Reid Champagne 
A hacker’s history of golf
Monday, March 14, 2011
By Michael Miller

They say hisotry is written by the winners

They say history is written by the winners. I suppose that’s true. Had the English defeated the Continental Army, I’m sure that today men like Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson would be written of merely as "insurgents," terrorists" and "bitter-enders."


I would think the writing of golf history would follow the same path; namely, it’s written by the people who were successful at it. What about the hackers and the chops, all those high-handicappers who just couldn’t get the hang of the game? What about golf history as seen through the eyes of the guys and gals who have, throughout the ages, hit it 200 yards sideways? I think the history of that grand game might look something like this:



King James II of Scotland bans the playing of golf, because it is distracting his subjects from their archery practice. Actually, his subjects were, in fact, continuing their archery practice, along with their golf playing. The King simply noticed all the archers’ arrows flying off to the right, and blamed their golf swings the inaccuracy.



King James III of Scotland reaffirms the ban on golf, after carding a snowman on his home course.



King James IV of Scotland again re-affirms the ban on golf, after knocking his tee shot into the Firth of Forth three consecutive times on his home course.



King James VI of Scotland repeals the ban on golf after making an ace on the third hole of his home course.



Queen Catherine of England writes to Cardinal Wolsey referring to the growing popularity of golf, and how she never seems to see the King anymore, and when she does he’s wreaking of cigar smoke and Bloody Marys. Wolsey concludes that the Queen is the first golf widow in England.



Mary Queen of Scots is criticized for playing golf just a day after the murder of her husband. She stands in solemn silence on the 4th tee as the King’s funeral cortŹge rides by. Her consort praises the queen for her respect for the dead, and the Queen replies, "It’s the least I could do. I was married to him for 20 years," thus recording history’s first golf joke.



Earliest known reference to a set of clubs being made specifically for an individual golfer, in this case King James VI of Scotland. Later that year, the King is the first individual to blame his clubs for his poor play.



King James VI appoints William Mayne as the "royal clubmaker." Later, the King shoots 103 with his new clubs and orders a new set, and then another one after his continued failure to break 100. His scoring woes continue throughout the season.



King James VI orders the royal clubmaker beheaded.



John Dickson receives a license as ball-maker for Aberdeen, Scotland. His architect brother James designs course featuring water in play on more than a dozen holes, and brother John becomes a millionaire.



St. Andrews converts its links from 22 holes to 18 holes, but members continue to tell their wives the course is still 22 holes long, and that’s why they’re late to home.



James Durham plays the St. Andrews course in 94 strokes, a record that will stand for nearly a century, making thousands of 20-plus handicappers today wish they’d been born 200 years earlier.



The Golf House at Leith is erected. It is the first clubhouse. Prices for featheries in the pro shop are ten times what Dickson is selling them for.



Mowers for cutting golf course grass are manufactured, but many courses still use sheep to keep the grass from getting too high. One course straps drinks and snacks to the back of one of its sheep, making the sheep the first beverage cart in golf history. Course shepherdess Edwinna is subjected to sexually suggestive taunts throughout the day.



The gutta percha ball is introduced by the Rev. Roger Paterson. It flies farther and costs less than the featherie. The pro shop at Leith marks the "guttie" up to be twice as expensive as the featheries.



St. Andrews issues new rules of golf, stipulating as the first rule that one round consists of 18 holes. Members tell wives the new rule is a "typo," and a round is till 22 holes long, and that’s why they’re late to home.


Also, Allan Robertson shoots a 79 on the Old Course, and is the first person to break 80. In the press story, James Durham is believed to be the first golfer referred to as a "hacker."



Willie Park wins first British Open Golf Championship at Prestwick, beating seven players who played three rounds of 12 holes each. Members of St. Andrews attending the tournament tell their wives the tournament consists of three rounds of 22 holes each, and that’s why they’re late to home.



Rules of entry for the British Open change so that amateurs can compete as well as professional. It is the earliest known reference to the term "sandbagging."



First hole-in-one is recorded by Young Tom Morris. Upon seeing the ball disappear into the hole, he blurts: "The drinks are on me!"



Young Tom Morris drafts first document covering hole-in-one insurance.



Thousands of hackers who’ve been telling themselves, "I am Tiger Woods," suddenly are.


Reid Champagne continues to spurn basic research in Newark, Delaware.

