Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pace of Play

The number one challenge facing the industry is the time it takes to play golf. I believe there are several items that impact the time it takes us to golf. For example, the number of holes, pace of play, pre-round warm up, time to make the turn from the 9th to 10th hole, travel to and from the course, and if you have a meal after or before the round. Depending on what you do and when you start your clock will have a great impact on the time it takes to play.

The first discussion topic for time, is pace of play. This is the number one complaint that we receive. Our goal is to develop a new standard pace of play program for the MCG system and we are looking for your help in developing this program. We will continue to direct the discussion through several sub-topics and questions so please try to address only the specific discussion topic being asked.

What is your expectation for pace of play (defined as the time you hit your first shot on #1 to the last putt on #18)? Do you believe this expectation should change according to time of day (for example, should it be 3 hours and 30 minutes at 7AM and 5 hours at 3PM)?


Robby said...

Anything under 4:30 will be good for a public course in this area. Some will play faster earlier in the day.

The key to getting everyone close to 4:30 is good marshaling and for new golfers to understand two things: (1) how to be in position to hit their ball at the right time, and (2) nobody gets anything out of taking a 10 or a 12, it's bad for everybody.

knpr said...

The biggest issue I have with pace of play, is it seems like courses management can't figure out how to resolve it, and often takes seemingly opposite steps to resolve it. One of the stupidest things courses do (including MCGC) do is move tees up on weekend rounds, putting groups closer together. Making the course shorter does not make it play faster. It forces you to wait on more groups on every tee "just in case." Realistically, a longer playing course would play faster, because people can move to the tee and hit the ball- and start playing the hole.

Second- and more important to pace of play- is length of the rough. The number one way to increase pace of play is to MOW. None of the Montgomery County courses are going to host a Tour event any time soon, so why ever have rough even two inches long? If you can find your ball- you're going to play faster. I realize there is some extra expense involved in running the mowers, gas, labor, etc, but it will absolutely speed up play.

Finally, I can't remember a time I've ever seen a ranger on a MCGC. I play Little Bennett, Poolesville, Sligo Creek, and Falls Road on a regular rotation and nobody controls what's happening on the course. Of course- having a ranger is a waste of money if they don't have the stones to actually approach a group and tell them to keep moving.

Some of the fastest golf I've ever played, has been with bad golfers. There is no reason for holdups even with groups of 25 handicappers stacked back to back if the courses allowed them to find their balls, and they understood that they need to hit them.


Kwang said...

This is a problem everywhere - including the PGA tour. And I suppose there is really no easy remedy for this but I would think that if the course marshalls do their job and enforce the pace of play, it might alleviate a little. Often they are too afraid of offending the paying customers but in the end, they end up losing the paying customers stuck behind them.
There are folks who practice swing 20x and measure the earth's axis rotation before duffing a shot. Then there are folks who are so bad that they have to look for their ball on each shot, even on the green - lol. Again, course marshall's enforcement is the only answer I can think of. Oh and really it should never take more than 4:30 minutes. Just my 2 pennies.

Michael said...

Pace of play is horrible on MCC courses. Many courses have solved this problem by active marshalling of the course--starter checks time when group leaves first tee and radios marshall (who has a copy of the starter sheet) who then marks group's leaving time. If group falls behind designated pace of play (every course has a pace of play regardless of time of day), they get two warnings. On the third warning, the group is asked to leave the course with NO refund. Queenstown, Md. and Thistle (Ocean Ridge, NC) are two great examples of course where pace of play is a limited problem. I would be willing to pay extra to hire marshalls. Implement this system at one of MCCs courses next year as a test. Five to six hours to complete a round of golf is ridiculous.

KenGoldsmith said...

First and foremost is just plain respect and courtesy. If it's a busy time, don't take three tee shots. If doofus is in the woods looking for his fourth shot and everyone else is on the green, go ahead and putt. And doofus should consider just picking up. he's not going to have a very competitive score anyway -- just enjoy the game. And don't teach your kid the game on the course at the busiest time. And it's okay to take a knee and let others play through.

Second, agreed on tee times. I appreciate the ability to sign up in such increments, but the time it takes for a foursome to tee off is different than a twosome.

Third, I appreciate the signage reminding folks of where they should be and when. Doesn't need to be a per-hole average since they're always different and people will adjust. But maybe a few more tours by marshalls to see if they can unjam the jams by reminding slower groups to pick it up or take a seat and let others play through

thsfhd said...

A few comments:
- 4:30 are less is a good round.
- Rangers need to be "trained" Rangers and you need 2 rangers-- not guys trying to get free rounds or just having something to do. Ranger # 1 needs to control the 1st tee and Ranger #2 needs to keep and eye on the course.
- post a new rule (3 over par and you should pick up)...I use it with my family and it has made them better golfers.

Laytonsville - 5:30 last weekend..ugh!

Rob said...

I agree that more course marshalls should be checking the pace of play. We recently played the Northwest Course and the the roughs were so deep that we kept losing balls just off of the fairways. This slowed play down tremendously not only for our foresome but for those ahead and behind u.

TheRusty said...

My realistic expectation for pace of play is based on the course, the day of the week and the parking lot. In general I can walk a course in 3 hours and ride one in 2. I expect at least a 4 hour round if there are people in front of me. I expect a 5 hour round at one of your courses on the weekend. The more empty spaces in the lot, the faster I expect to play.

