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Pope Of Slope

Pick It Up, Or Pick It Up

With your course pace-rated, there'll be no excuse for slow play. Can we hear an amen?

by David Earl,
September 1993
(Former Editor of the USGA Golf Journal and now deceased; God rest his soul.)

Will 1994 signal the beginning of a new era of golf, one in which slow play is a thing of the past and a round of golf becomes a pleasure once again? If, as the USGA, several golf magazine editors, and -- we suspect -- a majority of golfers agree to implement the new USGA Pace Rating system starting next year, the prospect can become blessed reality.

Think about it. No bottlenecks on the tees of par 3s; no interminable waits in the fairway while the group ahead dodders around chasing stray wedges and walking back and forth to poorly situated carts; no frustrating loss of rhythm and tempo as the Auld Scots game transmogrifies into the Waiting Game. Paradise lost will become Paradise Regained. Hallelujah!

Skeptics will wonder how this miracle will come about. We're here to tell you how. Actually, the idea was the brainchild of GOLF Magazine editor George Peper -- a golfer who plays quite rapidly, thank you -- first verbalized in a note to USGA Executive Director David Fay. Peper outlined a strategy for assigning ratings to courses, depending on a variety of factors, dictating how long it should take to finish a round.

That idea set the ball rolling, so to speak. Gradually, Pace Rating sorted itself out as a method establishing time standards -- how long it should take golfers to play a course -- using a technical and logical, rather than a subjective basis. It's broken down to hole-by-hole times; Dean Knuth, USGA Senior Director of Handicapping and GHIN, says, "With this procedure, you really have 18 tee times. Each hole has a 'time par' -- a phrase coined by USGA president Stuart Bloch -- indicating the time it should take you to play a hole, from one tee to the next."

What are the factors that determine these times? Many of them are derived from the criteria used for the USGA Course Rating and Slope system -- obstacles, length, trees, water, rough, bunkers, green size, and speed -- but there are other considerations. Logic alone will tell you that green-to-tee distances, the presence of a halfway house (yes!), cart use (paths only or anywhere) should have a bearing on how long it takes you to play. They're all figured in.

And that's not all. You have to consider the layout of the course -- whether there are back-to-back par 3s and/or a short par 4 eithe5r in front of or behind a par 3. If you've played this kind of setup, you know how that will back up play. Signage and tee-time intervals -- less than eight minutes slows down play -- are important too.

Okay, now, that covers the characteristics of the golf course. But what about the slow players, the pensive, thoughtful (except for their fellows) characters who appear to be in a perpetual slo-mo replay? P.G. Wodehouse had just such a four-ball immortalized in more than one of his stories; the "Wrecking Crew," he dubbed 'em. The new Pace Rating system takes these sloth-like excrescences into account. Those who make tee times will, under the new regimen, be cognizant of this abomination. "The first eight groups of the day should -- and will -- be fast players" says Knuth. "They set the pace for the rest of the groups, so they have to stay in position."

How will the starters, pros, or others who fill out the tee time sheets, deal with this? Players will be graced with Pace handicaps. This wonderful idea was suggested by Bill Yates, a Southern California engineer; it'll determine their suitability for inclusion in the early groups, or relegate them to the afternoon times.

And, because of lack of awareness, arrogance, or the less heinous sins of beginneritis, these "sandbaggers of pace," as Knuth puts it, will be in their proper place. "I think that a lot of golfers have no vision of what time should be," he says. They're unready to play, don't know where to position themselves. And that produces a domino effect, like rubberneckers on an interstate. They need to increase their awareness."

So, how will you know if you're on time? "We're looking at software that will produce scorecards that have 18 time pars -- as I said, 18 tee times," Knuth says. "Maybe it'll produce an adhesive strip to put on your card. And there's also 'Links Time,' a clock with programmed time pars, with two digital displays that show you what hole you should be on and how much time you have remaining to stay on pace for that hole. It was developed by Jaime Coleman, the 'Links Time' company president."

And there's more high tech; another creative and concerned inventor has developed software and an on-course sensor system that'll show a person who's monitoring a screen in the clubhouse exactly where each cart is on the course at a given moment.

High tech aside, though, the keys are simple -- awareness and consideration of fellow golfers. "The British routinely play faster than our fastest Pace Ratings. We pace rated the Old Course, at St Andrews, Scotland," said Knuth. "on a full day this year, the course rated 3 hours and 39 minutes, but the average finishing time was 3 hours and 20 minutes. It can be done."

If you'd like to have your course -- or courses --obtain a Pace Rating, by the way, don't call the USGA. Instead, contact your regional or state golf association; they're the ones who rate courses.

And a last plea: in the name of all that's good and right about golf, become an advocate -- yea, verily, a supporter -- of this Pace Rating. Millions of your fellow golfers will thank you, and we'll all have more fun, better scores, and the knowledge that we've defeated a beast that has no right to interfere with the game we love!

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