Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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Musings on Our National Championship

For the record, I loved the 2018 U.S. Open.  We got to see four days of great players taking on Shinnecock Hills – William Flynn’s brilliant design, Coore & Crenshaw’s thoughtful restoration, and Jon Jennings et al’s beautiful presentation.  No amount of setup snafu, quick rake nonsense, or bellyaching from various constituencies could dampen my enthusiasm.

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All photos by Jon Cavalier

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.

For some time now, the USGA has been doing a fair bit of tinkering and way too much micromanaging.  They are not the victims of happenstance or bad breaks.  They have placed themselves in an untenable situation by trying to:

  • appease players and manufacturers by not adequately regulating equipment technology,
  • appease traditional hard-liners who demand carnage,
  • appease casual fans who prefer birdies over bogeys, and
  • appease par devotees who want to see a certain number on the scoreboard.

Combine these factors with the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the game of golf itself, and you have a recipe for outcomes that are guaranteed to frustrate and disappoint.  Worse yet, the USGA’s insistence on pursuing this impossible balance to try and please everyone is distracting from what really matters – great players competing against each other on great playing fields.

As I watched Saturday’s action unfold, with the setup tipping over the edge, I ran a 24-hour Twitter poll to try and gauge how the carnage vs. playability balance was shaping up:

USOpen-Poll1.pngA day later, with the USGA arguably going too far in the direction of playability, I asked essentially the same question in a different way:

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Although the second poll was much quicker, I doubt that the results would have changed had I let it run for 24-hours instead of 2.  My conclusion?  We the audience don’t really even know what we want.  We are essentially impossible to please.  The USGA would be better served choosing a position, and sticking to their guns knowing that some players and fans will gripe no matter what.  With that approach, at least they will have maintained a discernible and authentic identity.


THE PATH AHEAD

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It’s time to stop the insanity.

If I were King, I would create a U.S. Open rota, with architectural interest and history being the weightiest considerations.  I would not concern myself with charges of “elitism” in my rota selections.  This is one of the most elite competitions in the world.  Its venues can and should be elite as well.  Making the game more inclusive is an important mission of the USGA, but the U.S. Open is not the vehicle for that mission.

My proposed rota is:

  • Oakmont*
  • Shinnecock Hills*
  • Pebble Beach*
  • Pinehurst No. 2*
  • Winged Foot*
  • Merion
  • Olympic Club
  • The Country Club
  • Los Angeles CC
  • Cherry Hills
  • Inverness (based on Andrew Green’s recent tune-up)
  • Oakland Hills (contingent on Gil Hanse tune-up)
  • Olympia Fields (contingent on Keith Foster tune-up)

*host more frequently than others

This rota provides geographic and architectural diversity and allows fans to get to know great courses by watching different player cohorts play them over the decades.  Just because a course did not make my rota does not mean that I don’t want to see professional golf on that course.  I very much want to see future events held at Chambers Bay, Bethpage Black, Erin Hills, and others.  Let the PGA and PGA Tour cast a wider net with the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup that includes those great courses.

The rota being selected, my second act as King would be to simplify the rules for setup to a list of 3, and I would let the Golf Course Superintendent lead the preparation of the course for the tournament with consultation from the USGA that is not overbearing.

  1. Rough and/or native area that is nasty and penal, but only where the original architect intended for it to be.
  2. Very firm greens, but slow the putting surfaces down so that they stay alive and roll true.
  3. A mix of pin positions each day – some gettable, some next-to-impossible.

These setup rules would not be altered regardless of the weather.  If Mother Nature helps the players one year, so be it.  If Mother Nature crushes the players the next year, so be it.  As King, I would offer no apologies to anyone based on their perceptions of difficulty, or lack thereof.  You play in the National Championship, it is what it is.  Deal with it.  Because after all, that is the essence of the game itself, and as King, I would want my championship to pay homage to that essence.