I do appreciate the attempts to speed up play at Little Bennett by moving the tees forward, but this also significantly diminishes the quality of the golfing experience for those of us who can keep pace. My personal preference would be for some legal option to play from the normal tee boxes. The course design of LB makes pace of play inherently difficult to control without overzealous rangering.

The cramming of tee times at Rattlewood and the cart shortage contributes to severe pace problems there.

tangers said...

As women, my friend and I early on had to learn to MOVE. We take none or one practice swing, give up the $1.50 rather than spend forever looking for lost balls, have an extra ball always in our pockets, get to our ball with a choice of clubs and are ready to hit as soon as it's our turn, pick up if the hole is going truly awful, post scores at the next tee rather than lingering at the green, try to play
later in the morning (locally and at resorts) so earlier (better?) golfers can get out ahead of us, putt out if it's close rather than take time to mark, be aware of keeping up!

James said...

Good comments above. You need real, active marshals, at least two. And they need to be moving constantly, not making a round and chatting up the starter for an hour before making another round. People will reign in the insufferable pre-shot routines if they can feel the pressure.

Heck, I'd love to see beginning/infrequent golfers play a round every now and then with a 'course liason' who could provide the etiquette/common sense playing habits my Dad taught me that many others didn't seem to get - where to position yourself, what do be doing while another person is hitting, how to get to your ball, when to bring extra clubs, how to track your shot and remember/know roughly where it landed, etc. I don't see it ever happening, but this is really the problem.

Elizabeth said...

Make a rule that you can deduct 5 strokes from your score if you finish the round in under 4.5 hours - that way people won't have to worry about hurting their score and can skip their usual fifteen practice swings and can spend less time surveying the greens and lining up putts. :)

dglass24 said...

I believe that the game should be no more than 4 1/2 hours, most foursomes should finish in 4 hours if the rough was cut shorter and players spent no more than 2 minutes looking for a lost ball, playing ready golf, going to their ball after leaving the other golfer off at their ball and scoring on the next hole, walking off the green at a rapid pace and moving quickly to the next tee box. All players should be ready to hit at the tee box rather than chatting and moving slowly.

Joe Berman said...

Constant vigilance on the part of everyone working at the at the golf and pace of play being the number 1 priority for improvement is what is required. There has to be an expectation by management and employees (especially rangers) that 5 to 5.5 hour rounds are unacceptable. I frequently see rangers driving from one hole to another, telling everyone that every hole is backed up and that's the way it is on weekends. It is an absolutely lame excuse. For a course to be playing in 5-6 hours, at least one group on the course at a time has to be playing that slowly. The real problem is there is a lack of committment on the part of management to keep the pace of play reasonable. I agree with one of the respondants that said you don't have to have a low handicap to play fast. Teach everyone who's playing slow, Tangers (previous posting)method for picking up the pace. I have, on very rare occaisions, played on a packed Little Bennett course on the weekend in 4 to 4.5 hours. It can be done if there's an emphasis. Otherwise we'll just have to rely on the very rare coincidence where everyone on the course is playing at a reasonable speed. I personally would rather see more marshalls hired(THAT DO SOMETHING) than have people putting my bag on the cart.

Forest said...

I agree with just about all that has been said. 4:30 is the longest 18 holes should take. My shortest 18 holes took 1:50 (I scored a 91).

The Course: The longer rough this year has found me frustrated looking for a ball that was within a club length of the fairway. But, I think pin placements are more likely to slow play than tee placement. I've found the cup on slippery slopes a few times too many recently.

The Staff: Marshals need to have an 'elevator speech' that is agreed upon by all staff, practiced, polite and firm. Make clear requests for commitment to move along part of the speech.

Signs: I think a more in depth set of remarks placed at all par 3 tees would serve to raise awareness of the pace of play and how to make a contribution to improve it. The remarks from 'tangers' are a great start. These signs would be less expensive that hiring more marshalls.
I also think a Pace of Play Campaign banner or two brought out from time to time during the year would make a difference.

If you've never played on a full course in under 5 hours, you might not think that you're part of the problem.

DC said...

You guys are living in another world if you think a muni golf course can realistically move people around in 4:30 on a weekend.

Let's get realistic: it is what it is, so let's stick with reality.

On par 5's, clearly show where 250 yards out is--I've seen so many hackers wait for a green to clear because they've got a 3 wood in hand but think they're close enough if they nut it--it's not their fault, because visually 250 looks a lot like 210. If people knew where they actually were, it would certainly speed up pace.

mikekelley7 said...

The rules of golf allow 5 minutes to search for a lost ball - if you can't find it in 1 minute, you're probably not going to be able to hit it anyway.

The long roughs are a big slowdown. Leave that to the Whisky Creeks. Blue Mash's and P.B. Dyes.

Make course marshals accountable for the pace of play. Give them very specific rules to apply and script the messages they deliver to slow groups. Teach them to politely make slow groups skip a hole to catch up.

4:30 should be the maximum time allowed. There's no reason why that shouldn't be achievable even on weekend afternoons.

parisagoodscore said...

