Keeping pace: What golf courses are doing about one of the game’s biggest issues, and how you can help
June 24, 2014
And you're waiting on the tee and you're waiting.
And while you're waiting, the foursome pulls up, making it a pileup.
It is the bane of golf — slow play.
And courses in High Country, as well as all over the globe, seem to be doing something about it.
“Especially in the western United States, we’ve created courses that are long, and in environmentally sensitive areas, that require precise play,” Gypsum Creek pro Tom Buzbee said. “At the same time, there’s high-powered equipment, and it’s a difficult thing to mesh those two. Nobody thinks they play slowly, but it’s a struggle sometimes.”
The Vail Golf Club instituted its "4:07" program three seasons ago. Eagle-Vail redid its course to improve pace. Downvalley, Eagle Ranch and Gypsum Creek are also doing their part.
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"Especially in the western United States, we've created courses that are long, and in environmentally sensitive areas, that require precise play," Gypsum Creek pro Tom Buzbee said. "At the same time, there's high-powered equipment, and it's a difficult thing to mesh those two. Nobody thinks they play slowly, but it's a struggle sometimes."
And in the wake of the recent recession, golf courses are also competing for their share of entertainment dollar.
"Our visitors have said that they like knowing how much time it will be going around the golf course, so that they can schedule the rest of their day," Vail director of golf operations Alice Plain said. "We've had some push-back from some golfers who are not used to having (course) marshals actively used. It's complex on so many levels, but it's been a positive."
Meet Bill Yates
When Plain moved into her position at the Vail Golf Club and found the dreaded "5-hour round" occurring too often, she went to Bill Yates of Pace Manager Systems. Yates has built a business of working with golf courses on pace of play. His client list includes bucket-list courses like the Old Course at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach.
Yates observed the Vail Golf Club during high season, and came back with the time of 4 hours, 7 minutes for a round. (His numbers vary based on the course, its conditions and so on. He recommended 3:57 for St. Andrews.)
While golfers want to avoid the dreaded five-hour-round, as Buzbee noted astutely, it's never you who is actually slowing things down. Thus, Plain and Vail have put a lot of time into training its staff in a way to introduce the concept of a 4:07 round to golfers.
"To go back a few steps, we have extensive training for our staff," Plain said. "We also have given our staff and rangers a lot of tools like a time-matrix sheet. The starter makes sure the start time is exact. We have the clocks up (on the course) to show where everyone should be.
"The initial presentation at the start is also key. That way, golfers know what to expect."
Meanwhile, the Eagle-Vail Golf Club had a different approach. — rework the course. A few years ago, head golf pro Ben Welsh had four short holes north of Highway 6, which led to a pile up, as well as the old par-5 eighth with a dog leg, followed by another difficult par-4 on No. 9.
Welsh and Eagle-Vail redid the front nine. The old par-3 third is gone, and there are only three holes now on the other side of Highway 6. They turned old No. 6, which used to be a 270-yard par-4 into a 380-yarder (now No. 5). That loosened up traffic nicely because everyone felt they could drive the old sixth, regardless of ability, leading to a bunching of groups.
To make up for the lost hole, Welsh broke up the old par-5 No. 8 into the new par-4 seventh and a new par-3 eighth. The latter is not only a tricky little hole, but serves as a traffic monitor to the par-4 ninth, the hardest hole on the course. Now there is only one group playing the new eighth and going up to nine, as opposed to three foursomes on the old par-5.
Do it yourself
While golf courses can do other things to improve pace of play, mowing the rough, etc., a lot of the pace of play issue lies with the golfer.
"Nothing can beat putting your bad on a pull-cart and walking to your ball in the middle of the fairway," Buzbee said.
Though we'll leave the walking vs. riding debate for another day, Vail, Eagle Ranch and Gypsum Creek are walkable courses. (Eagle-Vail does not allow walking until late in the afternoon with good reason — it's not a walkable course.)
That said, the biggest offense in slow play that is easy to solve without a debate is playing from the right set of tees. The tips at Eagle County's four publics range from 6,538-7,530 yards and the slope ratings are set from 131-138.
Be honest, most of us have absolutely no business playing from the back tees. Playing 6,000-6,400 yards of golf with a slope in the mid-120s still provides plenty of challenge. What's more, playing a set of tees suited to one's ability also may result in actual chances for birdie or par.
Then there's ready golf. As much as we all enjoy our day on the links, this is not the Royal and Ancient. Whether walking or riding, get to your ball with two or three clubs and be ready to hit.
Also be realistic. If you're playing a 530-yard par-5, and drive the ball 250 off the tee, good job. But don't wait for the green to clear in front of you. You're not going to hit your fairway metal/wood 280 yards off the turf. It's a three-shotter for you and most people not named Adam Scott.
And if it's not your day, discretion is the better part of valor. There are times to pick up your ball and live to fight another hole.
Golf is meant to be fun, and it's much more fun at the right pace.