Preventing Slow Play

Tips for Fighting Slow Play

For more than 80 years, the Maine State Golf Association, Inc. has been the authority on amateur golf in the state of Maine. We’ve advised golf clubs on policy, we’ve helped to teach the rules of golf, we’ve conducted a junior program and a scholarship fund  -- but every year, we revisit the one true nemesis of golf: slow play.

This year, the MSGA has taken a major step in improving our pace of play by implementing 10-minute tee times for our 18-hole weekend tournaments. A couple of years ago, some golf organization with a lot more money than the MSGA paid more than a million dollars to find the optimal time for groups of four with mixed handicap ranges. They found that the optimal time was between nine and 10 minutes, so it made sense for us to change our former eight-minute policy. We have seen a marked improvement not only in pace of play, but also in our ability to keep our players happy. If they tee off at their designated tee time, the day doesn’t seem nearly as long. Of course, we lost some available tee times, but we felt the tradeoff was worth it to keep our players happy.

The MSGA is about golf education. As such, we’d like to give you – the average, every-day golfer – some hints for fighting slow play. Let’s face it – more people don’t play golf because it’s such a time-consuming game. If we can make it more enjoyable by educating players on tips to fight slow play, we’re doing our job at promoting golf.

What follows are some basic tips for fighting slow play. Please print and post at your club to help all of those who enjoy the game

  • It all starts at the first tee: First of all, arrive in plenty of time to figure out your match, talk about the day, and receive the local rules and other materials from the starter in championship play. Not only is it a violation of the Rules of Golf to miss your tee time in competition, it’s just rude in every-day play. Secondly, make sure you choose an appropriate set of tees from which to compete. You’ll enjoy your round more if you’re not over-challenged. And you’ll speed up your round considerably. If you’re not a single-digit handicap, stay away from those back tees! It’s okay for players in the same group to compete from different tees – the USGA handicap system adjusts accordingly. So make sure you make the right selection before you even tee off.

  • If you’re playing in a stroke play event and you’re ready to play, hit it! Don’t wait for your fellow competitor who may be trying to select the right club. Ready golf means playing when you’re ready. Of course, in match play, honors are observed, but even then your opponent can allow you to hit if you’re ready and she’s not.

  • If you hit a ball toward the woods, or another spot, visually mark that spot and then walk (or ride) directly to it. You’ll have a much better chance of finding your ball this way. And don’t forget, the Rules of Golf say that no matter how much time you take looking for a lost ball, after five minutes, it’s lost – so go play your provisional.

  • Speaking of playing a provisional, one should be employed whenever there’s ever a question as to whether the ball may be lost. It may even be hit if you hit your ball toward a hazard if there’s a chance the ball may be lost outside a hazard. And golf course personnel, consider invoking the local rule that lets a player hit a provisional for a ball that may be unplayable in a hazard (see the Rules of Golf book, page 92, Appendix I, A-2-B. Provisional Ball) especially if the player would have to walk back over a bridge to proceed correctly if the rule were not in place.

  • If you’re playing in a stroke play event and have doubt as to procedure, play a second ball under Rule 3-3 (don’t know what this is? You should also have a Rules of Golf book in your golf bag to cover any points of contention while you’re out there).

  • If you’re sharing a cart, be aware of where your fellow competitor’s ball is, take a few clubs that you may need and walk to your ball, allowing the driver of the cart to proceed to her ball. Then when you’re ready to hit, start walking back toward the cart, ready to go to your next shot.

  • Don’t wait until you get to your ball to decide what you’ll hit next – make that decision on the way to your ball, especially if you’re walking. Pace off the distance from the nearest marker behind your ball so by the time you reach your ball, you know what you’re going to hit and can do so in a timely fashion.

  • Limit your pre-shot routine. If your average round is 80 shots and you take a practice swing for every shot, you’ve swung the club 160 times. No wonder you’re tired! Don’t rush your shot, but there’s no need to over-analyze it either – the ball’s not moving, hit it! Plumb bobbing from 150 yards is absolutely useless.

  • Read your putt while your fellow competitors are putting. And if you’re putting first, start to read your putt on the way to the ball.  Also, fix ball marks while your fellow competitor is preparing to putt. And while you’re at it, fix yours and another. You won’t believe the difference it will make in green conditions.

  • Limit your conversations to when you’re walking or driving to your ball. You should NEVER delay hitting because you’re waiting for someone to finish a conversation, or worse yet, because you’re talking yourself.

  • Park your golf cart or set your clubs down on the way to the next tee. You should never have to walk back to get your clubs. Then mark your score down on the way to the next tee, or at the next tee while you’re waiting to hit.

  • Don’t give your opponents or fellow competitors advice. Not only is it annoying, it’s against the Rules of Golf.

  • Watch to see where the people in your playing group hit the ball. The more eyes on the ball, the better the chance of finding it when you get there.

  • If you’re waiting to hit a long shot that you potentially can reach, let the shorter hitter play the approach shot that she can’t reach. Order of play means nothing if you’re not on the green in a stroke play event.

  • If you’re not standing in someone’s line, putt out. More time is wasted marking putts, and replacing the ball than in any other place on the golf course.

  • Not only are cell phones annoying, they’re against the etiquette of the game and are potential cause for disqualification if they’re continually a problem. Shut the ringer off, or better yet, leave the phone in the car.

  • Walk quickly to your ball!!!

  • Have enough stuff in your pockets – tees, ball marker, extra ball, divot repair tool – so that you may play quickly. But don’t have so much stuff that you can’t find your ball marker.

  • If you’re hitting a chip shot, take the club you will use and your putter – don’t return to your bag for the putter after taking your shot. Do it all in one step.

  • If your playing partner just hit from a bunker, go ahead and putt your ball while you’re waiting for her to “do the housework,” as Mark Plummer would say. The rest of us call it raking the bunker.

  • Finally, if you’re playing and the ranger or player assistant comes up to tell you that you’re out of position – and you’re not playing in a tournament – absolutely DO NOT get belligerent. They’re just trying to make the game more enjoyable for everyone. Pick up your ball and go to the next tee, taking the score that you most likely would have make on that hole, for handicap purposes. If you can’t keep pace, you need to re-examine your game. While you may be frustrated, you need to be aware that those behind you are even more so. Common courtesy is a staple of the game of golf. Observe it in your pace of play.