THE ROTA IN PHOTOS

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Oakmont

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Shinnecock Hills

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Pebble Beach

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Pinehurst No. 2

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Winged Foot

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Merion

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Olympic Club

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The Country Club

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Los Angeles CC

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Cherry Hills

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Inverness

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Oakland Hills

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Olympia Fields

Now that I’ve shared my musings, I’m off to read what everyone else has concluded.  Feel free to share your thoughts here, email me, or comment on social media.  Already looking forward to Pebble…


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Shinnecock Hills GC Photo Tour

JON CAVALIER’S LINKSGEMS 2018 U.S. OPEN PREVIEW

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

The rich tradition of championship golf at Shinnecock Hills continues this summer.  The collaboration between Superintendent Jon Jennings and Coore & Crenshaw has brought out every ounce of the brilliance of William Flynn’s Long Island masterpiece.  Shinny is ready to test the best.

Once again, Jon Cavalier has provided us with a hole-by-hole preview featuring his stellar photography and commentary.  My course doodle has been included for your reference, and additional resources are at the end for an even deeper dive.  Enjoy!

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

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(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

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A relatively easy dogleg right with an ample landing area to open, and certainly one of the better birdie opportunities on the course.  However, long is serious trouble – bogey or worse lurks behind this green.

No. 2 – 252yds – Par-3

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A new back tee installed for the 2018 Open stretches this monster uphill par-3 to over 250 yards to a green guarded by bunkers on both sides and a false front.  Make par here and you’ll gain on the field for sure.

No. 3 – 500yds – Par-4

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This par-4 has been lengthened via a new back tee and narrowed from the left side, bringing the bunkers on the right very much into play.  The open green slopes mostly back-to-front but abruptly falls away behind.

No. 4 – 475yds – Par-4

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“Pump House,” so named for the outbuildings the hole doglegs around, has seen its fairway tightened up.  Its real challenge is the undulating green, which features a false front and falls away on all sides.

No. 5 – 589yds – Par-5

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“Montauk” is the first three-shotter of the round, but rest assured, many will be going for this green in two despite the narrow fairway and the large bunker guarding the dogleg. Distance control is key, as once again, long is dead.

No. 6 – 491yds – Par-4

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“Pond” features the only water on the course, a retention pond unlikely to see a single ball this week, and a scruffy waste area right of the fairway that will.  The green is among the toughest at Shinny.

No. 7 – 189yds – Par-3

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This Redan, built in 1931 by William Flynn on the site of C.B. Macdonald’s original, is a hole as intimidating as it is beautiful.  Playing at a more oblique angle and with a smaller opening than most makes this tilted green incredibly difficult to hit, hold, chip to and putt.  Any misses to the right will be lucky to save bogey.  In 2004, Kevin Stadler putted from 2-feet into a bunker. Buckle up.

No. 8 – 439yds – Par-4

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“Lowlands” is likely the flattest hole at Shinny, and at “only” 439 yards, players will be looking for birdie here before the brutal 9-10-11 stretch.  Beware the green though, which is among the most undulating on the course.

No. 9 – 485yds – Par-4

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“Ben Nevis,” named for the highest mountain in the UK, is one of the world’s greatest uphill par-4s, and the start of the heart of this golf course.  A dogleg left at the clubhouse to a heaving fairway, and then up to a green seemingly perched on the edge of a cliff, mere paces from the steps leading in to Stanford White’s iconic shingle-style clubhouse.Par is a good score on this breathtaking hole.

No. 10 – 415yds – Par-4

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The aptly named “Westward Ho” plays to a fairway cut through a dune hiding a precipitous drop, a left turn and a green with 50 yards of false front.  Short is dead, long is deader; better be dialed in on distance.

No. 11 – 159yds – Par-3

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The 11th at Shinnecock has been called many things: Hill Head (its official name), the shortest par-5 in golf, and the best uphill par-3 in the world, among others.  What it has never been called, is easy.  The green sits atop a small dune ridge exposed to the wind and falls off to all sides.  Standing on the tee, the landing area looks impossibly small.  A hole that could determine the Open winner.

No. 12 – 469 – Par-4

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After surviving the crucible at 9-10-11, players will be looking for birdie at this downwind, downhill par-4.  Playing across Tuckahoe Road, the approach is slightly uphill to an open green.  Look for big drives here.

