LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA | How fast is fast, anyway?
Golf professional J.D. Ebersberger, director of golf at The Palms Golf Club, has become famous as an advocate of fast play. Show him a golf course – any course with reasonable distances between the greens and tees – and he’ll start strategizing for a round of two hours or less.
OK, sometimes it takes a little longer (with an emphasis on little). Playing in twosomes in The Palms club championship, Tim O’Neal won the senior division with a closing 68 that he completed in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
The longest round of the entire club championship was 2:58.
How can that be?
Several reasons: At The Palms, there is an enviable culture of fast play. Ebersberger, working closely with architect Brian Curley when the course was built 20 years ago, located the greens and tees relatively close together. There are no long walks to find the next tee. Ready golf is the rule, every day.
Let’s examine ready golf, one of the game’s most appropriate names. All players should be ready to play at all times. Forget the old question of “Who’s away?” It’s irrelevant.
Speaking of irrelevant, Ebersberger looked at his watch and said flatly, “Four hours (golf’s accepted standard) is not fast.”
For decades, Ebersberger has campaigned for faster play. He has started golf education programs for beginners and neophytes. He has invented systems that allow golfers to monitor their pace of play. He is a member of the Southern California PGA Hall of Fame and has emerged as the organization’s No. 1 cheerleader for playing quickly.
Unfortunately, there are slow-play demons out there in the real world of golf. Ebersberger, a golf pro for 44 years, is a walking, talking, encyclopedic authority on these demons and their quest to gain a foothold in modern golf. It isn’t a pretty story.
However, on the positive side of the equation, golfers who play at The Palms might offer this insight: An Ebersberger a day keeps the bogeyman away.
In this case, one man has made a tremendous difference in the fast-play arena. Got a pace-of-play question? Got an inquiry about how to speed up play? Ebersberger probably has an answer.
Here are 10 observations from Ebersberger regarding golf’s fast play/slow play tug of war.
Ready Golf, Ebersberger maintains, is by far the most important factor in generating speedy play. Well-known golf eye doctor Craig Farnsworth reflected, “Too many people don’t even start getting ready until it’s their turn to hit. So they take too much time, and everybody else in their group starts feeling rushed.”
How fast is fast? Ebersberger doesn’t hide the fact that six members at The Palms have quit the club because they felt the pace of play was too quick. Ebersberger has made it clear that three hours should be everybody’s goal. A time greater than 3:50 can result in an advisory letter from the golf staff.
“The (made-for-TV) match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson was pathetic,” Ebersberger reflected. “That’s bad for golf. It will drive people away from the game. Nobody should be celebrating a five-hour round of golf.”
If a shotgun start is being used, pay particular attention to par-5 holes. Place two groups on the hole before a par-5. Do not double up on the par-5s, because there is nothing worse (or slower) than multiple groups on a par-5.
Save a few seconds by carrying your driver headcover in your hand and placing it on your driver only when you arrive at your drive. The same goes for any of your clubs. Replace them in your bag only after you stop at a location close to your ball. You have just saved additional seconds.
Alert for all scorekeepers: Do not record scores at the green. Save it for the next tee.
If you are the first golfer in your group to hole out, pick up the flagstick so you can quickly replace it when all players have holed out.
This is obvious but crucial: Line up your putt before it is your turn to play. Putting is a notorious time waster. Likewise, measure yardages before it is your turn to hit.
Members of the golf staff should be given the absolute authority to ask slow groups to play faster or stand aside. It is important to designate someone from the golf shop to be in charge.
Prepare a cart sign that precisely lists three separate times – start, midway and finish. Make sure all the times are posted accurately, so that slower groups cannot escape the attention focused on them.
If they complain, offer a three-word solution: Pull the trigger.
A course should establish a maximum completion time. At The Palms, this time is a generous 3:50.
“We make it so that the time is realistic,” Ebersberger said. “It’s attainable. The women who play at The Palms have no trouble with this. If a group takes longer than 3:50 under normal conditions, somebody (from the golf shop) is probably going to talk with them. Communication is an important part of learning to play faster.”
Communication also reinforces ready golf and fast play as the pillars of modern golf. Golfers need to know that a course means business when it comes to abolishing slow play.
Finally, in the world according to Ebersberger, continuous putting would be the rule of the land if golfers could stand it. Alas, they can’t. Although it can substantially reduce playing time, continuous putting is the least popular of all the measures to encourage faster play. Most clubs, including The Palms, make no effort to advocate continuous putting.
Conclusion: It can be beneficial to keep a golf speed journal. After you play, write down your score and your total time on the course. Keep track of any distractions or mistakes. Do not allow yourself to become complacent.
Always remember, you are descended from a long line of golf speed demons. Right?
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