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Ryan Becker 
5 things he’s working on
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

As the new season approaches, I have been focusing on what I need to do to get better this year.  That is the goal for all of us, right?  Having a plan for how to improve is critically important to achieving results.  Without a plan, you run the risk of wasted effort during your practice or playing sessions.  So here goes:

1) Practice With a Purpose:  Make practice time count.  It is easy to lose focus when you are just beating balls at the range.  Never hit a practice shot without thinking about what you want to accomplish with that shot.  Pick a target, identify the distance, check your alignment, and evaluate the results.

2) Develop a Consistent Pre-Shot Routine And Stick To It:  We have all felt pressure on the golf course:  standing on the first tee with a group of people watching, grinding to win a hole and collect a $15 Nassau, or maybe playing the last few holes with a chance to qualify for the Club Championship. 

Whatever the source, pressure on the golf course can alter the mechanics of your swing and cause an errant shot when you can least afford it.  The anecdote?  Routine and repetition.  Doing something the same way over and over again builds confidence and establishes a routine that will allow you to repeat a quality swing over and over again when it counts. 

This process begins before the shot.  Annika Sorenstam just wrote a great post for her Golf Academy where she noted the importance of focus and a consistent pre-shot routine and explained that at the height of her career her pre-shot routine was exactly 24 seconds long.  That precision is stunning.  Find a routine that is comfortable for you and practice it.

3) W-I-N:  Lou Holtz recently did a spot on the Golf Channel and one of his themes was how important it was to W-I-N – for Holtz this meant focusing on "What’s Important Now."

Great golfers all have one thing in common:  a short memory.  We all get stuck dwelling on a bad shot and we let it ruin our next three shots.  Try a different approach.  After you hit your shot – good or bad – shift your focus to "What’s Important Now" and you will realize that the answer is simply the next shot.  There is nothing you can do to get the last shot back.  You need to worry about what you can control – the shot that comes next.

4) Be Better From 100 Yards and In:  If you think hard about where you lose the most shots, it’s probably from within 100 yards of the green. I have always battled my wedges, and this is the year I am dedicated to getting better.  I am locked and loaded with some new Vokey wedges and a new attitude.  I want to get to the point that when I am holding a wedge in my hand, I am looking at it as an opportunity to make birdie instead of thinking about trying not to screw up my great drive!

5) 31 Putts or Fewer Each Round:  We’ve all heard the saying, "Drive for show, putt for dough."  Fewer putts equal lower scores; it’s as simple as that.  I wanted to set a realistic goal for the number of putts that will give me the best chance of breaking 80, and it was 31.  Set a goal for yourself and track your progress.  If you are consistently hitting your goal, then drop it by two shots – keep challenging yourself.

Ryan Becker, a Philadelphia native, is an avid golfer who currently has an 8.5 handicap.  A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, Becker works as an attorney in New York City.  His blog is A Healthy Golf Obsession.

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Reid Champagne 
March of the Snowbirds
Monday, February 28, 2011

March of the Snowbirds

We begin to show up in places such as Florida or South Carolina as early as November. Our numbers peak in February and March, and then taper off again by the end of April. We come from all parts of the frozen north, from Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware -- even Canada.


Unlike many natural migrations that can create problems for some communities, this one is considered a boon and a blessing for the local economy. (It is only the breakfast waitresses who may complain, but only because they’ve heard, "Hey, sweetie, are your legs tired, because you’ve been running though my mind all night," virtually every morning for six straight months.)


I am, of course, referring to the migration of my fellow Great Northern Snowbirds, in this case, that particular species, whose long, harsh winters include routing putting courses through their living and dining rooms, and watching reruns of the Nationwide Tour on the Golf Channel. Like a young man’s fancy in spring, each winter the fancy of many of these Great Northerns turns – not to love, necessarily (although such migrations have been known to include a lap dance or two) – but to southern destinations, for sure.


But here’s the thing: It’s not the actual going that gets us Snowbirds to take wing, but the "planning" (actually, just a series of weekend poker games) that can go on for months prior to the actual trip.


Before that, though, is the previous year’s trip’s ceremonial "Days of Recollections" – a kind of Lenten reflection on all that had gone on during that last trip (actually, just another series of weekend poker games), replete with testimonials, memoirs, reenactments, and finally collapsing upon a litany of insincere apologies, shallow assurances "never to do anything like that again" and maybe even a lone sobriety pledge that no one believes even for a minute. Only then can next year’s preparations properly get underway, since it’s last year’s moral decay that is the taproot for the coming year’s anticipated depravities.


(Incidentally, no planning can be considered complete without at least one wink-and-a-nod conspiracy that involves something along the lines of cans of shaving cream, duct tape and a digital camera suitable for flooding the Internet with j-pegs of fathers caught in the act of being their own children.