No. 13 – 374yds – Par-4

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“Road Side” once again changes direction and plays back over Tuckahoe Road toward the clubhouse.  The shortest non-par-3 on the course, the 13th is a prime candidate to be shortened to a drivable par-4.

No. 14 – 519yds – Par-4

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One of my favorite holes, “Thom’s Elbow” has been lengthened by a whopping 75 yards, turning this well-bunkered two-shotter into a monster that should require driver off the tee from the entire field.  The saddle-shaped green at the 14th is more receptive than most, and will direct balls from its flanks to the middle.  Shots hit too firmly will scoot through and will leave a difficult up-and-down.

No. 15 – 409yds – Par-4

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The 15th is one of the most beautiful holes in golf, its tee set high on the glacial moraine that serves as the backbone of this astonishing golf course.  Finding the fairway is critical, as the green is small, sloped and well-guarded by six terraced bunkers in front (one of the few greens fronted by bunkers at Shinnecock).  Simply put, this is just a breathtakingly beautiful golf hole.

No. 16 – 616yds – Par-5

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Shinnecock, the eponymous 16th, begins our home stretch.  The second of Shinny’s two par-5s, this hole has a new tee which adds 76 yards in length, but downwind, players can still have a go at this green.  As with so many holes at Shinnecock, the defenses of this hole are found around and on the green.  Five bunkers guard the layup zone and ten more guard the green.  Most players will happily take par here.

No. 17 – 180yds – Par-3

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A devilishly tricky one-shotter frequently buffeted by confounding crosswinds and featuring a pushed up green with no background to help with judging distance, the 17th may well determine this week’s winner.

No. 18 – 485yds – Par-4

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A new tee 35 yards back brings the bunker at the dogleg back into play, but Home is all about the approach and the wickedly sloped green, which will return anything indifferent 20 yards back into the fairway.

And there you have it – all 18 holes at one of America’s very best championship venues, an iconic piece of golden age architecture.  Hope you enjoyed the tour, and that you enjoy the 118th United States Open!

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Bonus Aerials

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MORE ON SHINNECOCK HILLS

 


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 11 (Blue Sky Findings)

Over the summer, the initiative to transform Canal Shores along the lines I outlined in my previous posts (4 Course Concept & Inspiration for the New Canal Shores) gained significant momentum.  That gain is primarily attributable to my good fortune in connecting with Pat Goss.  Pat is the Director of Golf for Northwestern University and Luke Donald’s coach (follow Pat on Twitter at @patgossnugolf).  He is also highly committed to youth golf and teaching the game.  And perhaps best of all, when it comes to golf geekery, Pat is a soul brother.

Several months ago, the Canal Shores Board formed a “Blue Sky” Committee to explore options for the future of the facility.  Pat and I have a similar vision, and so we volunteered to explore how we might go about turning that vision into a reality.  In early September, I presented our findings to the Canal Shores Grounds Committee and members of the Board, with architect Drew Rogers in attendance.  The response was enthusiastic, and we continue to walk down the road toward the New Canal Shores.

I share a recap of the presentation here for two reasons: First, I want to publicly thank Pat, Dave Zinkand, Drew Rogers, and everyone else from The Game of Golf who lent their expertise and support to getting us to this point. Second, I wanted anyone who was not able to attend the meeting to have the opportunity to stay up to date on how this project is developing.


MEETINGS & CONVERSATIONS

Over the past several months, Pat and I have been talking to various parties within The Game of Golf.  We were sharing ideas for the New Canal Shores, and seeking answers to two questions:

  1. Are we crazy for trying to do this?
  2. If we go forward, can we expect support from The Game to get the renovation done and pay for it?

