Sign up for the GIC Newsletter for all the Latest Industry News.

Please enter your details:

I am interested in:

  • News
  • Operations
  • Marketing
  • Recruitment / Jobs
  • Grow the Game

Slow Play – Who is in control?

Jul 4, 2014   //   by Operations   //   Latest News

We continue to read and hear the endless stories of players complaining about “slow play” at our golf facilities. Just have a look at some of the online golf forums and you read the same story over and over again. “We did not see a Marshall”, “we called the pro shop to tell them about the slow group ahead of us, but they never came out to help”, “the group ahead of us were beginners and were really slow” and on and on…

So who is to blame, the golfer or the facility?

This is a management issue much more than a player issue. If your staff were behaving in an inappropriate way, you would do something about it. If your players (especially members) are not behaving to your expectation you must also do something about it.

Yes, players do need to be educated on pace of play and etiquette best practices, like the need to keep up with the group ahead of them and not ahead of the group behind them, but at the end of the day it is up to management to ensure that everyone has a respectable pace during their golf round.

The strategy lays in three key areas- education of golfers and staff, management of golfers, and general course set-up.

The two concepts that you must also fully understand to properly manage this issue are Pace and Flow.

Pace basically is the measurement of time it takes you to play your round. I.e. it took you 4 hours to play. Pace issues are primarily caused due to lack of player education and improper course setup.

Flow has to do with the consistency of the time it took to play. I.e. it took you four hours to play, but with several delays due to a group ahead of you. Flow issues are primarily caused by improper course setup and overall lack of management of the process.

Early in my career, I managed facilities in California that were generating 100,000 to 120,000 annual rounds on a single 18-hole facility. Due to the extreme amount of demand to play golf, especially on weekends, 5-somes were the norm as was having 60 to 70 people playing 9-holes early in the morning before the 18-hole players made the turn. We had daylight savings so the summer months allowed players to tee off until 5pm each day. Needless to say, it was busy.

It was critical to proactively manage the large number of players each day, most importantly starting with the first groups out each morning. You can envisage the 18-hole round like two spinning wheels, with each nine being a separate wheel. Try to get the early groups to get the front wheel spinning at a great pace, which ultimately will get the second wheel spinning at a greater pace. One group can slow the pace of either wheel, so the quicker you identify this group, the better you will keep the wheels spinning.

Here are some of the strategies we used:

Manage the course

Ø      Par 5’s -Extend the length to as long as possible, so most people are not waiting for the green to clear and to try and reach in two shots.

Ø      Par 4’s – Set to 330-350 metres maximum, so most players can reach or get close in two shots.

Ø      Par 3’s – Keep at a maximum length of 150-160 metres, so the majority of players can reach the green in one hit.

Ø      Green speed – keep at 9-10 on the Stimpmeter, so players are not regularly 3 and 4 putting or generally spending to much time on the green.

Ø      Rough – lower height, so the majority of players can fully advance the ball if hitting from the rough.

Ø      Pin positions – put in the easiest green position on busy days.

Ø      Competitions – Set up the course to accommodate the format of the day. i.e. Don’t have the course play the longest and toughest if your conducting a stroke play club championship.

Manage the process

Ø      Use a first tee starter on busy days to regulate the time between each group teeing off. Space the groups accordingly. If groups go off too quickly you risk them bottlenecking on a future hole, especially if you have a Par 3 early in the round.

Ø      Use a more “experienced” staff member for marshalling duties. Most players may not heed the warning of a young staff member. Ideally find someone who is very friendly and helpful to players, but who can also be assertive when necessary.

Ø      Have policy and procedures (approved by member committee if at private club) on how to identify and handle issues, and in extreme cases, how to kick someone off the course, or penalise their competition score.

Ø      Educate your staff. Most facilities do not have proper training of marshalling staff, or have really thought of the best person to hire or put in the position of course Marshall.

Ø      Communicate constantly with golf staff throughout the day to help identify trouble spots quickly and to make sure groups are properly paired.

Manage the expectation

Ø      Educate players – Set the time expectation for players before they tee off and inform players of any unusual course conditions. If you are tracking a 5-hour round for that particular day, let them know before they start. If their expectation is changed before they tee off, you could circumvent any potential blow-ups.

Ø      Player perception – many players don’t know exactly what time they teed off. In many cases they went off later than the tee time booked, which may result in them thinking it took longer than it actually did. Write the start time on a card and give it to each group.

To better understand where your issues really exist, start out by tracking every group that tees off over the next four Saturdays. Start with your first group off and have someone write down what time the group actually started (not when they checked in or what their tee time was suppose to be), then again when they finish 9-holes, and finally when they finish 18 holes. You will most likely see a couple of groups in the morning (many times the same players each week) that are creating the slow play for the rest of the day.

The next slowest group off the tee always sets the pace for all players behind them. If you get off to a slow start in the morning, you will spend the entire day trying to recover. If you are having a slow pace day, leave the first tee open for as long as you can and this will at least give the later groups some relief on overall time taken to play, by freeing up any bottlenecks on course.

The entire process must be controlled through a series of preemptive management strategies, otherwise you risk letting the players self-manage the process which is a potential for disaster.