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Play Faster or Pick it up!

Originally published September 27, 2001

I find it completely unbelievable the number of times that I have been enjoying a beautiful day, on a lush green golf course, scoring well and enjoying the company only to have it ruined by the selfish players ahead of me who can't seem play at a reasonable pace. While I notice others playing slowly and often find myself held up, especially on weekends, I am not a particularly good golfer. I play fairly consistently to a 15 handicap and have done so for about 10 years now. The peculiar thing is that I have discussed my concern with many golfers who are both much better and much worse than I and they all have similar complaints about slow play. If all these people are complaining about slow play then who is responsible for all the slow play?

I know that most of the time that you're on the course and complaining about slow play you're doing your part by keeping up with the group ahead of you and usually it appears as though the group ahead of you is also doing their part. The comment is then made from someone in your foursome that it must be a group up farther ahead that is slowing everyone down. The problem is that everyone is saying this and nobody seems to be able to find the group slowing everyone down! Here's a news flash for every golfer out there...It isn't the group 'up ahead somewhere' its YOU! The fact that everyone is complaining about slow play does not automatically eliminate them from being part of the problem. In fact it is an indicator that if everyone is complaining but nobody can find the perpetrators then those doing the complaining are the most likely source of the problem.

Most golfers have at least a superficial understanding of the rules of golf. Most of the time they choose not to apply the rules that they are aware exist. I couldn't care less if you insist on cheating. What I am talking about is using your 'foot wedge' to better your lie or nudging the ball onto a tuft of grass in the fairway, or take a mulligan for that sand shot that didn't quite make it out of the bunker the first time. None of these rules infractions impacts me so basically I don't care. Golf is a game that you play against yourself. I play against all of my previous scores and you play against all of your previous scores. Each of us trying to beat each and every round that we ever played. However, once you start to effect my round by slowing down the play for everyone on the golf course I've got a bone to pick with you. You might not be breaking any rules but in my mind, given that we are not playing against each other like those guys on the PGA tour, I consider you to be breaking something more important than the 'rules of golf'. You're breaching the fundamental etiquette of the game!

Golf can be a frustrating game

The fundamental etiquette of the game is that you should endeavor each and every time you step on the golf course to ensure that you not only don't negatively impact the game of any other golfer on the course but in fact assist in improving each golfer's experience. This is why we fix ball-marks and spike-marks on the green, replace divots on the fairway and rake sand-traps. While I can personally attest to the fact that most golfers that I have seen and played with are aware of these 'rules of etiquette' few consider the speed of their play to be a commensurate responsibility.

The fact is that on most golf courses, groups generally keep up to the group ahead of them (hopefully the course you play has a good marshal that insists that groups that do not keep up pick up their ball and move to the next tee). The problem is not that any one group is slowing things down. The problem is that the overall speed of play is too slow. And everyone is to blame for it - you (and me) included!

Let's face it - you and I don't play with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Mike Weir. There is no need to change your mind three times about which club you are going to hit and then take six practice swings each time you address the ball. Most courses these days encourage golfers to play ready golf - do it!

Tiger Woods' headline making play has brought more and more publicity to the sport and as a result more and more people are taking up the game. These new golfers often learn only bits and pieces of golf etiquette. Knowing only a little bit of the etiquette they ensure that they apply what they know. For the most part a new golfer will know that the lowest score goes first on the tee, farthest from the hole is next and if you're lucky, not to walk in the line of someone else's putt. It is the responsibility of veteran golfers to assist rookie players in the 'rules' and merits of 'ready golf'. Even the stodgiest golfer is not going to be offended if you hit first when it was their honor. In fact, looking at the big picture, most will appreciate it as it will speed up play and everyone enjoys their game more when they do not have to wait.

Don't be misled - rookie golfers are not the sole reason that golf is too slow. Often I find that, because of their eagerness, and because they don't know any better they are the most proficient of golfers in the application of ready golf.

Enjoy golf by scoring lower

Golf is meant to be a social game and should continue to be so. If it were not there wouldn't be an issue of slow play - there wouldn't be any golfers on the course! Ready golf does not mean that you cannot converse throughout your round or tell jokes to your golf partner, it merely means that the person who is ready to go next hits their ball and the group moves on. Further, when playing ready golf it is important that each golfer is aware of where the other players balls are so that they are always aware of when a shot might take place and so that they can curb the volume of their conversation while these shots are being taken.

Ready golf is simple. Be thinking about what club you are likely going to hit before you actually stand over your ball. As you are walking or driving towards your ball guess at the distance to the pin and evaluate the lie so that when you arrive at the ball you have at least narrowed down the club you are going to hit to one or two at the most. Watch other golfers in your foursome from where your going to hit your next shot rather than standing next to them for ever shot and then proceeding to your ball. When on the green look at your putt while others are making theirs. The first person to finish reading their putt should go ahead while the others in the group evaluate their putts - regardless of who's farthest away. If you putt and miss your first putt by a couple of feet don't mark your ball, pick it up, clean the ball and then wait for someone else to putt. The proper etiquette to follow when playing ready golf is to politely tell the balance of the group that you are going to hole out and then proceed to do so. Likely you already know the line as a result of your first putt. Your group will always finish the hole faster using this strategy rather than waiting for your turn using the 'farthest from the hole' rule. Most golfers' number one complaint is people who stand around on or around the green after they hole out making them wait to hit their shots. Mark your score on the next tee! Once your group has finished, quickly put the pin back in the hole and make your way to the next tee- preferably off the back of the green. Don't mark the scorecard and certainly don't 'try that putt one more time' or you might end up with an approach shot in your ear.

Golf is an old game with many traditions and etiquette that should be respected when possible. I get that! However, when the game is to the point where I (and many others) avoid playing golf on the weekends because of five and half hour rounds there's a problem.

If we can all commit to playing ready golf and keeping up with the group ahead of us then perhaps more of us can finish our rounds on the weekend rather than trying to find our balls in the dark coming down the 18th fairway.

Article courtesy of Jim Paterson of


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