So I was sipping my morning wake-up cola several weeks ago when I come across a notice on my laptop that college golf is getting serious about slow play. My morning fizz sprayed out onto the screen. Message to self: Don’t read silly college golf press releases in front of your computer while drinking Diet Coke.
The release went on to say that the men’s golf coaches association, suddenly concerned about pace of play, had formed a committee because “slow play has gotten out of hand.” No kidding, Sherlock.
This committee has about as much a chance to fix this problem as BP had plugging the oil leak in the gulf. And here’s why: just like in the gulf, the guys in charge of fixing the problem created it, and they are too busy blaming everyone else.
Back in the day, I had a hand in running one of college golf’s premiere events, the Ping/Golfweek Preview, played annually in the fall at the site of the spring NCAA Championship. In 2002, the Preview was held at Oklahoma State’s Karsten Creek course, and we (Golfweek, Ping, OSU) had the American Junior Golf Association official on hand to introduce and implement the AJGA’s pace of play policy (Full disclosure: I am a board member of the AJGA). OSU was concerned, rightly so, that this unfamiliar big and hairy golf course could take a long time to play. Since the Preview was intended to be a shakedown cruise for both the players, teams, and the host school, it made sense to test this issue.
So I watched in amazement as AJGA executive director Stephen Hamblin made his presentation to the assembled coaches on the eve of the tournament. By the expressions on their faces and the questions they asked, you would have thought Hamblin told them that the players were required to play with 10 clubs, including persimmon drivers. The coaches wanted no part of the AJGA pace of play policy.
Never mind that most of the college players on hand had grown up in the AJGA and learned how to play top-tier competitive golf under the AJGA guidelines. Somewhere between graduation and freshman registration, there must be some college orientation rite that purges these kids of their pace of play training.
And here is how this policy works:
A time par is established for each golf course, taking into consideration a host of factors. Timing stations are set every three holes, and groups receive either a green card (on pace) or a red card (behind time and out of position). The latter is a warning and two consecutive red cards will earn a one-shot penalty for each member of the group. In 2009, the AJGA issued roughly 1,500 red cards, but only 30 slow-play penalties.
So the 2002 Preview was played in very reasonable times, and most thought a good step forward had been taken on the vexing issue of slow play. Except that the coaches didn’t agree: The AJGA has never been invited back to the Preview.
Flash forward to the 2010 NCAA Championship, held at the Honors Corse in Chattanooga. On the final day, with all of 10 (!) players on the course in the final match-play round, it took one twosome four-and-one-half hours to finish an 18-hole match. You read that right – 4.5 hours for two players to play 18 holes … in match play.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Who is the loudest voice agitating for change? The players? The coaches? The NCAA? Not. Not. Not.
It’s the PGA Tour.
Yes, the Tour has decided that slow play really is a problem. But it’s not their problem; it’s the college golf coaches problem. And so the Tour has been hammering away at the coaches association, pleading with them to make this issue go away.
Okay, go ahead and laugh. Just turn your head away from your screen.
It’s good to know that coaches finally figured out that pace of play is a real issue, even if it took an outside agency to cause this revelation. But seriously, do you need to create a 16-person committee (13 of whom are coaches who are responsible for allowing the problem to continue) to fix it?
Here’s what needs to happen, plain and simple: Adopt the AJGA policy, and put some teeth in the enforcement process. Then add some common sense at the NCAA Championship – reasonable starting time intervals, no practice putting after a hole is won, no distance devices allowed. And bring in some very senior PGA of America and USGA rules officials. Bring in the heavyweights, not the locals. This is, after all, a national championship. Don’t make the NCAA beg for help. Is it too much to ask to have a senior rules referee with every twosome in match play during the final three days?
This is a fixable problem. The AJGA runs 85 tournaments each year, and they average four-and-a-half hours per round, playing mostly in threesomes. Hamblin proudly, but not incorrectly, boasts that the AJGA has the best pace of play policy of any organization in the world.
There is hope. The AJGA was recently invited back to Karsten Creek this fall to run the Preview.