Among those who talked to us were:

  • National and Regional Organizations – United States Golf Association, Chicago District Golf Association, American Society of Golf Course Architects
  • Youth Golf Organizations – First Tee of Greater Chicago, First Tee of Metropolitan New York, The Golf Practice
  • Golf Course Architects – Drew Rogers, David Zinkand, Tim Liddy, Dave Axland, Andy Staples, Mike Benkusky, Todd Quitno
  • Golf Course Builders and Managers – Wadsworth, Lohman, KemperSports
  • Superintendents of Local Clubs – Bryn Mawr, Conway Farms, Old Elm, Onwentsia Club
  • Professionals – Luke Donald, area teaching pros
  • Coaches – David Inglis & Emily Fletcher (NU), Jed Curtis (ETHS)

Their answers to our questions have been:

  1. Yes, you are crazy, in exactly the right kind of way.
  2. ABSOLUTELY!

The response was overwhelmingly positive and offers of support have already started to roll in – expertise, discounted materials and services, funding, etc.  It has been humbling to interact with these good people who love the game of golf so much, and want to see more kids playing it.


GUIDING PRINCIPLES EXPANDED

The Canal Shores Board previously adopted the following Guiding Principles to govern decisions about the direction of the facility.  We are committed to:

  • Providing an outstanding golf facility that focuses on youth and family golf.  To thrive, the golf facility should deliver an experience that is fast, flexible, and fun for all levels of player.
  • Maximizing value to the community by creating a multi-use green space that is designed for effective mixed use, with golf at its core.  Further, all stakeholders enjoy and benefit from exposure to natural beauty, which Canal Shores will embody.
  • Preparing for the long-term by committing to sustainability.  From a land-stewardship perspective, that means restoration of habitat, proactive tree management, and responsible maintenance practices.  From a business perspective, that means designing the golf component in such a way that the fine line between great design that generates revenue and maintenance cost minimization is effectively walked.

I chose to expand on the above principles to specifically address the renovation and its intent.  The intention is for the facility to be significantly more successful, especially with families and kids.  With the right execution, more players should be able to play without diminishing the value of the facility to non-players and neighbors.

The golf component of the facility will be designed, built, and maintained in a such a manner that:

  • Neighbors may adopt and beautify areas along the the property border without major concern of negative impacts from play.
  • There is harmony with the multi-use paths and wildlife habitat enhancement areas.
  • The beauty of the property is drastically enhanced for players, walkers, and neighbors.
  • The increased volume of players will not have a material negative impact to neighbors.
  • Negative impacts to personal safety and neighboring property damage will be minimized.

Do these high standards create a real design and execution challenge?  Absolutely.  But to me, there is no reason to settle for “less than” in the New Canal Shores.


CANAL SHORES IS DIFFERENT

There are those who believe that the best path forward is for Canal Shores to try and be more like other standard 18 hole courses in the area – more like Chick Evans, or Wilmette GC, or Westmoreland CC.  Pat and I obviously do not share this view.

To us, Canal Shores is unlike any other golf course we have ever played, specifically because of the land on which it sits.  It is woven like a thread into the fabric of the community.  It blends natural beauty with man-made architecture and the infrastructure of the community.  It is also segmented by the streets in a way that has created a culture of free-form use by players.  Its openness welcomes mixed-use in a way we don’t often see in golf facilities in America.

These aspects of the character of Canal Shores are what makes it compelling.  It does not need to be more like other courses or clubs.  To truly thrive, we advocate embracing and building upon what makes Canal Shores unique.  It is this uniqueness that has so many people from The Game of Golf lining up to help us.  In this case, they see that different is better.

What does this mean in practice?  It means two things:

  1. We would be upgrading from a single 18-hole golf course, to 4 courses totaling ~40 holes.
  2. We would be adopting a “ski area” approach to the structure of the facility.  Different areas, experiences, and demands for different skill levels.

In this manner, we can be of maximum value to the greatest number of players.


PART OF A MOVEMENT

Although the multi-course concept being considered is unique in Chicagoland, we are certainly not alone in our efforts to reconnect the game of golf to its original spirit.  Around the country, alternative golf projects like those at Sweetens Cove, the Schoolhouse Nine, and others are gaining notoriety. (Click here for a map of Shorties & Alternative courses around the country – each pin includes links to more information.)

Two of my favorite projects are the Andy Staples designed Rockwind Community Links and John Ashworth’s campaign to renovate Goat Hill Park.  These projects serve as examples and inspiration for Canal Shores.

