Written under the nom de plume, M.L. Gneier
Since the USGA has dropped the ball (some would say ignored the ball) on equipment issues, I think they should turn their attention to issue of pace of play. Oh sure, they've issued their policy on pace for the 19 USGA championships but what about the rest of the rounds played in the US?
Their commercials extol the virtues of the game while their web site extols the virtues of the USGA but when will the USGA do anything to get that foursome up ahead to get a move on? I think some basic research would be a good start. For example, how long does the average round of 18 holes take to play? I am thinking of a real round by real players without anyone else on the course. It would also be useful to do some research on what takes (wastes) time during a round. Is it Pete plumb-bobbing his 2-footer or is it Sean searching over there in the weeds for the now lost Pinnacle that he found in the rough back on the 7th?
Slow play is to today's golfer what pornography was to Potter Stewart on the Supreme Court: We know it when we see it. But, I think that it's time to truly understand slow play, where it comes from and what can be done about it. The USGA maintains that it is a promoter of walking yet the latest trend is toward courses where carts are mandatory. Recently, a county course in New York became the latest cart only course. Their story is that it's all about getting more folks on the course: "We're not doing it for the money," Deputy Nassau County Executive Peter Gerbasi said after the policy went into effect. "We're trying to make the course more available to more people." For that to happen at a public course should have a chilling effect, but I am not sure that it will because institutions like the USGA will likely remain silent.
Before such draconian measures are considered, wouldn't it make sense to make sure that everything reasonable has been done to make sure that the pace of play is as good as possible? How many courses have really asked the hard questions about why a round on their course takes the time that it does?
The USGA could be a huge help in such a campaign. For starters, they could formally notify courses of their belief in the essential association that walking has with golf. Such a declaration could serve as a preamble for a series of studies on pace of play and how improving it makes the game better for everyone. If the USGA's mission is truly to grow the game then it must take a far more active role in making sure that the games can be played as it was intended.
Pace of play, like so many aspects of golf etiquette, does not come as naturally as we might hope. Improvements will only come through the dedication of the folks who run the courses and institutions like the USGA. If either fails to lead by instruction and example, we may all pay with our freedom to play the game at an enjoyable pace.