To start with, none of your courses have any business running on 9 minute intervals. You can’t actually expect us to believe that you care about pace of play if you have those intervals all day on the weekend without starter times built in. Poolesville routinely runs 30-40 minutes behind. Combine that with a 5 hour round because there are no marshals and you get a horrible experience. I routinely end up with a raincheck for the back nine at MCG courses because pace is so bad. You want to fix the problem, here is the list of things to do-

1. 10 minute intervals. 12 would be even better. And/Or build in starter times. There is nothing worse than having a tee time and finding that the course is running 20 minutes behind pace before you even start your round. Actually there is something worse, the terrible attitude of your employees when this happens. It is like they are insulted that being behind pace would bother somebody. They never apologize or show the slightest bit of regret. Give away range balls on those days.
2. Signage on the first several holes imploring golfers to play the correct tee box for their skill level. MCG is full of hackers playing the back tees when they couldn’t break 100 from the women’s tees. More signage explaining what ready golf is.
3. Don’t cut pins on sidehills on Saturdays and Sundays. I would rather have the course layout be easier than walk off the course after 9 holes. Your grounds crews are nuts sometimes. Have some common sense. Don’t setup a difficult par 3 right after an easy par 4, of course that will be a choke point. That first par 3 at Poolesville is terrible. You might as well put in a putting green there to give golfers something to do while they wait.
4. Hire marshals. Train the ones you do have. I complained about pace at Needwood once and the marshal told me to improve my lies to produce easier shots? I told him it was the group IN FRONT of us that was the problem. He said they were just slow golfers and drove off. That is some solid training right there.
5. Install barber poles. Pain in the ass for mowers, but put them 250 yards off the teebox and it will give the hackers some reference point to know when they can hit. Everybody thinks they are Tiger Woods when they are standing over the ball.
6. Require carts. Wouldn’t be popular, but would speed up play. Caveat on cart path only days. Don’t have them, that KILLS pace. Give away pull carts on those days or discount walking rounds.
7. As mentioned before, lower the height of cut in the rough. Move naturalized areas further away from the fairways because hackers will search forever for balls in those things. Mark drop areas so that people know what do to. Mark the courses with correct stakes and be very liberal with lateral hazards so folks don’t lose stroke and distance. If all else fails, sell cheap used balls in bulk, maybe then people won’t be so anal about searching for their $4 Titleist.
8. Smooth out the greens. They have been getting worse over the last few years.
9. Take at the turn food orders from the 8th or 9th hole. Everybody slows down to get a hotdog and beer. Side note, employee competent people at Falls Road that can serve a hotdog in less than 10 minutes.
10. GPS in carts. This is a no brainer. Golfers get instant distance to pins, hazards and to the group in front of them so they can better gauge when it is ok to hit. Pro Shop gets real time data on pace of play and can send warnings to carts. Players can order food from carts instead of waiting in the snack bar.

isaac said...

I agree that 4 to 4.5 hours is plenty for a round of 18 holes (riding or walking).

I believe from observing many players at many golf courses, that the problem is lack of knowledge of the fundementals of the Golf game as well as the rules that guide the game. This leads to delays and other problems on the course.

I noticed in recent years an increase in new players who lack the fundemtals of golf and don't care about other players.

Gambling is also a problem amoung certain ethnic groups. They like to play by themselves and are slow becuase of the money that is on the line.

Parents with little kids will venture out on a regular course regardless of the consequences.
They should be on the executive course until
the kid can hit a ball over 150 yards...

One way to ensure that Golfers are Golfers is to certify each golfer for a minimum level of play and knowledge of the rules of the game. Please show a certificate before play begins on a regular course....

rdaumit said...

I agree with the county policy to speed up play by providing seniors with free carts.

golferbob37 said...

Mr. "parisagoodscore" has it nailed. My points:
1. Cut the rough. This ain't the US Open.
2. Eliminate Cart-path only, or put tee times on a 12 minute interval. If the fairways are that wet, there's no way a group can get across the fairway and back in a reasonable time (and the ball is ALWAYS on the other side of the fairway from the cart path - per Mr. Murphy).
3. Keep the greens medium speed and place pins on flat spots.
4. More distance signage FROM THE TEE (they can do it on driving ranges).
5. Recognize that walkers are not always faster than cart-riders, especially on hilly courses like LB and Rattlewood. Either spread the tee times, or ban walkers on weekends.
6. Issue time-stamped tickets to every group and post elapsed time signs at every tee box. Of course, this mandates on-time starts.
7. Mandate continuous play from #9 to #10, with no stops, or lose your place. Might hurt the concession stand, but it'll help play and avoid nasty stare-downs on the tenth tee box.
8. Recognize that golf is a game, not life and death, and accept that not everyone is going to play by all of the rules, or observe etiquette, at all times. Then either put the staff in place to "train" the golfer (that is, Rangers with training and people skills), or be candid enough to admit that slow rounds are the norm for weekends.

I would also say that since I've retired, I very rarely play on weekends, for all the reasons mentioned in the posts above. However, even week days can be painfully slow sometimes, even with many fewer people on the course. In this case, it's almost always becase there is one slow grop, and no Ranger. Seems like a pretty easy lesson for management to learn, doesn't it?

We B Clubbin' said...

I have found that pace of play is improved when everyone on the course plays ready golf. If no one is endangered by hitting your shot then hit it. This is a format that is more fun and improves pace of play at the same time. Meet on the green and then play by the formal rules but until then hit away. Also, a double par limit pick the ball up and move one rule would help.

TheRusty said...

Well Keith - you've got a lot of suggestions to work with! But not a lot that directly address the tail end of your question.

There's a regular group at Laytonsville that I play with occasionaly. I get the impression most of the morning groups there play every week. Those rounds take about 4.5 hours. No action is needed because all the groups are coming back next week anyway.

