Gone are the days when three hours to play championship golf was reasonable

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , AP Golf Writer
  • Updated: June 11, 2013 - 4:50 PM

ARDMORE, Pa. — There is no reason golf should take this long to play.

That's why players at Merion for the U.S. Open received a notice when they registered that warned about pace of play. The fear was that slow play was damaging the game's popularity, and the instructions in the notice could not have been clearer.

"Be observant, reach your decision quickly and execute your shots with promptness and dispatch."

Just don't get the idea anything will change. This notice was handed out at 1950 U.S. Open.

If the players at the U.S. Open this week would read David Barrett's book, "Miracle at Merion," on Ben Hogan's victory at 1950, they might laugh.

Or maybe cry.

Joe Dey, the USGA's executive director at the time, is quoted in the book as saying, "The time has come when we simply must act if the game is not to be seriously injured."

The size of the field for the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera was 171 players. It was lowered to 162 players the following year at Medinah, but that didn't seem to help. Dey lamented that the first group (threesomes) took 3 hours, 27 minutes to complete the opening round, while the last group took a whopping 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"That is just awful, and it doesn't make sense," Dey said. "It hasn't been so long since three hours was considered adequate for a round. This is murder on spectators as well as on players who wish to play at a reasonable speed."

At the rate championship golf is going, three hours might soon be considered adequate to make the turn.

So when the USGA announces Wednesday that it is launching a comprehensive campaign to combat pace of play, there is reason for skepticism.

The campaign is geared toward the recreational game. It will study what causes slow play and attempt to find solutions aimed at the player and golf course management. That's a good start, because the problem with slow play in golf is not at the professional level. That distinction must be made.

There are exceptions to be sure — a lot of them. Kevin Na and his horrific pre-shot routine of intentional misses at The Players Championship last year. Keegan Bradley and his start-stop-start stride into the ball to play the shot. Guan Tianlang at the Masters. Ben Crane at any tournament.

Tournament golf should abide by the rules, which in this case is Rule 6-7 — play without undue delay. But championship golf is different from the recreational game. The greens are faster than most golf fans can imagine. The golf courses are bigger. Rare is the par 5 that can't be reached in two shots. It's still a game, but for tour players, it's also their (well paying) jobs.

That's not to suggest tour players don't have an obligation. They owe it to the sport to set a good example. One reason often cited for slow play is that regular golfers try to copy what they watch on TV. And what they see are ridiculous pre-shot routines, reading putts from every conceivable angle and endless study of the yardage book.

Even so, the influence of televised golf is overstated in at least one respect.

"If we did everything professionals do, there would be no ball marks on the greens," said Rand Jerris, the USGA's senior managing director of public services.

The USGA, along with the PGA Tour, has embarked on its most extensive study on pace of play. Not to poke fun, but this could take a while. It's not an easy fix because the time it takes to play golf in America has been sliding in the wrong direction for 60 years or more.

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