Golf’s “Accordion” Effect
Have you ever noticed that, in a large-field tournament, the groups that go out first play faster than the groups that go out last? I certainly have. From the major tours to our US and World Golf Teachers Cups to junior events, this phenomenon is almost universal. Is there a reason for this?
I’ve often referred to this stretching out of the field as the “accordion” effect, where the gaps between groups seem to get larger, not only as the round goes on, but from the first groups to the last groups. It was always puzzling to me, but then a little study I did during the 2010 Canadian Golf Teachers Cup was a real eye-opener in figuring out why this is so.
During the last round, I was paired with Chris Callihoo, Dave Belling, and Bob Richardson. All three gentlemen went on to a sudden-death playoff for the championship while I, uh, didn’t. That’s another story for another day. Since I was out of any contention starting the back nine, I decided to time how long it took, from the last person in the group in front of us holing out, to the last person in our group holing out. I guess I did this to find a way to make the last nine holes a little more interesting to me, but also I was curious about some pace of play issues, and this was one of them. We always hear that we want each group to finish within the same specified time frame, say 4 hours, but it this really possible? The theory goes that if the tee time intervals are at 10 minutes, for example, each group should finish 10 minutes behind the group in front if they are playing without delay.
What I found seriously sheds some doubt on this concept.
Chris, Dave, Bob, and I are all fairly decent players, but more importantly, fairly quick players. The group in front of us teed off 10 minutes before we did. The average time from the time that the last person in the group in front of us holed out to the time that the last person in our group holed out was approximately 12 minutes.
This means, if the group in front of us plays in 4 hours and 30 minutes, and we are immediately behind them with no delay, the fastest possible time for us to finish our round is 4 hours and 32 minutes! And, you have to remember again that the four of us play fairly quickly, so it may well be that an average-speed group might finish 13 minutes behind the group in front. If you extrapolate this 13-minute interval out to 10 averaged-paced groups, with the first group finishing in 4:30, the 10th group can finish no quicker than 4 hours and 57 minutes.
Of course, you are probably going to have a group or two that can’t finish in any quicker than close to five hours on their own, so you can see why the last groups in a large field event can take five hours or more to finish. Can anything be done to speed up play?
The PGA Tour now has 11-minute tee-time intervals for its threesomes on Thursday and Friday. As long as the group behind finishes each hole no later than 11 minutes behind the group in front, every group can finish in the same time. On the Tour on Thursdays and Fridays, this is approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes. So, it seems the best solution is to make the tee-time intervals longer to match how long it takes the average group to finish behind the group in front of it.
Obviously, though, this isn’t going to fl y with most golf courses, especially if they are used to having 8-minute intervals. Here’s one solution I can think of that can help greatly: checkpoints.
Let’s say you desire to hit a target time of 4:30 (15 minutes per hole) for the first group, and you have 10-minute tee-time intervals. Each par-4’s time pace would be 15 minutes, par-3’s at 13 minutes, and par-5’s at 17 minutes. We go ahead and put up a checkpoint at the fourth tee, and say the first three holes are par-4, par-4, and par-5. This is a total checkpoint time of 47 minutes (15 + 15 + 17). So, you expect your first group of the day to be at the fourth tee in 47 minutes or less. If this group is there in 47 or fewer minutes, so far so good. If not, they get either a penalty or a slow-play warning.
Each subsequent group should reach the fourth tee in no later than a designated time behind the group in front. You can say this time should be 10 minutes for twosomes, 11 minutes for threesomes, and 12 minutes for foursomes, for example. If they fail to meet these times, again, either a penalty or warning results. To really put teeth into this system, another checkpoint at the seventh tee should be utilized.
No one likes slow play, unless perhaps you are playing Pebble Beach on a gorgeous day (which I was fortunate enough to do with my dad). Aside from a checkpoint system, here are some other things we can encourage players to do to make for a quicker round:
Be ready to play when it’s your turn. This advice is about as old as the game itself, yet is repeatedly ignored.
When it’s your turn, play quickly. We’ve all experienced the player who has an elaborate pre-shot routine and takes forever to hit the ball. Many new golfers and novices seem fond of taking multiple practice swings before they hit the ball. Encourage your students to limit their practice swings to either one leisurely swing or two fairly quick swings. And, experienced players should know better. Too many good golfers are extremely slow. Once it’s their turn to hit and they are in position to assess the shot, the ball should be struck within 30 seconds. If you can break 100 and you take longer than this…your routine is too slow.
Know how to use a golf cart. It’s infuriating to watch a cart be driven to a ball, see one occupant get out, hit the ball, get back in, and then drive 20 yards sideways to the other person’s ball. Far too many golfers have a hang-up about dropping off one player and then taking the cart to the other player’s ball. If there are four players in the group, you often see the other cart stay behind the person hitting. While this is commendable in a sense, if it is possible to safely get the cart a little closer to the occupants’ balls, it should be done – and the same drop-off procedure outlined earlier in this paragraph utilized, too.
Walkers should fan out to their balls. Walkers aren’t exempt from critique, either. Sometimes you will see four walkers all walking together, stopping as a pack at each ball. Of course, they should fan out to their balls if they can do so safely.
Know when to fill out the scorecard. The score for the previous hole should be written on the scorecard on the next tee, not while sitting in the cart next to the green. The player with the honors on the next tee should wait until after he hits before filling out the scorecard.
Finally…make an effort to stay up with the group in front. It’s easy to slow our pace down because we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that the pace of play is slow, but then again, if everyone does this, we get – you guessed it – the accordion effect.