I sense that part of the point of your question is "Is it ok for slow golf in the afternoon?" I play a lot at Little Bennett on weekend afternoons. I see a few husband/wife, father/son groups playing the front nine slow late (e.g. after 4) in the day. That's fine when it's not busy and it's great that these folks know to play when it's not busy and generally are over conscious about letting people play through. But being more aggressive about managing pace of play early in the day is not the solution. when the course is full, you should push groups that let a gap happen in front of them and you should be doing reasonable steps to subtly encouraging pace of play through clocks, ready play signs, green speeds, pin and tee placements at choke points and management of rough height.

It's ok for hackers playing from the wrong tees, walkers, beginners, lollygaggers, ball scroungers, etc. if they can keep up with the group in front. There are subtle, not so subtle and forcefull means to manage pace of play. Different tactics are going to work differently at different times of the day at different courses under different conditions.

So here's some more brainstorming on ideas for tactics. More drop areas? Should we consider mowing the rough regardless of the time of day, if it's needed? How about relaxing cart path rules on the holes that dry out first? How about blocking off some tee times when it's cart path only? What about rangers randomly rewarding good pace of play, fixing divots, etc? Could we give a dozen used balls to hackers so they can drop instead of hunt? Could you put RFID tags on carts and get a better sense of pace of play?

Mark said...

There needs to be a time for the beginners, the intermediate, and the advanced. Tennis has a rating system, golf has it handicap. But beginners and many intermediates don't keep a handicap, and therefore can't be rated that way. They just play and don't worry about the score after the first beer. So for example,play could be grouped by skill, or at certain times for categories with preferred play for advanced 7 a.m. to noon, intermediate 12-4 p.m., etc. Another way would to give time limits to groups based on their skill and have them play a scramble or simply put out and move on when they fall behind the alloted time. Perhaps an electronic timing device could be put on a cart or bag. I play in Michigan when on vacation and at some courses everyone has to use a cart to speed it up. It works well. M.Walling

Duane said...

Much of this has already been said, but the singlemost important factor would be polite but persistent golf marshalling. There is almost none at the courses I have played. Signage may help, but you really need someone there.

Secondmost, at least in the spring, is cutting down the rough so players aren't spending their time looking for balls five feet off the fairway.

Gidget301 said...

4 1/2 hours on weekends, 4 on weekdays--9 holes 2 hours on a weekday morning!
The comments about the rough are dead on. You cannot find your ball (even if you know where it is) unless you step on it!
New players should be REQUIRED to play with a course designated person to learn pace of play, etiquette, etc.
Ranger and/or Pro shop should warn players of potential backup. We played inner 9 at Northwest a couple of weeks ago on a weekday morning, and there were 5 (!) women playing in one group that were obviously new players. We had to skip a hole or our round would have been 4 hours for 9 holes. Not fair to have to skip a hole at these rates.

Joe said...

Parisagoodscore is right on getting people to play the correct tees. Lots of folks play the tips at Laytonsville and they have no right being there.

Mandatory carts is not the answer. You dont need a cart to play LV or Needwood.

Put up signs at each course's first tee explaining that you are to play Ready Golf, and explain what that is

none said...

There are a few points that come to mind here; first of all, anyone who plays on a public course, especially on a weekend is going to have to accept the fact that it might be a bit slower than at a country club, or on a weekeday. There is always a mix of good golfers and beginners on just about every course in the montgomery county system, and beginners and high handicappers are just as entitled to play as better players. That being said, I think there are a few ways to speed up play.
The first one is pretty obvious; get a marshall out there to help. Not some grumpy complainer who just wants to badger the players, but somebody who can politely encourage slow groups to keep moving. This would help a great deal. Slow players don't need to be kicked off the course, they just need to be told to get it in gear. This is usually more of a problem with beginners because they just don't know any better. I've seen bad players play fast because they know they don't need to wait for greens to clear on every shot. They play badly, but they play badly fast.
Second, the rough needs to be shorter. Too much time is spent waiting on tee boxes because the group in front can't find their ball. The reality is that many public golfers spend a great deal of time in the rough, and if they can't get to their ball quickly, they are going to slow down.
Tnird, players should play from the appropriate tees. There is no reason that a 30 handicap should be playing from the back tees, especially at some of the longer or trickier courses in the system, like Nothwest or Little Bennett. Inevitably, the guy who is playing from the back tees, but can't hit his driver far enough to reach the fairway is also the same guy waiting on a par 5 because he thinks he's going to hit the green from 275 out. If there were a marshall on the course, he/she could ask this type of player to move to a forward set of tees to help keep things moving.
I think 4:30 is a good target for pace of play. On a weekend, up to 5 hours is probably acceptable. Anything more is pushing it.

Charles said...

If there is no one in front of us, my friends and I will generally finish in 4 hours, but I'd be happy with 4:30. I agree with other comments that the 2 key factors are (1) the length of the rough and (2) marshalls who actually speak to players about the pace of play. In my experience, marshalls only do this on private courses where the members have let them know it is their job.

Scott said...

I agree with everyone. 4.5 Hours is the max time to play and if some is over that pace give them one warning then follow them for a hole or two then ask them to leave. A well trained marshall should do the trick. Do be so cheap hire some marshalls Keith and Wayne. :}

jterr1427 said...

I would be happy with 4.5 hours but it is often more like 5 to 5.5 on most of the Montgomery courses. I played Falls Road today and it took over 5 hours and I think they tend to overbook often there. Two weeks ago my tee time at Needwood was at 2:30 but didnt go out until 3 because the first tee was backed up and finished at 8:10. The only place Ive had a problem with the rough is Northwest so I dont know if thats a solution to the problem but it could help. I think worse players tend to play later in the day because its cheaper so you might expect a slower round at 2 than at 9am.

