USGA Discusses Solutions to Slow Play in Golf in its Third-Annual Symposium
By Geoff Shackelford
PASADENA, Calif. -- The deliberate push by the USGA to speed up the game moved west to California’s Brookside Golf Course for its third Pace of Play Symposium. The best data revealed over two days has begun to help the USGA’s smart team target the ways both tournaments and facilities can make pace-of-play strides. Just give it time. In an age when immediate answers are demanded and ad campaigns ordered up to coincide with a marketing-friendly message, the USGA’s Pace of Play march appears set for several years of smart findings and targeted solutions. Led internally by Rand Jerris and Hunki Yun, what could be a dry topic is turning into a project that some day could be viewed as the most important project the USGA has undertaken since its early efforts on turf research.
Set in a large conference room with a packed daily-fee golf course outside enjoying 36 holes of Billy Bell-designed golf, the conference moved a variety of speakers through to share their findings. The results in initial surveys and studies will shape the various directions the Pace of Play project goes.
Early research unveiled at the seminar definitively showed that better tee-time spacing will eliminate bottlenecks, whether it’s in LPGA Tour tournaments (where rounds were eliminated by as much as 22 minutes) or at the everyday golf facility. A solid 50 percent of golfers surveyed say that bottlenecks are more bothersome than the overall length of a round.
To counter the view of course operators—75 percent surveyed think overall time of a round is more important than fixing bottlenecks—USGA research shows there is a major divide between what facilities view as vital.
Course operators don’t want to give up precious times, with only 18 percent believing any solution to pace issues is possible. To get their attention and show how the USGA is coming at this from all angles, speakers Henry DeLozier and Stephen Johnston of Global Golf Advisors revealed findings showing a younger generation of golfers are willing to pay more for golf if they feel a course is making an effort to solve pacing issues.
All golfers said they were willing to pay an average of 9.1 percent more in green fees for a significant improvement in pace, with significant being 15-30 minutes. Respondents younger than 40 would pay 14.2 percent more and a large portion of those 25-44 would like to see golf played in an hour to 90 minutes less time than the current 4½-hour round.
Other big reveals at Brookside: the USGA’s flagstick tool for compiling pace of play data. Trials of the device, developed by USGA technical director Matt Pringle, start this year. Also, more details of the exciting partnership with the University of Minnesota were revealed. That’s where the university is converting its 1929 course into a modern facility and research lab unlike anything golf has ever seen. So just a little patience with the pacing of this project appears likely to pay dividends for the sport.