A strategy used by the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) to improve pace of play in August’s AIG Irish Close Championship staged on the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin proved a hit among players and tournament administrators.
Windy conditions meant that the average round time for Round 1 of the Championship was 5 hours 15 minutes, over 50 minutes longer than the time par of 4 hours 25 minutes for the links course.
After identifying the challenges facing the players, the GUI implemented a directive to play ‘Ready Golf’ during the next round in order to improve the pace of play.
‘Ready Golf’ is a term used to indicate that golfers should play when they are ready to do so, rather than strictly adhere to ‘the farthest from the hole plays first’ stipulation in the Rules of Golf.
‘Ready Golf’ is appropriate for stroke play formats and includes a number of actions that separately and collectively improve times for players completing a round.
Before Round 2 began, the GUI provided notes to the players, which included the following:
“If you reach your ball and are ready to hit, while other members of your group are not yet prepared, then go ahead and hit - even if you are not away – provided it is safe to do so.
Examples of ‘Ready Golf’ include:
- Hitting a shot when safe to do so if a player farther away faces a challenging shot and is taking time to assess their options
- Shorter hitters playing first from the tee or fairway if longer hitters have to wait
- Hitting a tee shot if the person with the honour is delayed in being ready to play
- Hitting a shot before helping someone to look for a lost ball
- Putting out even if it means standing close to someone else’s line
- Hitting a shot if a person who has just played from a greenside bunker is still farthest from the hole but is delayed due to raking the bunker
- When a player’s ball has gone over the back of a green, any player closer to the hole but chipping from the front of the green should play while the other player is having to walk to their ball and assess their shot
- Marking scores upon immediate arrival at the next tee, except that the first player to tee off marks their card immediately after teeing off”
Moreover, a two-tee start in two waves (0800-0955 and 1300-1455) and 10.5-minute average starting intervals (10 minutes, then 11 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 11 minutes, and so on) were introduced.
The average time for Round 2 plummeted 45 minutes from Round 1 to 4 hours 30 minutes, with the fastest time 4 hours and 10 minutes.
Although ‘Ready Golf’ did not solve all issues during the championship, the directive was well received as Mark Wehrly, GUI’s Championship Manager, explains:
“We had the starters brief the players using a note which was basically an abridged version of what was in The R&A's Pace of Play manual,” said Wehrly.
“Some players took really well to it. Others hadn't heard of it and were therefore a little uncertain so we had the referees watch out for the first few groups and advise them on how to properly implement it.
“In terms of the speed of play it gave us a much better start to the morning and afternoon waves (we had a two-tee start). The result was that everyone played quicker, the round times and averages went down significantly.
“Admittedly other factors were in our favour for day two - the wind was less severe and players generally play quicker on the second day in our experience. But there was a definite improvement and I think it was culturally important for us to encourage it from the first tee. The feedback from players and from our clubs who watched developments last week is, on the whole, very positive and encouraging.”
“I would say ‘Ready Golf’ is worth considering as part of an overall strategy including course setup, draw management and enforcement of pace of play conditions.”
The R&A introduced the Pace of Play manual for golfers, administrators and golf course managers earlier this year. You can find out more about ‘Ready Golf’ and other recommendations to improve the pace of play by downloading the manual here.