Ed said...

I have the advantage of having a regular golf partner who is a major cause of slow pace of play (or should that be disadvantage). He is a great guy, and loves golf, but his pre-shot routine is 30-40 seconds (time from placing ball in the ground, to hitting it). Others we have timed between 15-20 seconds. If you add 20 seconds a shot, you are now spending an additional 18 minutes on the course. And if you have 2 of these guys in the group, you have now added 36 minutes. I have personally seen my foursome go from a 5.5 hour round (with my slow guy playing), to a 4 hour round after he left (granted it was then a threesome).

The other big issue is finding lost balls. The lenght of the rough definitely makes a difference. But having more markers to spot where your ball lands can help tremendously in this area. At least it would reduce the area where people are looking for their ball.

Our group has spent alot of time teaching slow guy to play "ready golf", and being ready to hit when it is your turn. Education can solve alot of the issues we have. Nobobdy wants to play slow, nobody wants to slow down others. But many don't know what they are doing wrong.

JCBjack said...

Many good comments above. Once in a blue moon you find golfers who are totally inconsiderate of others, but not ever day, and it just takes one slow group if everyone else is keepin up.
As someone who does not have a 'regular' 18-hole course, and I play many courses 2-3 times a year, but I know how far I hit each club, etc, the ideas on clear distance markings rings true (on the tees for par 3, as well as distance to hazard, and dist. to clear hazard on other holes). A par five I recall has a sign '200 yds to rocks'. This helps, as in the group I play with 190 is about all you can expect of a 3 wood.

Absolutely cut the rough so a ball can be seen from 20-25 yards away. It's frustrating to look for a ball just off the fairway for minutes, then to step on it a yard from where you parked the cart.

Place pins in flat locations unless you are holding a weekend tournament.

I work as an (unpaid volunteer) starter at a muny in Fairfax County, Saturday afternoons. It is a fairly difficult par 3, ranging in distance from 127 to 200 yards. There is a golf school and large driving range.
Many beginners play this course, as well as infrequent players; one motivation for them is to not look foolish, another to be polite.
I have been playing since 2001, and my average round is half bogeys, half pars. But we all have to start somewhere, and muny golf is a low-cost alternative.
Steps have been taken here to maintain pace of play and to stay on time, such as marshall training and adding 'unavailable' tee times, and in general we can maintain the times.

For most customers, our pace of play is not so much of an issue, as they can finish nine in under two hours; they may also have chosen to come to our course so they do not have to spend six or more hours, including travel, playing 18 holes. Executive nines work, too.
There is a fine line somewhere between a Saturday that goes really smoothly and one where you are somehow 20 min behind, only to be saved by a cancellation. Threesomes are the bane of the starter trying to get things back on time, though outlawing threesomes would not be popular or fair. A twosome can be moved up to save a time by pairing them with another two, but not three.

At some point, beginning golfers want to take their game to a full length course, and many of them can only do so on the weekend. So, having put the context above, some observations. (I am just giving my opinions, not Ffx county policy)

Mixed groups (two couples, say) who do not know each other take longer to get started than experienced players. This can be excruciating watching the first hole. They are also trying to be polite about whose turn it is to play, to putt, and so forth. These things are usually worked out by the third hole.
The more difficult the par three, the longer it will take beginners to play it. This would apply to pin and tee placements on regulation courses.
We try to stress that if you aren't on in four, toss it on and take only two putts. This would apply to the 'double par' suggestion. Keep pace with the group in front of you.
No 'coaching' - I strongly urge folks to take beginners out on a nice drizzly day when the course is not busy, or late twilight for a few holes. On slow days, let folks play through.

A few free used balls, shorter rough, flat pin placements, clearly marked distances, and courteous, welcoming marshalls who stress not only your time, but keeping up with the group in front.

A real challenge, even if all these measures are in place - good luck.

Peter said...

Take a look at Glenn Dale Country Club - this is a public course and they are able to pretty much guarantee a 4 hour round. They have marshalls that are vigilant about pace of play - I've seen them on several occassions ask people to leave for not keeping up pace of play.

It can be done.

Marc said...

lots of great ideas. I think it comes down to the responsibility of the players. The worst offenders are the guys that are in carts. I too often see a cart drive to one of the shots, the player hits, and then they go to the other players shot. People still do this even if both shots are close together. I don't know if anyone has sugested this yet but the easiest way to fix slow play is to start a CADDY PROGRAM. It keeps the people moving and you now have a second pair of eyes to look for your shot. It also teaches young people the rules of the game so this serves them all of their lives. WE NEED A CADDY PROGRAM!

Deborah said...

Lots of great ideas. Just wanted to add that I played at Needwood this morning and the rough is extremely long which definitely slowed down the pace of play. Even the staff acknowledges that the rough needs cutting.

Catherine said...

As many people mentioned, a big problem at many of the MC courses is rough that is too high. No. 2 at Northwest is an excellent example. It is a very long, difficult hole as it is. Yet, the other day I hit my ball only a few yadrs to the the right of the fairway, hit the cart path, and couldn't find the ball because the rough was so high. Also, they've narrowed that fairway considerably, which is not a good thing considering how long that hole is.

