See that picture above? That picture was taken by me in a fivesome waiting for a threesome of golfers to start playing a hole with a foursome just up the way. It also seems an airplane was trying to play the hole as well.
It didn’t always used to be that way. Putting on my myopic, purely anecdotal glasses, when I was playing seriously 15 years ago, I don’t recall the mind-numbing 5.5 hour rounds that I have experienced since coming back to golf a few years ago.
I am not alone in my frustration with the pace of play and thinking a round is much slower nowadays. Yelp reviews of public courses help tell the story. Here are just a smattering of comments picked at random of a few Los Angeles-based courses that I have played:
“Either way, you’re getting a round in between 4-5 hours. It’s an f’d day if it’s more than 5. For that reason, I don’t golf on weekends.” (Brookside Golf Club)
“But it is the busiest course in America and some players that are not good enough end up playing from the blacks, so it takes a lot longer, 5-6 hour round usually….” (Rancho Park)
“The big downside here is pace of play – they allow 5-somes and it is mostly novice golfers. Plan on 2.5 to 3 hours for 9 holes. If you hit it just right during the weekday you can go around in 1.5, but that is very rare.” (Penmar)
To combat this widespread hatred of glacial rounds, the solution I have come up with is for golf courses to increase the intervals between tee times.
Most golf courses have 8 or 10 minute intervals between groups, but I want to see that stretched to 12 or 15 minutes between groups. This is a huge ask because in addition to the frustrations of the golfers playing the course, the owners and operators of golf courses are in a really tough spot right now.
More golf courses closed than opened for 8+ years in a row.
Just because there are fewer golf courses now doesn’t mean the surviving ones are doing well. According to recent studies, most golf courses are operating at a loss, even with multiple revenue streams like green fees and merchandise are still not resulting in a net positive.
Given this Pit and the Pendulum financial situation, I certainly understand courses sending out foursomes and even fivesomes out in 8 minute intervals (or less!) to try and maximize the amount of golfers they can cram into every buttery nook and cranny of a course on a given weekend. Golf courses would argue that they could mathematically get out 7 groups in an hour with 8 minute intervals versus only 4-5 groups an hour at 12-15 minute intervals.
I hate math and the USGA actually backs up my hypothesis (and perhaps shares in my hatred of math?). The USGA commissioned a study that found that an increase in tee time intervals does not lead to a substantial decrease in the amount of rounds played.
In addition to this, the USGA found that 56% of golfers would be willing to pay a premium to have a faster round. The USGA found a direct correlation between courses had longer intervals between tee times and the price of those courses.
So, if I were to say to a golf course that you could increase your revenue while only having a small decrease in the amount of rounds played, I think most would jump at that model. Of course, this isn’t a solution that most golfers would want as golf is already pretty expensive. Cost has weirdly driven me to play costlier courses because if a better course costs $40 to play on the weekend, I would rather pay more to have a much better course experience.
So where does this leave us? If we want golf to survive and if we want to actually have FUN playing golf (what a novel concept, we should enjoy how we spend out time) then I think we have to dig deep in our wallets and pay a few more bones per week to play to have a lot more enjoyable experience.
Golf courses have to be willing to meet us halfway and give us real value for our money. Make a real effort to increase intervals, take out fivesomes and the better intervals will result in quicker pace of play. After all, Stranger Things isn’t going to watch itself! I have things to do…
*Pete would like to thank Jeremy White for his invaluable contributions and assistance with this article.*
Follow Pete Flanigan on Twitter @ReGripped
Pete Flanigan a/k/a ReGripped has more musings on golf that you can read at www.re-gripped.com. You can follow his quest to play all of the Coore Crenshaw designed golf courses at www.coorecrenshawquest.com. If you know of any way for ReGripped to play Cypress Point, he will put on a giant gingerbread costume and dance in front of your house. You can catch ReGripped live and direct on Twitter every week for #GolfChat.
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