Saturday, February 23, 2008


Anybody who has played golf on a Sunday knows that middle-aged men are the scourge of fast play. Not all of them, of course, and they are hardly the only offenders. However, far too many of them apparently believe that they have the skill level of Tiger Woods and that the rounds they are playing are as consequential as the final round of the Masters. On a typical hole, they will wait until the group ahead of them is 300 yards down the fairway before hitting their tee shots, which will almost invariably be dribbled into the rough maybe 100 yards. They will then wait for the group ahead to finish on the green before hitting their second shots, even though it would take a Woods-like effort with a one iron to reach the green. When they finally do hit their second shots, they will likely be 75 yard worm-burners that go another 75 yards in the rough. It will continue like this for another two or three shots until they are finally on the green, at which point the real slow-down begins. All putts must be examined from at least three different perspectives for not less than a minute at each perspective, and it is impossible for more than one player to line up their putts at the same time. The average round of golf on the weekend will take close to five hours, and this kind of slow play is the cause of it.

The Wall Street Journal February 16 Golf Journal column points out another factor leading to slow play, namely, course design:

The average drive of a 90s-shooting male golfer is 192 yards. He thinks he hits the ball 30 yards farther than that, according to a survey of more than 18,000 golfers completed three years ago by Frank Thomas, the former technical director for the U.S. Golf Association. In fact, the survey found that 41% of men estimate they hit their drives 250-plus yards, which hard data from club manufacturers expose as total balderdash; in reality, maybe only one in 50 golfers routinely hits drives 250 yards. Senior men are lucky to coax 170 to 180 yards out of their tee shots. Typical female golfers drive about 135 yards.

If golf were somehow to reinvent itself from scratch, reflecting how the vast majority of participants actually play the game today, the default tees at courses would play at 5,700 to 6,300 yards. The forward-most tees, for beginners, some seniors and some women, would be at around 4,100 yards and get lots of use, and some courses would provide alternative tees set at, say, 6,700 and 7,200 yards, for the relatively few crack youngsters and low single-digit handicappers who can comfortably manage that length. (Scratch golfers constitute only 0.65% of the total.) ("A Tee Too Far: Long Courses Overmatch Golfers; Trying a New Way" by John Paul Newport, p. W1)

There is a lot of sense in this approach to golf course design; and if golfers would comply, it would improve the golfing experience for everyone. The actual golfers would be happier because they would actually have a chance to play the course like it was designed to be played. They players around them would be happier because the speed of play would improve dramatically. But the first paragraph that I quoted points out the problem: the average golfer thinks that he's lot better than he actually is. He reads the coverage of the US Open, which tells about how the course being played this year will be 7,600 yards long. Not only does he think that he can play a 7,600 yard course, he is also insulted if you put tees out there for him to use that are only 5,400 yards. Delusions of grandeur are the main problem; golf course design is a subsidiary concern.

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