Learn more about Rockwind in this short video (video may take several moments to load):

Learn more about Goat Hill in this short video (video may take several moments to load):


REFINING THE MULTI-COURSE CONCEPT

Architect David Zinkand was kind enough to spend two days visiting Canal Shores and learning about our desires for the facility (click here to learn more about Dave).  He then created for us a Preliminary Rendering of the New Canal Shores free of charge.  This rendering is not meant to represent the final plan in every detail, but it does give a compelling glimpse into the future.
CanalShores-ZinkandRendering_091015

Attendees at the meeting were also sent an Executive Summary of the proposed project that included a statement of our intention to apply for a planning grant from the ASGCA/USGA First Links program.  That application has been submitted, and initial response from the directors of the program has been enthusiastic.  (Click here to view the Executive Summary)


WHY GO IN THIS DIRECTION?

This is a personal question that each person who might be involved in the project must answer for themselves.  People from the Game of Golf have answered that they believe that it can be done, that it will work, and that it is exactly what the game needs.

For me, there are several reasons why I am willing to put my time, energy, and money into transforming Canal Shores:

  • As a dad, I want my boys to have a chance to fall in love with the game the way that I did.
  • As a member of the community, I would love to be a part of leaving a legacy of a special place for golf, outdoor recreation, and natural beauty.
  • As a player, Canal Shores can be a set of 4 world-class golf courses, and I want to play them for years to come.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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My Bucket List – U.S. Open Venues

Goal setting is important. Having a goal has a tendency to enhance motivation and focus, and increase the likelihood of achievement. In my early career, I was extremely goal oriented and meticulous in my goal setting. My colleagues ribbed me about it and asserted that my approach would not survive the arrival of children. I scoffed at the time, but it turns out they were right.

My children have brought me more into the moment, and I am grateful to them for it. I still believe in the value of having a vision and goals though, even if my rigor for the practice has diminished.

I have been thinking about setting a goal for golf that incorporates:

  • My interest in golf course architecture.
  • My interest in the history of golf in America, specifically the history of the USGA Championships.
  • My love of playing golf at great courses, of course.

USOpenMoments

Therefore, I have decided to set the goal of playing every US Open venue. I have always loved the mystique of that championship, and it has been played on a wonderful variety of courses over the years.

Remaining venues to play (Years as Host):

  • Pinehurst #2 (2014, 2005, 1999)
  • Merion (2013, 1981, 1971, 1950, 1934)
  • Olympic Club (2012, 1998, 1987, 1966, 1955)
  • Congressional CC (2011, 1997, 1964)
  • Pebble Beach (2019, 2010, 2000, 1992, 1982, 1972)
  • Torrey Pines (2008)
  • Winged Foot (2006, 1984, 1974, 1959, 1929)
  • Southern Hills (2001, 1977, 1958)
  • Oakland Hills CC (1996, 1985, 1961, 1951, 1937, 1924)
  • Baltusrol (1993, 1980, 1967, 1954, 1936, 1915, 1903)
  • Hazeltine National (1991, 1970)
  • Oak Hill CC (1989, 1968, 1956)
  • Cherry Hills (1978, 1960, 1938)
  • Atlanta Athletic Club (1976)
  • Champions Golf Club (1969)
  • Bellerive CC (1965)
  • Northwood Club (1952)
  • Medinah #3 (1990, 1975, 1949)
  • Riviera (1948)
  • St. Louis CC (1947)
  • Canterbury Golf Club (1946, 1940)
  • Colonial CC (1941)
  • Philadelphia CC (1939)
  • Fresh Meadow CC (1932)
  • Interlachen (1930)
  • Scioto CC (1926)
  • Worcester CC (1925)
  • Inwood CC (1923)
  • Columbia CC (1921)
  • Brae Burn CC (1919)
  • Minikahda Club (1916)
  • CC of Buffalo (1912)
  • Englewood Golf Club (1909)
  • Garden City (1902)
  • Baltimore CC (1899)
  • Newport Golf & Country Club (1895)

U.S. OPEN VENUES PLAYED TO DATE

OlympiaFieldsLogo.jpgOlympia Fields (2003, 1928)

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Olympia Fields was the site of Chicagoland’s most recent championship in 2003, where Jim Furyk was victorious.  It is more notable for a defeat than a victory, however.  In the 1928 Open, Johnny Farrell defeated Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff.

onwentsia-logo.jpgOnwentsia Club (1906)

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Photo by Scott Vincent

Onwentsia is a historical club in my hometown on Lake Forest, IL.  It played host to the 12th U.S. Open in 1906.  Alex Smith won by a wide margin over his younger brother Willie, and OC’s club pro Willie Anderson, all of whom were Scotsmen.

