published Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

AJGA among groups pushing faster play in golf

PGA Tour professional Kevin Na has the reputation of being one of the slowest golfers in the world.

That's not a good thing.

The trend of playing golf at a slow pace on the PGA Tour has trickled down through the mini-tour ranks, college golf, junior tours and on to recreational golfers who emulate the pros in their approach.

It's been a problem for decades. Yet there's no reason competitive rounds of golf should take five hours to complete, let alone recreational rounds, no matter the course.

"Slow play is killing the game," said WindStone head professional Jeff Craig.

Tiger Woods recently spoke of a literal shot clock. Na had his flaws exposed on national television when he couldn't pull the trigger during the Players Championship.

LPGA star Morgan Pressel suffered a slow-play penalty -- loss of a hole that she'd won -- during her Sybase Match-Play Championship semifinal match in May.

It's a hot topic again.

"Slow play is the biggest issue, and it's the only issue on tour," said former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer Jonathan Hodge, who plays on the NGA Hooters Tour.

"It's the most talked-about thing on tour. There's been a different policy in each of my three years to speed up play," he said. "This year, if you get three strikes for playing slow, you get fined."

The American Junior Golf Association is being pro-active in preventing slow play.

In all of its tournaments -- including the Evitt Foundation RTC Junior All-Star this week at WindStone -- official timing stations are located every three holes.

They serve as checkpoints to let a group know how they are doing on time compared to a predetermined schedule set by the tournament committee.

Players who see a green card at one of the locations know they're playing within what the AJGA calls "time par." A red card signals that they are behind -- but not in trouble. A second red could be a one-stroke penalty.

"We are wanting kids to learn this game for life, and we're trying to get kids into the habit of playing ready golf and playing at a good pace," said Samantha Hirshberg, an AJGA tournament coordinator who has focused her work on pace of play.

"If it's possible for these kids to walk and enjoy the course, and enjoy the game in less than four and a half hours, then anybody can do it walking or riding," she said. "I think we're trying to set a precedent by showing people that it's possible to play faster."

Craig has borrowed a page from the AJGA. About two weeks ago, his staff began handing out a paper to members at the start of their rounds, outlining the time and location of where they should be at several points in their round.

"I went out to one group that was more than a little behind at the turn and asked them to look at their sheet," Craig said. "Then I left, and they came in under the time on the sheet.

"It can be done. There's no reason to be out here for five-plus hours."

Devere Keller, head professional at Moccasin Bend, incorporates pace-of-play protocol during lessons. He will play a few holes with new students to show how to keep moving along for their enjoyment, and the pleasure of those playing behind the student.

"The thing that I've noticed is that if folks would speed up on the greens -- read their putt instead of watching everybody else -- play would speed up 20 to 30 minutes a round," Keller said. "Learning pace of play is as important to enjoying the game as much as learning how to swing a golf club."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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