A more radical solution, which IMHO is the only real one given the costs of hiring marshalls, etc., is to impose cost rewards/penalties. For instance, if your group finishes under 4:30 minutes, you get a couple of free buckets of balls or maybe even a $10 refund. Finish in less than 5 hours, you get a $5 refund. Finish in greater than 5 hours, you get nothing. Of course, if your group gets stuck behing another slow group, you should be able to call the clubhouse to summon someone to tell the slow group to speed up or pick up. Also, you could relax the rules for "beginners days" or other well publicized designated times. That way, better golfers know to either stay away or that the round will be slow in advance.

Marc said...

I really like the idea of incentives. That is an approach I haven't heard of but really might work well. I also think this blog is a great thing. It's pretty forward thinking by the county to give residents this resource.

gachawks11 said...

By being an employee at one of the county courses, some of the things that I would like to mention is:

When the Marshall asks you to speed up your play, most of the golfers get angry and say its not me, its them.

We can only do so much in order to speed up play.

By allowing only certain skilled players to play at a certain time is ridiculous.

SOme of the courses tee times go 10 minutes apart, and its more then one of the courses.

Some of the stuff that you guys are saying I think will help MCG!!!

Not all of it is bad!

pat said...

I think the only hope of controlling pace of play is to use marshalls. While marshalls might not be necessary on some weekdays (Mon - Thur), I would prefer, at least for a time, to have at least one marshall on each course every day. Also, there need to be posted pace of play notices, with alerts that players may be asked to leave the course or allow faster players through, if they do not keep to the posted pace. Overall quality of playing experience would improve if players were aware of and held to a reasonably brisk pace of play.

Beltway Progressive said...

I am a brand new golfer and I golfed my first two times with my Dad before he died - boy did he believe in READY golf. And as a marshall into his retirement he did everything you golfers are asking for. We had no one waiting behind us and I didn't even keep score, I was so bad. Marshalling is a responsibility that doesn't fit everyone's temperment and they need to be chosen carefully. They need to do all the things said here - polite, form, move on, play through. Nine minute start intervals? That's crazy, and greedy.

If any golf teachers want to pick up some clients by helping marshalls and giving ready golf tips, I would pay one on the spot if I saw one. I have a lot of skills to catch up on.

JimDC821 said...

Pace of play is horrible at most MCG courses, except, perhaps, Laytonsville. Marshalls don't marshall, they commisserate with you, and offer excuses, e.g., "it's really slow, isn't it?" "we were fully booked" - instead of finding the reason for a back up and doing something about it... there should be sonme kind of accredidation you get for passing a brief instruction on ettiquette and pace of play, with emphasis on ready golf. With this pass, you are allowed to make tee times up until 1:00 pm - without the pass, you can't book a time until 1:00 pm on weekends. If you don't abide by the rules of "ready golf" and you or your group fails to maintain pace of play, your pass is suspended for 30 days at which time you can take the instruction session again and if you pass, your status is restored. Just an idea...

Marc said...

perhaps more and better yardage markers would help too. It can be frustrating looking for a sprinkler head with a yardage on it.

Dominick said...

From what I have read so far, almost everyone has mentioned the lack of marshalling. I completely agree. I played Rattlewood yesterday and it took almost 6 hours to finish. We spent almost as much time waiting as we did golfing. The group ahead of us has 2 greens between them and the group in front of them, and not a marshall in site. It shouldn't take more than 4.5 hours on a weekend. I would welcome a the site of a marshall encouraging groups to keep pace even if it my own.

Gyrocks said...

I have been playing on MCG for over 10 years now. Here are a few short points.

1.) When the revenue authority took over instead of the park system they got rid of marshalls. Why? I played at Whiskey Creek(public course) yesterday and the marshalls were great.. they drove around, made their presence known, even helped find balls that went astray. Never once did they push or "offend" anyone but they kept the pace moving by being out there.

2.) You must MOW the rough. Especially when we have as much rain as we have had. It is so thick and tall that a ball that flys even 6-8 feet off the fairway may be lost just by no visibility.

3.) Have the starter ask what players think their handicaps are. If they are over 12, then they have no business playing from the back tees. I see this EVERY weekend. Hackers get up to the tee box(back tees), swing their drive and consistently duff it.

Jason said...

It all comes down to managing the pace of play from the start of the day. I think if marshalls were out there all day long monitoring the spacing between the groups and moving people along, length of rounds at the end of the day may become shorter. All too often we've had to call marshalls out to get groups moving in front of us. That's not something we should have to do...rather the marshalls should already be out there monitoring the pace of groups and being proactive rather than reactive.

I think cutting back on a few tee times throughout the day would speed up the pace of play. I feel like over the years courses are trying to squeeze in as many tee times as possible in an effort to maxamize revenues. Unfortunately, this is contributing to the slow pace of play. This is a big issue at Northwest where we are frequently not teeing off within an hour of our tee time.

Keith Miller, Executive Director said...

Great feedback being shared on pace of play. As we all read the different responses i hope everyone realizes that it is a challenge. To clarify we do not want the rough this long either but the weather has made it impossible to keep up. Hopefully nice sun this week will allow us to catch up. We will be posting other follow up questions and discussions because we are developing a new program with your help.

Keith Miller, Executive Director said...

Based on all of the different responses to the first questions, we are summarizing the responses to be 4 hours is fast, 4.5 hours would be ideal, and 5 hours is acceptable pace on busy afternoons. Do you agree?

Also, we like to have some fun because it is golf. Did anyone notice that not one slow player responded to the pace of play question:)? One person referenced his slow friend. Just a thought.

Jim coyle said...

