According to a National Golf Foundation study, slow play — defined as having to wait on the group in front more than a few times — was listed by 91 percent of golfers surveyed as taking away from their golf experience.
Among the areas the USGA is targeting in its campaign:
— Designing golf courses where the routing, length and placement of hazards would help move things along. This sounds like a great idea except that hardly anyone is building golf courses in America.
— Making the golf course easier (and quicker) to play by limiting the rough, widening the fairways, slowing the greens and providing more accessible hole locations.
— Encouraging golf courses to manage the intervals in tee times, such as adding a few more minutes between groups.
— Working on player behavior to remind them to be ready to play and to use the right set of tees.
The intentions are noble. But any time words like "campaign" and "education" and "initiative" are involved, it's fair to wonder if brainstorming will lead to real results.
For its part, the U.S. Open is making a few changes this year. The starting time Thursday and Friday morning at Merion has been moved up 15 minutes to 6:45 a.m., meaning there will be (or should be) a gap of 5 hours, 48 minutes from when the last morning group tees off and the first afternoon group tees off on the first hole. Tee times on the weekend will be 11 minutes apart instead of 10 minutes. Every second helps.
But it comes back to a question from 1950 at Merion that so far has no answer.
Why is it no longer reasonable for a three-hour round? As the modern player gets better, the courses have become harder to provide a stronger test. But that would suggest the U.S. Open was not as hard as it is now. Olympic Club in 1955 and Winged Foot in 1974, to name two examples, would suggest otherwise.
And as much as the USGA is trying to find a solution, it surrendered to slow play 11 years ago at Bethpage Black. After 101 years of everyone starting the round at No. 1, the U.S. Open went to a two-tee start. Officials talk about having more daylight by sending players off the front and nine back nine, and the flexibility in case of bad weather. But this would not have been necessary if golf had not slowed to a crawl.
If this new initiative on pace of play doesn't provide any answers, perhaps the words of the great Julius Boros should be considered:
"By the time you get to your ball, if you don't know what to do with it, try another sport."