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Get a move on
There was a time when a round of golf took three hours and if it took three-and-a-half it was considered slow. Then that itself became acceptable and the four-hour round became the norm. Today, the five-hour round is here and it appears to be here to stay - despite the best efforts of the games governing bodies.

Golf is not being played better or to a higher general standard, it is merely being played slower. Consideration for others on the course, one of the central tenets of golfing etiquette, appears to have been abandoned with time. It takes only one person on the course to play slowly for every person on the course to have slow play imposed upon them and, for some, slow play can be penalising as concentration wanes and bored indifference sets in.

The affliction of slow play in club golf is sad for it is changing the face of the game and may be a deterrent to beginners. Too often it is the greenhorn, the novice or high handicap player that is blamed for slow play, as if the number of strokes was directly proportional to the time taken. Slow play is a feature of the poseur and there are poseurs at every level in the game.

It is too easy to blame trickle-down from the pro-game for slow play. Because the pro-game is prepared to live with the five hour round it does not necessarily follow that the club golfer should have to live with it too. The pro is playing for his livelihood, the club golfer is supposed to be playing for pleasure. The fact that some club golfers derive more pleasure from their posing and imaginings than from actually playing the game is the real problem and this must mean that there is a case to be made for golfs governing bodies funding a university chair in golf psychopathology.

Consider if you will the club snail on the tee. The ball is teed-up. The height is compared to the depth of the clubface and subsequently adjusted. It is adjusted again when the player stands up and discovers that it is not vertical. Sure in the knowledge that the ball is teed correctly, the player walks to the back of the teeing ground to find his direction. The player then takes up his stance after a few unhurried practise swings. Satisfied that his feet are aligned, the player flexes his knees, bouncing up and down a few times before reaching to place the club head behind the ball. Some shuffling of feet takes place and the grip is often placed against the left thigh for some mysterious check before attention is transferred to the grip.

Now, the grip can take some time. First, the left hand is placed carefully upon the shaft and the exact placement of the thumb is checked before the knuckles are inspected. Then the right hand is placed even more carefully upon it before the club head is raised to examine the fitment of the thumb and palm. The right hand is then rotated several times before the waggles begin. Waggling of the wrists can be lengthy before the clubhead is drawn slowly back to swing height several times with careful looks at the hands' height and positioning of the right elbow. If all is well, the player returns the clubhead behind the ball and, after a few more wrist waggles, several glances-up to check that the hole has not moved in the interim period, the ball is finally struck. All of this may take upwards of five minutes and, should there be an interruption - a lark bursting into song, a butterfly breaking wind, or heaven forbid, someone should breathe - the whole procedure is gone through again.

All of this is repeated for every fairway shot. Entry and exit from a bunker can take forever and a short chip to the green, after a walk back and forth to the hole, can take a lifetime.

But it is on the green that the slow player enters a dimension of time unknown to most. The ball will be marked and cleaned carefully. It will be replaced several times before the marker is lifted. Long before that, however, the line to the hole will be inspected at length with every infinitesimally small impediment lifted and often closely inspected. The line to the hole will have been examined from every angle and from every height from tiptoe to low squat. The hole will have been circumnavigated several times before the ball is even approached with the putter head. Then, after a few very gentle practise strokes, a final shuffle of the feet and several re-grips, there is that heart-stopping freeze over the ball. The tension is only broken when, after some signal of dissatisfaction; the player goes through the whole routine again. This is not only an extreme form of self-flagellation, but it is also, with the exception of child abuse, cruelty in its worst possible form and no one should be subjected to it.

Golf course architects and greens committees are also not blameless for slow play. Too often on modern courses the Spartan consistency of the rough leaves it featureless, which makes marking an errand ball difficult. There is, however, no excuse for the player who looks away in disgust after an obviously poor shot, or for his playing partners inattention to the flight of his ball.

Lessons in golf magazines and hours spent with professional tuition have not helped, but it is the modern fad for fairway distance markers and yardage's on sprinkler heads as well as course guides that have made the most significant contribution to slow play. Today, no shot can apparently be played without some reference to a yardage marker. No one walks directly to his or her ball without a meander to find a distance marker and few address the ball without some reference to a course guide.

There is no point appealing to a slow player for he will only tell you his woes. Worse still, such an appeal may elicit the purchase of an apologetic drink in the bar when good manners demand that you listen to the misfortunes of his round. You cannot win over the issue of slow play for, as some sage must have said, a bore is a bore is a bore.




©    30 - JUNE 2003



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