It would be helpful if all the personnel, in the club house, a the first tee, and on the course reminded all players about the pace of play. Also, Marshalls need to remind folks on the course; just riding around does not do it.
Also, I see so many folks standing around waiting for the others to tee off; folks need to us ethe rst ready rule and go.
Lastly, many players often limp off the greens rather than moving quickly; for me this has become a real issue.

JimDC821 said...

I don't agree that 5 hours is ever an acceptable pace of play. 4.5 hours is the absolute maximum it should take, unless there is a storm in the middle of the round forcing stoppage of play. "Cart path only rules" should have nothing to do with it either. I've played in Scotland on "packed" golf courses and played in 3.5 - 4.0 hours. It can be done, but it requires an educated gofing population.
On top of it, a secured tee time hardly ever means anything - a 11:30 tee time becomes 12:00 pm on a consistent basis, especially at Northwest and Needwood - a "5 hour round" becomes 5.5 hours. Tee times during peak season should reflect the "busy" nature of the course - 8 minute tee times should be abandoned - opt to 10 minute tee times and increase fees $5/person if need be. Marshalls should be authorized to truly step up play - wave players through, have slow players pick up their ball, issue on the spot "rain checks" to the worst laggards and tell them they can come back when the course isn't so busy.

Bob said...

I would like to be able to expect to play in 4 hours. Unfortunately, unless I am playing at 7 am on a week day, none of the County courses offer this opportunity. And some are worse than others. Little Bennett has gone from a fast course about 5 years ago, to nearly six hours a round on WEEK DAYS. This is unacceptable.

I consider 3-1/2 hours to be quick, 4-1/2 to be acceptable but annoying, and anything over that, way too slow.

How do the courses contribute to the problem? Ridiculously long rough, ridiculously tough pin placements on weekends, not enough time between tee times, and no enforcement by marshals.

I understand that in rainy wether the rough grows quickly and there's no chance to cut it. Bu save the pin placements in the middle of a hill for Mondays. And at $25 dollars a round, I'm willing to put up with a slightly longer round, but the higher the price, the more the course needs to space out its tee times.

Golfers contribute by moving slowly, treating every 2 foot putt like $100 depends on it, and spending way too long looking not only for their own lost golf balls, but for all the balls they can find.

Bob said...

Just an added comment, now that I've gone through and read everyone's else's. There are a lot of very good comments and I'm happy to see that people put responsibility for slow play on both the golf course and the golfers.

But when I read the summary on Facebook, the message MCG seems to be getting is that 4 hours is fast and 4.5 is ideal and 5 is acceptable. Wrong! Go back and read what people are saying. They may expect it will take five hours, but I don't know anyone who likes it.

At Hobbit's Glen in Columbia, people expect to play in under 4 hours on a Saturday and Sunday morning. It's the culture at the course to play quickly. Earlier this year, I was in the first twosome out on a Friday morning at Needwood, and walked in three hours. On another Friday, I was in the first twosome out, and walked in 3.25 hours. And this past Saturday afternoon, I played nine holes at Rising Sun in one hour. So it can be done! If I have to EXPECT that a round on an MCG course will take five hours, I will play elsewhere.

TheRusty said...

I played Little Bennett Saturday at 3PM, finished at 8:15. The group in front of us was horribly slow with 2 guys of the 4 playing inappropriately from the back tees, hitting way off line, everyone looking through tall grass a lot, etc. There still was no gap in front of them. Asking them to play faster would have done nothing.

I played Laytonsville Sunday morning from 8:10-12:15. On 4 my group was a full hole behind with a marshall parked in full view. He did not say a word to us. Yet, we caught right back up (we had to wait on the 6th tee). Rangers don't always need to be nazis.

Afterwards I went to Little Bennett to practice. At 1:40 I saw a cart with an 8:20 tee time on it finishing up. Ick. Inside the shop I heard a customer complaining about slow play and heard the head pro acknowledge that play was about 15 minutes too slow. The customer walked away shaking his head.

Hint to Keith - get the word out to the staff that they also need to communicate that there is a system wide effort to address pace of play issues. Jeff was remarkably restrained in not showing his frustration to the guest. What Jeff should have done after saying "I hear you and we know it's a problem" is
- Here's what we've already done to improve the problem (at LB Jeff has a long list, even the new greens should count)
- We're not done yet and we need your suggestions(mention the blog too)

LB has a big sign about ready golf on the first tee box, several tee time clocks to remind folks about pace of play, tee time cards on the cart windshields, drop areas, yardage poles on fairways, etc. etc. I know the ranger who was on duty on Sunday, watched him buzz about the course from the clubhouse and talked with him for a few minutes (shame on me). Better ranger training may help a little, but the concept of pushing string comes to mind. You can readily see a major contributing factor to slow play at LB from the clubhouse. Watch 4-5 groups making the turn at 9 and 10. These are tough holes where people attempt doomed shots, lose a lot of time looking for balls, can't figure out where to aim and can't tell when it's clear to shoot. It's a great place to play "what if" in your head to test out all of the suggestions mentioned here. Cutting the rough shorter on 9 is a good example. Left or right, balls would just roll further into harder to find places.

Marc said...

I know I said this before, but I would still like to see the county start a caddy program :)

I think it was Bob that had this really good point. If people expect to play in 5 hours it's going to take that long to play. I play out of Northwest and it seems that some people have an attitude that it's a resort course.

Slow play is a real issue (as you can tell by the blog) however, I have never had a bad experience with any of the men or women in a group I have been paired with at Northwest. Everyone has always been lots of fun to play a round of golf with.

