour.
In an ideal world, golf organisers should put the newbie – a returning regular – into the same playing group as a senior member who understands pace of play and etiquette. Both players should be informed of the reason for this, and be prepared to give and receive guidance accordingly. The same technique could also be applied to regulars who are known for their slow play. For this to work, the organiser has to make clear the duties of both before the round.
Remember this, you could be a three or thirty-three handicapper, it matters not. In the minds of your fellow golfers it is how long they perceive you take when it is your shot that will form their view. But also realise that a golfer has every right to a routine, even a meticulous one, if it means he increases the chance of keeping his ball in play. The same tolerance need not be applied around the greens.
Appreciate that the new golfer in your group may never have received tuition on pace of play. If this appears the case, then it is beholden upon the experienced golfer to pass on appropriate guidance.
One great tip for saving time on the putting surfaces – watch the world’s number one-ranked golfer next time he is on TV and copy his putting routine, his practise putting stroke in particular.
The saying patience is a virtue certainly applies to Pattaya’s golf environment.
I would be interested to hear others’ views.