I wanted to reveal some of these behavioral instincts of my fellow Snowbirds, because I want to let all you julep-sipping course owners in on a little secret. You know all that trouble you put your superintendents through to grow rye grass that stays green in the winter, as the Bermuda turns brown? And you wind up with those surreal courses that look like a mixture of spinach surrounded by Cream of Wheat? I can promise you, it doesn’t matter to most of us whether your courses are green, brown, yellow or blue. Our whole thing, you see, is simply to be able to run around in shorts in February somewhere. You could paint Wal-Mart parking lots green and rename them The Del Boca Vista Golf and Tennis Club, and we’d still flock there.


The most obsessive of us wait for a howling snowstorm to blow through our town. We turn up the Weather Channel real loud to hear the blizzard warnings and school closings, and then we take our suitcases, which have been part-packed for as many as three months prior to our golf trip, and unpack them. We lay several pairs of shorts and Cool-Max golf shirts on the bed, look at the snow blowing sideways outside our window, and then back at the shorts and the shirts, and then the window, and then the shorts and back out the window again...


Well, you get the idea. All the South ever has to be for us is warm. You needn’t waste precious resources on island greens, sculpted fairways, flash-faced bunkering and shimmering man-made lakes. Just keep it somewhere between 65 and 75, preferably dry, but we’ll even take some warm rain, if necessary. But it’s wearing shorts and shirtsleeves in winter that pulls us toward the moss and spreading oaks each and every year.


Now I may be exaggerating here a bit – maybe you couldn’t get away with painting a Wal-Mart parking lot green and calling it... you know; but I’m not exaggerating by as much as you think. Fact is most of our golf games don’t travel well. Our 14 handicaps have been generally honed to a smooth (though partially indictable) finish by playing our home course four days a week, and consequently knowing where all the sandbagging opportunities lay. (For instance, we always know here at home to double the bet at the forced carry on the back nine that is just a stinkweed longer than Big Al’s banana slice can usually carry.)


But get us to a strange course with new twists and turns, and bunkers you can’t simply putt out of like the ones back on the home course, and we soon realize that just breaking 100 is a worthy challenge. So you’ll hear most of us saying after that first day, "I really don’t care what I’m shooting; I’m just glad to be playing golf in shorts this time of year."


Oh, yes. That’s the other remark the breakfast waitresses may get tired of hearing, too, by the end of the season.


Reid Champagne still occasionally migrates from his summer feeding grounds  in Newark, Del. 

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Reid Champagne 
Bogeys and stogeys
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bogeys and stogeys

That Florida happens to be both the golf capital and the cigar capital of the United States is a happy coincidence. A coincidence because cigar making came to the state when a few enterprising Cubans figured out that making handmade Havana cigars in Florida was a better marketing ploy than selling handmade Florida cigars in Havana.  And then golf came to Florida when a few enterprising land developers realized submerged swampland could be sold as "forced carries" and "natural settings" to a nation with plenty of money and a limited understanding of drainage.


But the coincidence of golf and cigars here is a happy one, because nothing seems to say "recreational activity" quite like the sight of a deeply tanned, almost manatee-like endomorph, occupying slightly more than half of a golf cart, decked out in colors never before seen in a rainbow, with two-toned shoes and a panama hat straight out of an action adventure set in pre-Castro Cuba, flanked by a pair of Bloody Mary’s and puffing on an Arturo Fuentes the size of a SCUD missile.


Florida’s first Cohiba was rolled in Tampa’s historic Ybor City district sometime in the 1880’s. Florida’s first golf course was built in Palm Beach in 1896. The first golf victory cigar was no doubt lit on that course when two railroad chiselers won a $5 Nassau from two land development swindlers, which produced yet another happy coincidence: Connecting resort hotels and railways in a way to get Florida vacationers to their destinations without the subtle risk of slipping away into quicksand en route.


While chomping a Don Capitano hasn’t seemed to have caught on with golf’s professional tours (try to imagine Steve Williams handing Tiger his putter and a smoldering Monte Cristo at the same time), most of today’s well-stocked pro shops now include at least a counter humidor filled with a variety of Churchills, Presidentes and Robustos, and all, incidentally, robustly marked up to make that $120 logoed golf shirt seem like a bargain by comparison.


But our typical hacker needs a jolt of confidence to polish the rough edges of a $2,000 set of clubs. And nothing says confidence like a fine hand rolled cigar lit at that precise moment when a preposterously improbable series of swing flaws converge with the frequency of a Transit of Venus to produce a striped, 250-yard drive down the middle of that first fairway. And soon, it will be those puffs of signal smoke from that Cuesta-Rey that will help the other members of the foursome locate their lost lamb amidst the thick woods where his shanked second shot has now sent him.


