Pace of Play: The #1 Obstacle to More Revenue and More Golfers

I hope you got to take in the U.S. Open at Merion. Thanks to plans made a few years ago, and the vision/generosity of close friend/former member, I was able to enjoy Merion with a very close friend and my two teenage sons. We are trying to absorb it right now, but I’m sure each of us will hold special memories for the times we were able to share in at Merion.

One of the key messages of the USGA during the broadcasts of the event was “While We’re Young.” I applaud this message and the stance the USGA took, even if the pace of play for Round 3 was less than acceptable. Along with this message, I hope you’ve enjoyed the Golf Channel’s educational pace of play series “Don’t Be a Knucklehead” (#knucklehead). What I really value about both of these campaigns is that they are looking to educate core golfers about the ways to play faster.

These messages also work to elevate the awareness that each of us, no matter what role we have in the golf business, or the game of golf, in this very important issue. As with nearly every problem we come up against in our lives, our tendency as people is to point the blame elsewhere. In the case of slow play, the “problem is with THEE AND ME.”

And as with many problems in the game, the PGA Professional is uniquely positioned to make a positive impact in the right direction. In my view, here are a few ways (all of these will only work IF WE work on them comprehensively rather than in a scattered way):

1. Educating our core golfers: Create ways to constantly train and reward all golfers in proper individual pace behaviors. Work with peer groups, home club leaders and “opinion leaders” to be part of the “community solution.”

2. 3:45 = More Revenue (more happy golfers and operators) Promote and advocate that your core, opinion leaders be part of the solution by joining the Three/45 Golf Association (www.Three45golf.org) to show their support for pace of play advocacy.

Per Lou Riccio, Ph.D., the well-known statistics-based pace of play expert/author, “The numbers are relevant in multiple ways: We need all golfers to walk or ride the course at an average of 3 miles per hour, and take no more than 45 seconds on any single stroke (not too terribly fast), in order for a round to take about 3 hours and 45 minutes.” Did you get that? Move at 3 mph, and take no more than 45 secs on any single stroke…stop looking for a “lost ball” after 3 mins will help too!

3. Educating ourselves: We need to go beyond advocating the “Three/45 Golf” concept and MODEL IT OURSELVES. Just like children who are the best observers of their parents “walk not matching their talk,” the golfers we interact with on a daily basis also observe our behaviors and follow them accordingly (if not, unwittingly.) One kudo I am happy to give to the PNW Section professionals on this topic comes from the typical pace of play in Section, Chapter and similar events.

4. Educating our course maintenance, leaders in course setup: This may seem obvious, but I’ve found that many courses are still frought with rough that is too high, pin locations that are too tough. Nearly every golf course has one or more “bottlenecks” where players lose multiple balls, take too long to get lunch at the turn, or on certain overly difficult par threes.

Fact: Pace of play here in the PNW Section far faster than I have experienced in other Sections and regions. How did this happen? I believe it happened because the tournament operations staff, rules officials, the tournament committee and key “opinion players” got on board about the importance of a good pace. They banded together to support each other in the cause of a good pace of play, and they changed the playing habits, the behaviors and the overall pace of the culture. [With that said, it would seem that if pros can learn how to play faster, so can the average golfers at our facilities.]

If there is a way to improve the situation, eliminate or manage it better…let’s make it happen. In each of the cases above, some intentional way to educate, adjust and/or articulate a solution to all players could be the difference in 10-25 minutes more or less in playing your course. We’ve gotten away from “wave up policies” that worked in the past, even though we know they work well when players understand how to do it and the etiquette related to doing it.

In the examples I’ve eluded too, it would seem the 10-25 minutes less to play is well worth the effort. Such a time savings should result in:

  • Happier golfers (who have more time to spend in the 19th hole)
  • More rounds “output” on the course resulting in greater revenue
  • Less pace of play breakdowns requiring PGA professionals to be problem solvers

Now that “June-uary” has passed (hopefully,) and we can now enjoy the beauty of a PNW Summer, let me encourage you to check out the “Three/45 Golf” concept and share it with your customers/members.

As your PGA member benefit, please let me know how I can help you in any way.

Monte Koch
Pacific Northwest Player Development Regional Manager
E-mail: mkoch@pgahq.com