Midlothian_Country_Club-logoMidlothian Country Club (1914)

In the 1914 U.S. Open at Midlothian, a 21-year old Walter Hagen edged accomplished amateur Chick Evans by one stroke to win his first Major Championship.  Hagen would ultimately go on to win 11 Majors in his flamboyant career.

ShinnecockHillsLogo.jpgShinnecock Hills (2018, 2004, 1995, 1986, 1896)

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Photo by Billy Satterfield of GolfCourseGurus

A founding club of the USGA, Shinnecock Hills has been the host of four U.S. Opens, and will host again in 2018. It has been the scene of its share of drama, including Corey Pavin’s outstanding 4-wood into the 18th to clinch his Major title. On a personal note, visiting Shinnecock was a pilgrimage to a holy place, and it forever altered my perspective on this great game.

BethpageLogo.jpgBethpage Black (2009, 2002)

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Photo by Billy Satterfield of GolfCourseGurus

ChambersBayUSOpenLogo.jpgChambers Bay (2015)

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The-Country-Club-logo.jpgThe Country Club at Brookline (1988, 1963, 1913)

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

ChicagoGCLogo.jpgChicago Golf Club (1911, 1900, 1897)

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SkokieCCLogo.pngSkokie CC (1922)

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Photo by Gary Kellner of Dimpled Rock

Bendelow, Ross, and Langford & Moreau have worked on Skokie, making it an interesting and unique architectural hybrid.  It also hosted the 1922 U.S. Open, won by a young Gene Sarazen who claimed the title with a heroic birdie on the final hole.

North shore logo.jpgNorth Shore Country Club (1933)

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Glen View Logo.jpgGlen View Club (1904)

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Myopia Logo.jpgMyopia Hunt Club (1908, 1905, 1901, 1898)

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Inverness Logo.jpgInverness Club (1979, 1957, 1931, 1920)

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OakmontLogo.jpgOakmont (2016, 2007, 1994, 1983, 1973, 1962, 1953, 1935, 1927)

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ErinHillsUSOpen.pngErin Hills (2017)

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PhillyCricketLogo.jpgPhiladelphia Cricket Club (1910, 1907)

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MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Want to Improve Pace of Play? Start Firing Golfers.

The USGA has been studying pace of play extensively and sharing results at their Symposium.  They are amassing data that promises to help course operators improve “flow”.  Additionally, technological innovations like smart flags, GPS-enabled carts, and others will track players and help them keep the pace.

These initiatives may very well help, and I applaud the USGA for doing what it can.  Unfortunately, they strike me as unlikely to solve the problem of slow play because they don’t address the core problem – motives and behavior of course operators and players.

In my career, I have learned quite a bit about motives and behavior from my colleagues and customers.  Several basic truths have emerged for me:

1. Most people – customers and coworkers – have good intentions and are doing their best.  They have moments when they fall short, just as I do.  But even in those moments of carelessness, ignorance, or selfishness, they are not bad people.  They are imperfect, like we all are.

2. Every person does a better job if they are clear on expectations and ground rules.  Especially when those ground rules are based on the principle of providing maximum benefit to all stakeholders.

3. A small percentage of people just don’t “get it”.  Whether they are too ignorant, selfish, or stubborn, they simply can’t or won’t play by the ground rules and contribute to the success of the whole.  Upon identifying people like this, it is always best to fire them as quickly as possible, whether they are coworkers, vendors, or even customers.  They are a drag on the business, and not taking action to remove them will quickly start to degrade one’s ability to be of service to the good people.

Over decades of managing people, customer relationships, and companies, I have experienced very few (if any) exceptions to these 3 truths.

