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The Issue

Golf is a sport that, by its nature, takes longer to play than many other sports. Consequently, any increase in the time taken to play a round of golf needs to be considered as a potential significant barrier to people taking up the sport or to active golfers playing more often. It is a commonly held view that rounds of golf played over the same course take longer now than they once did. While it is impossible to confirm that this is the case, whether it is true or not is almost irrelevant. What is important is whether a significant proportion of golfers playing on a certain course on a certain day feel that the time taken to play, or the amount of time they had to wait, was excessive and feel that it negatively impacted on their enjoyment. When the pace of play is causing players who enjoy golf to enjoy it less, and they are experiencing reduced enjoyment on a regular basis, it has become a problem, and something needs to be done about it. When The R&A undertook its global survey on pace of play in 2015, the results showed that 60% of the 56,000 golfers that completed the survey would enjoy the sport more if it took less time. On average the respondents to the survey played golf twice a week. This demonstrates that, even among those who play golf regularly, there is a strong desire to play in less time.

Purpose of the Manual

The purpose of this Manual is to provide anyone committed to improving pace of play with a range of solutions that can actually deliver the desired improvements. By reading this Manual, those responsible for operating golf facilities, whether they be owners, managers, club professionals, greenkeepers or committees, should be able to identify their own issues that are causing pace of play to be worse than necessary and apply solutions to alleviate the problem. We do not promise an easy fix. There is no single solution that applies across the board. There is no single target for everyone to aim towards. Local, national and international variations in courses, forms of play, level of competition, weather and expectation mean that each facility has to set its own targets. These targets need to be realistic and should be aimed at improving customer satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is The R&A’s strongly held view that, having identified pace of play as an issue, there are solutions available that can result in improvements at any facility. It may be that one single change in procedure does not, of itself, bring about huge change. However, introducing a number of the initiatives offered in this Manual, and staying committed to those initiatives, can and will make a difference. It is appreciated that, due to resources, some of the solutions offered in the Manual may be unrealistic for some facilities, but most of the principal solutions should be capable of being applied by all.

The Benefits of Improved Pace of Play

As stated in Section 1.1 (The Issue), research shows that a clear majority of golfers would enjoy the sport more if it took less time to play; there are very few players who enjoy playing slowly or having to wait to play shots on a regular basis during the round.  So, purely from the perspective of increasing player enjoyment, there is a benefit to be derived from improved pace of play. Crucially, however, this increased enjoyment brings with it ancillary benefits to those who are operating facilities and are having to make the effort to tackle the pace of play issue. It is safe to assume that players are more likely to want to play a course again or recommend a course to others if their experience did not involve an overly long round or excessive waiting time. Positive testimony alone is likely to reap financial benefits for facilities where pace of play is well managed.
In addition to the benefits of securing repeat business and retention of members, research has shown that golfers are willing to pay an average of 9.1 percent more in green fees for a significant improvement in pace, with significant being 15-30 minutes. The same research showed that respondents younger than 40 would pay 14.2 percent more. It can be seen that a good pace of play enhances the product and, potentially, adds value to it.

The Approach

This Manual takes a holistic approach to pace of play, recognising that management practices, course set up and player behaviour all combine to cause issues with pace of play. The common misconception is that players are the sole cause. The reality is that many of the barriers to playing at a good pace are in place long before players themselves have a negative impact. Providing insufficient time between groups teeing off, leading to overcrowding of the course and waiting, is a common management practice that can mean that rounds are doomed to take longer than most players would like. Courses are often set up or designed to be too difficult for the majority of golfers that play them. A lack of teeing options to cater for the differences in player hitting distances, rough near to the fairway in which balls can frequently be lost or excessive green speeds or green firmness are just some examples of course features than can cause excessive delays and round times.
Individual players can, of course, have a negative effect on pace of play, but that effect may be relatively insignificant when compared to the impact that poor management practices and ill-considered course set up can have. The approach of this Manual is to review all three aspects – management practices, course set up and player behaviour – that can contribute to the problem. The huge upside to there being three potential problems is that it enables all of us, potentially, to be part of the solution.

Soliciting Opinion and Data Gathering

Before embarking on any attempts to improve pace of play, it is best to assess whether there is a widespread view among users of the facility that there is an issue with pace of play. The soliciting of opinion on pace of play will establish whether there is a genuine issue that needs to be addressed. There is little point in expending energy and resource to improve round times if the vast majority of golfers using the facility are perfectly happy with the time it takes them to play, and don’t believe that playing more quickly would enhance their enjoyment.
If it is clear that there are widespread concerns with pace of play, the gathering of information on round times by administrators will be invaluable, and will enable targets for improvement to be set. Such data may also provide information on, for example, when rounds are at their shortest and longest, when the course is quiet and busy, which groups of golfers play most quickly and most slowly, etc. 
This data can be a hugely valuable resource. For example, it may identify very quiet periods where single players or groups of two who wish to play more quickly are likely to be able to do so. It may highlight that visitors take more time to play, and the management may then advise members to avoid such times if they wish to play at a quicker pace. It may indicate that the time allowed for a group to play a number of holes or the full round (known as the “time par”) is too generous or too strict. If weather information is also recorded, it may indicate that the course plays much harder with a certain wind for example, and that adjustments should be made to the pace of play expectations when such weather conditions exist.
Some data gathering should be considered an essential step prior to adopting practices to improve pace of play. It means that action is being taken based on fact rather than supposition, and enables proper evaluation of the success or failure of the initiatives adopted.
Collecting data need not be complicated or resource heavy. It can be as simple as taking note of the number of players in each group at the 1st tee and recording the time each group takes to play 18 holes. This can be done by the starter or by someone in the professional’s shop or clubhouse. For an example of a data collection template, see Appendix A.