JimDC821 said...

I won't even go to Little Bennett again given the horrendous experiences the last 3 times I played there. A previous blogger is correct that it used to be a fairly fast course - what happened ? A culture of disregard seems to have developed. A shame really, since it is one of the nicest public courses in the county. Again, the only answer is to use 10 minute tee times (I played a course in Ocean City (War Admiral) this weekend with 12 minute tee times which they said reflected the difficult nature of the course).

Catherine said...


Just to follow up on what you said, in addition to rough being too high, which is understandable given all the rain, the real problem is that several courses have narrowed their fairways considerably.

This is especially true at Northwest, which is a very long course that used to have wide open fairways. This is not longer the case, and narrowing the fairways on such a long course is a horrible idea, not only because the result is much longer rounds, but because the average golfer just cannot score very well under such tough conditions.

I also continue to believe that finding ways to reward golfers that play quickly, even if you have to boost the initial green fee, is the real solution.

puma9999 said...

Playing in 4 1/2 hours or less on a full course on the weekends while staying right behind the group in front a realistic goal for the DC area. Expecting to play in less time with groups in front of you is assured frustration on a weekend.

A couple easy ways to speed up play:

1. Keep the rough short enough to find your ball. Lost balls are a big reason for slow play.

2. Easily seen vertical yardage markers. Its much easier to be ready to hit when you know the yardage, especially inside 100 yards where knowing distance matters the most. There are many course designs that slow up play with poor yardage markers such as only having flat disks, random sprinkler heads or cart path hash marks none of which can be seen from afar.

Vertical visable yardage posts at 150, 100, 50 yards that can be easily seen from afar speed up shot decisions. A golfer can sort out the shot before s/he even gets to the ball. Posts are very inexpensive aids to speed up play and are asthetically part of the course.

MCGC courses are often marked better than some private courses having consistent disks every 25 yards on each side of the fairway. But even these disks fall way behind what a vertical post can do to help speed up play.

MCGC could pass out speed tips for local play or stress a different pace of play tip each day rather than USGA / TV play. Like picking up at double par and taking your ESC score; marking woods areas as hazards, playing ready golf rather than honors, etc.

damizubro said...

I agree that 5 hours is too long (at least, during the week it is). More marshalling activity will help; our group has a handicapped golfer, and we have definitely sped up our play when reminded. At Laytonsville, I think allowing more fairway access to carts (on the front nine)will speed play,especially for short hitters).


plaistedlaw said...

I agree with many of the posts, especially the recommendations to use marshals and keep the thick rough shorter during the spring. Last year my group was slow at Needwood and, after being warned once by a marshal, the head pro came out when we were on the 5th hole and told us to pick up our balls and move on to the next tee. That was effective and easy. The thick long rough has always been a problem on the front nine at Needwood in the spring. It is discouraging and slows the pace of play to lose a ball after barely missing the fairway with a good shot.

Raniers said...

Slow play is due to the rough being too high to find the ball. Make it like Augusta in the old days: fast greens and very little rough. Looking for balls just off the fairway takes too much time.

Also, get a starter you can get the groups to the 1st tee on time. Last sunday at LB, there were 4 groups playing #1 at 7AM. What a joke.

Michael said...

I understand that it can take a bit longer for beginners but they need to learn to observe what's going on around them. If the group in front is too close for them to hit then feel free to look for your ball and a couple others while your at it. :) But if the way is clear then you shouldn't take more than a minute or so before moving on. I never have a problem losing a dozen balls and still finishing in under 4 hrs. 30 mins. ;)

Larry 'Ed' said...

Having a starter emphasize the pace of play goals of the course with EVERY start. Have large visible signs as reminders. Utilize marshalls, especially on the front 9 to keep things moving. Perhaps put together a one page bulleted list of "do's and don'ts" for pace of play - some of the subtle elements that add up to big delays, are not on the minds of the new player.

A.J. said...

There have been a lot of good suggestions posted:

1) Wider fairways
2) Shorter rough
3) Tree lines and "environmental" areas marked as lateral hazards
4) More obvious distance markers
5) Fewer "cart paths only" days or add cart paths on both sides of the fairway
6) Sell used golf balls for cheap in the pro shop
7) Space out tee times (raise fees if necessary)
8) Proactive marshalls who continuously ask groups to close the gap--kindly but firmly

But most importantly, change the expectation from, "it's a county course and 5.5 hrs is not unusual," to "a round of golf should be played in no more than 4 hrs."

I find that I play quickly when everyone else plays quickly, and I play slowly when everyone else plays slowly.

Provide constant reminders regarding HOW to play ready golf and emphasize that most people, especially the higher-handicap players, actually play better when they play quickly (and that the driving range is a better place to work on your swing; although, ironically, most people play quickly at the driving range, zipping through their bucket of balls).

Raymond said...

There should be a maximum stokes rule sign, such as "3 strokes over par max per hole", posted by hole #1 during busy hours to remind everyone to pick up and move on to the next hole.
Marshall or ranger is needed to drive around the course to enforce the rule and make sure every group is keeping pace with the one in front of them.

Keith Miller, Executive Director said...

Thank you to all who participated in our pace of play discussion. We will be continuing our discussion as we work to develop a new program. I am happy to announce that the WINNER OF OUR FREE FOURSOME is Les - Facebook discussion post #16 posted on 6/13/09. Les, please contact Wayne Rohauer at 301-762-9080 to claim your foursome. Look for new discussions beginning this week.