After a two year build up, and with the group stages of the World Cup now completed, for those England supporters amongst us it’s another case of ‘game over ‘in the shortest time since the tournament held in 1958 – just 5 days of competition football before our fate is sealed. As usual there’s mixed views on the team performance but the majority of those that I’ve heard directly have given a balanced insight, with a contented response that we gave it a go and tried to play pacey attacking football rather than just ‘park the bus’. The majority view has seemed to be that it was more enjoyable to watch a good game of losing football that a poor game…of losing football.
In 2002 the summer’s key sporting event was also the football World Cup, hosted jointly that year by Japan and Korea, with England having qualified. Their first game was on Sunday 2nd June against Sweden and because of the time difference the game was televised just after midday at 12.30pm - but there was a bit of a conundrum at my golf club. We had a shot gun Texas Scramble scheduled to start at 8.45am with a fully loaded field. That meant that the competition had just 3 hours and 45 minutes for 25 teams of 4 to play 18 holes in one of the slowest formats of golf, then get changed and be in the bar ready for kick off. We all thought it would be a problem and resigned ourselves to finishing in time to watch the second half. However a truly wondrous thing happened not far short of a modern day golfing miracle - all of the 100 golfers were in and most (except the Scots) were sat down ready to watch the game by 12.15pm. The comp had taken just 3 hours and 30 minutes. I remember thinking at the time that it was amazing how players could improve their pace of play if they had a goal to aim for. England too had a goal to aim for but succeeded just once with Sweden equalising for a 1-1 draw.
There are differing and often very emotive views on what is an acceptable pace of play in golf but undoubtedly there is a growing opinion that the game is getting slower and for many, and most worryingly the next generation, that is one of the reasons deterring them from taking it up.
Those that know me well know that Pace of Play in golf is something on which I have particular strong views and I know I am not alone.
David Joy, CEO of England Golf wrote in his foreword to the Strategic Framework for England Golf 2014-17 that the consultation exercise to help define their plan received clear and consistent feedback that, amongst other key issues, the pace of play needs to improve. Every golf club in England was invited to ‘examine pace of play issues within their club and make changes where it is becoming a barrier to participation and enjoyment’ and also to ‘provide members with more information on rules and etiquette’.
The USGA launched their ‘While we’re young’ campaign to end slow play so that the game is more fun and more enjoyable for everyone. They also invited golfers to sign up to their Pace of Play pledge which to date has nearly a quarter of a million online registrations. Upon sign up you receive regular emails with videos and supporting media to give you tips and advice as to how to improve your own pace of play.
The R&A issued their own pace of play guidelines, all of which are under 4 hours, introduced Rule 6.7, and Peter Dawson was quoted as saying ‘we need to keep golf as a half day game where you can tee off after breakfast and be home for lunch’.
A survey conducted by Golfshake in 2012 analysed data from over 6,000 rounds and surveyed over 900 golfers from different golfing backgrounds including professional, club and non-club golfers. When asked what the ideal length of a round of golf was, it was found that 91% of golfers would like to complete a round of golf in not more than 4 hours.
Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Paul Lawrie and a host of other professional golfers have all spoken out on the topic too.
I conducted my own research back in 2009 by asking 150 UK golf clubs to complete a questionnaire. The key findings showed that 90% of clubs believed they had pace of play issues and whilst 86% said that the R&A guidelines were ‘about right’, they also said that there was very low awareness of them amongst club golfers.
In golf we can often make things a little more complicated than perhaps they need to be and if we think that pace of play issues are a scourge of the modern game then let me take you back to an article written by the genial Henry Longhurst in 1954. In it he said that golf had become undeniably slower with one elementary issue being that too many club golfers are born ‘muckerabouters’ – a delightful turn of phrase.
So whether you’re the England back four playing World Cup football with Messrs Balotelli and Suarez in close proximity, or a golfer teeing off in your weekly club comp - remember good old Henry’s mantra – ‘Don’t muck about’.
I like the sound of that… with one of the core principles of etiquette being ‘play at a good pace’, it would be reassuring to know that the ETIQUS golfer doesn’t muck about.