What does that have to do with pace of play?  Let’s return to my assertion about the core problem – people – using my experience with a favorite course of mine, Arcadia Bluffs, to illustrate.

Arcadia Bluffs is a really neat and challenging golf course on one of the most beautiful settings you’ll find, overlooking Lake Michigan.  The staff is great, and the service is first class.  I have a home 10 minutes from the course, and I have played it many times.

I have also brought quite a few friends to play there.  They have all appreciated the beauty of the course, but most of them never want to go back.  Why?  Because it takes at least 4:45 to play a round, and often upwards of 5:15.  Arcadia Bluffs is losing customers because of slow play, and not just among my golf buddies.  In speaking to people about it, it is clear that Arcadia has a bad reputation for pace of play that keeps people away.  That is bad for business, and Arcadia Bluffs is certainly not alone.

What can they do about it?

They can use data from the emerging technology and the USGA studies to improve flow on their course.  They should not just try to maximize rounds to maximize profits.  They should schedule the maximum number of rounds appropriate for their course (based on its difficulty and routing), and then actively manage bottlenecks.  This is a no-brainer, and they are probably already working on it.  It will help a little, but it won’t solve the problem.

To truly solve the problem, they also have to manage their players more proactively and effectively.  Currently, they try to do this by having the starter give a pace-of-play speech on the first tee, and by having rangers on the course.  This is obviously not working currently, and here is why:

The starter speechifies you to play at a decent pace, but doesn’t tell you how.  The rangers may tell you to play faster, but they don’t tell you how.  Based on the first two truths above, this means that people who would like to behave properly might not because they don’t know how.  They are therefore more likely to “have moments”.  It doesn’t take many of those moments to ruin pace for a whole day.

What the starter could do instead is lay out some specific expectations (local rules) for how to keep pace up.  Here are a few examples from my buddies groups:

  • Play ready golf, obviously.
  • The entire group plays from the tees that are appropriate for the highest handicapper.
  • Look for a lost ball for no more than 2 minutes – can’t find it, drop.
  • If you chip/pitch twice and you’re not on the green, you’re done.
  • If you putt twice and you’re not in the hole, you’re done.
  • Single-digit handicappers don’t hit the ball more times than par+2.  Double-digit handicappers, no more than double-par.

We play matches and we still use these rules.  Don’t like ’em?  Find someone else to play with.  Do they work?  We were the first group off at Old MacDonald last fall and got around in 3:30.  Needless to say, the group behind us was not keeping up.

If the starter and rangers at Arcadia Bluffs provided coaching on these rules, the good people will be more likely to respond.  Setting these expectations, and then coaching to them, also allows Arcadia to deal effectively with the “don’t/won’t get it” crowd.

If the pace of these players remains slow, and they refuse to change their behavior, Arcadia Bluffs needs to fire them for the good of every other player on the course.  They have to proactively defend the pace.  In practice, this means that the slow-pokes need to be given their money back and asked never to come back, mid-round if need be.

To service industry professionals, this might sound crazy.  To ignorant and/or inconsiderate golfers, it likely seems offensive because they think that having money in hand means that they are buying carte blanche.  But here is why it is necessary if Arcadia Bluffs really wants to fix pace of play and its reputation, and make its business continue to thrive in the long run:

All other things being equal, slow pace makes every golf experience worse relative to smooth, brisk pace.  Every time a golfer has to wait (regardless of their personal pace of play), they are unhappy.  In turn, they are less likely to come back.

Conversely, if I knew that Arcadia Bluffs was willing to fire “bad customers” to enhance the experience of good customers, I would a) be more likely to return, and b) drag my buddies.  Further, especially in the digital age with this issue so prevalent, it is hard to imagine something more likely to create buzz for a course than kicking chronically slow playersAlCzervik to the curb.

So keep doing the studies and keep working on the technology, and keep up the “While We’re Young!” campaigns to raise awareness.  But I beseech you Arcadia Bluffs and other course operators, give us your ground rules for how to keep the pace, and then fire the people who can’t or won’t.  I promise you that the rest of your customers will celebrate you for it, and to steal another Al Czervik quote, we’ll “make it worth your while.”


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf