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Pope Of Slope

HOW FAST IS YOUR COURSE?

With this article, you're about to find out. Pace Ratings are here, and their purpose is to incite faster play.

by George Peper
The MET Golfer, September, 1993
(George Peper is Editor of GOLF Magazine)

Earlier this year, GOLF Magazine launched an ambitious campaign against the games's number-one enemy, slow play. One of the magazine's loftiest goals was to find a way to "pace-rate" America's golf courses -- to measure each course according to the time required to play each hole.

Why? Because the truth is, we don't play golf slowly -- we play golf courses slowly. Most of our time on the golf course is spent not hitting shots but crossing terrain.

The average player takes roughly 35 seconds to address and hit a golf ball. If he scores 100, that's 3,500 seconds, which translates to about 58 minutes of actual shotmaking time. The other three-hours-plus is a safari, moving from shot to shot. And since every golf course is a different jungle, safari time varies widely.

Thus, the exhortation "Four Hours or Else" is foolish. The fact is, on a long and difficult course four hours may be too much to ask, while on most courses four hours is too slow. So we decided it was time to set fiar and accurate playing times for all courses, and we reasoned that the USGA and regional organizations like the MGA were the associations to do it.

They responded to our invitation enthusiastically, and over the past several months representatives of GOLF Magazine, the USGA, and the MGA have worked together to develop a Pace Rating Formula that has just been released to other local and regional golf associations across the country. The MGA has done preliminary calculations for each of its member courses, and this article includes those numbers, the first Pace Ratings to be published.

According to Dean Knuth, Senior Director of Handicapping for the USGA and the chief architect of the formula, "The Pace Rating Formula derives in large part from the yardages and the Course and Slope Rating calculations that most associations already have on record." The USGA will continue to work with the MGA and other associations to fine tune the Rating Formula. The MGA hopes to release final official Pace Ratings with hole-by-hole calculations next spring.

Four major factors are used to determine a course's Pace Rating distance (including not only course yardage but the walks between greens and tees); time spent around the green; time spent dealing with water hazards and other obstacles, and a time allowance where golf carts are restricted to paths.

It should come as no surprise that the first determinant is distance. Most short courses take less time to play than most long courses. The Pace Rating Formula divides a course's length by 48 to come up with its distance time. The number 48 is not arbitrary -- it was derived by observing thousands of rounds of actual play by golfers of all abilities at courses throughout the country. Note the USGA Formula assumes "impeded play" -- in other words, a golf course with groups of four teeing off at a reasonable interval. (A mythical course of 6,720 yards, divided by 48, yields 140 -- that's 140 minutes, or 2 hours and 20 minutes of walking time.)

One of the more interesting findings was that the playing pace for a group of four in golf carts with the freedom to roam the fairways is no faster than for golfers walking with caddies or carrying their own bags (except at a course with long walks between greens and tees). However, where golf carts are restricted to paths, the playing time increases by nearly 15 percent. Thus, courses where golf carts are restricted must do the distance calculation by dividing their yardage not by 48 but by 42. (That same 7,620-yard course, played in restricted carts, would have a distance time of 2 hours and 40 minutes.)

The next element is time spent around the greens. Our research found that a group of four knowledgable, time-sensitive golfers takes about four minutes to pitch, chip, blast and putt. Multiply that by 18 holes and we have an additional 72 minutes of playing time. (On our mythical course, the time is now up to 3 hours and 32 minutes if walking, 352 if in restricted carts.)

Since some jungles are more perilous than others, "obstacle time" must be taken into account. If your course has several water hazards or other severe difficulties -- tight tree-lined fairways, thick rough, deep bunkers, fast undulating greens -- the playing time can increase by up to 30 minutes. The USGA formula measures this element precisely, using the obstacle-difficulty ratings from its Course and Slope Rating calculations, but the fact is that most courses will increase in this area by less than ten minutes. (Going back to our sample course, we'll add five minutes, bringing the time to 337 if walking, 357 with restricted carts.)

Two factors remain, and neither of these is in the Course or Slope Rating Formulas. The first is green-to-tee distance. Some courses, particularly newer ones, feature lengthy walks between holes. The formula assumes no added time where the distance between a green and ensuing tee is 20 yards or less, but where it's more than that, time is added, according to the same distance formula (excess distances totaled and divided by 48). Note This calculation is for walkers only; if golf carts are required, no time is added. (Let's assume our 6,720-yard course has long walks from green to tee on two holes, one walk of 70 yards, another of 60. The total excess distance here is 70-20 + 60-20, or 90 yards. Dividing that by 48 we get a little less than two minutes. We're now up to 339 walking vs. 357 carts on paths.)

The final consideration is the dreaded halfway house, for which the formula allows four minutes for each stop. (Assuming one stop on our mythical layout, the final Pace Rating is 343 for a group of four walkers or 401 for four in carts restricted to paths).

As you can see from the accompanying list, most Met Area courses have Pace Ratings under four hours. If you think your course's rating is too fast, think again -- maybe you play too slowly. Indeed, we're all too slow. Knuth's research team also Pace-Rated the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. The number they arrived at there was 3 hours and 39 minutes, and on the day they visited -- a busy mid April afternoon (but with few American tourists in sight) -- the locals in groups of four were finishing their rounds in an average of 3 hours and 20 minutes!

The Pace Ratings are not unattainable goals -- they're realistic measurements of the way golf should be played. These numbers offer club leaders a new and effective tool in the never-ending battle against slow play. Your course's Pace Rating should be posted in the locker rooms and on the first tee -- and then it should be enforced. The Met Golfer and the MGA exhort club officials to take a tough stance against those who fail to play within the Pace Rating time. Loss, of privileges, fines, restricted starting times, and other penalties should be imposed on the laggards until they pick up the pace.

Sample Metropolitan New York area Pace Ratings
Hominy Hill 351, Meadow Brook 401, Metropolis 348, Quaker Ridge 404, Shinnecock Hills 352, Sleepy Hollow 354, Baltusrol (Lower) 353

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