It seems that a blunt wedged between the blunt digits of our average weekend warrior imparts a lasting swagger that neither titanium, cavity backs, offset hosels or graphite can sustain. Lighting up after a series of caroms off trees, skips through ponds, fortuitous plinks off decorative stone or railroad ties that produced our beloved chop’s first ever 89 suggests the very epitome of success and triumph. Stoking that victory stogey is a well-deserved act of celebration to a round that could otherwise be described as a poorly-coordinated train wreck. Instead, that Torpedo says, "I win!" for a round that more truthfully shrieks, "You suck!"


The ritual of cigar smoking quite compatibly follows the ritual of shotmaking. There is that whole pre-smoke routine: unwrapping the cellophane, moistening the cigar’s outer wrapper by rolling it around in your mouth, borrowing and then clipping the end with a cigar cutter based on an 18th century French death penalty solution, firing up with a specially crafted (and priced) butane lighter possessing the thrust of a Shuttle launch and then, at long last, puffing to get a good glow that turns out to cover about a third of the end, and burns out by the time you find your tee shot in the woods a few minutes later. It all consumes about the same amount of time it takes Big Al to ponder, select a club, ponder some more, waggle, take three practice swings and then address before ultimately hitting a 50-yard topper into the creek he had (much) earlier played safely short of.


And choosing the right cigar for golf can be as important as choosing the right club, especially for those players who - to slightly paraphrase Peter Aliss - are "great sprayers of the ball."


The bigger the cigar the easier it is to find, especially when placed amidst a thick patch of sawgrass, coleus and poison oak, after your ambitious recovery shot from deep within the woods, failed to negotiate either the stand of sabal palms, mangrove swamp, waste bunker, pond and bulkhead, all of which stood between your ball and the green - a shot you just knew you had the game for, even after the more typical 165-yard banana slice that got you into this predicament in the first place.


And, finally, what better way to judiciously interrupt the windbag telling how his 104 could just as easily have been an 82 if he just could have made a few putts and caught a few breaks like the one off the cart shed roof that saved a bogey, by suddenly saying, "Dang, I think I left my tee-gar on that hole."


Reid Champagne puffs and pouts from his home base in Newark, Del.

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Reid Champagne 
A few loose screws
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I have a driver designed by some of the leading minds in golf club engineering that is made to produce a draw

I have a driver that has allowed me to hit the ball farther than I have ever hit it before. I can hit it farther into the woods, farther out of bounds and deeper into a lake sitting on another hole way off to the right that nobody in my foursome would have thought was in play until they saw the splash.


My driver has been designed by some of the leading minds in golf club engineering to help me produce a draw. Inserts called "launch cartridges," are positioned to weight the club face in such a way that no matter how much my flying elbow, outside-in, reverse pivot, off-balanced, laid-off and blocked swing flaws combine to produce a banana slice so severe that the ball almost seems to have been a satellite launched by a boomerang, the club will turn that ball flight into a draw. That’s the way the engineers designed it. With this club my ball flight is a controlled, but pronounced fade. Imagine what it looked like before.


I guess the ability to draw the ball is some God-given gift, or at least the result of training and practice that I refuse to devote to a game that is supposed to be a recreational diversion. All I know is that as long as I continue to set up dead left, I have a reasonable chance of delivering a tee ball somewhere toward the center- right of the fairway. Most of the time.


For there are those times when all my swing flaws combine in some mystically inexplicable way to cancel each other out and produce a finely-tuned, beautiful-to-watch, gentle draw that disappears into the woods on the left where I had set up (remember?) to hit that pronounced fade. No golf club engineer can make a club to deal with that.


That’s because they’re putting the "launch cartridges" – or screws – in the wrong place. Instead of screwing them into the club face, they should be providing a standard driver, but with a surgical kit that would allow you to screw the cartridges into the precise positions of your wrists, elbows, shoulders and back to produce the draw bias they’ve been mistakenly designing into the club. Include a couple of those screws for your head and I believe you’ve delivered a complete package.


No sport has made broader use of the entire spectrum of mechanical, aeronautical and cosmological engineering to design a golf club that – under the appropriate launch conditions – could put a golf ball into orbit, land it on the moon and return it safely to earth (okay, I’m making up the last part). But just as na•ve it would be to think we could have launched Apollo 11 using a kid a with a sling shot, we insist on placing this precisely designed, engineered and manufactured instrument into the hands of an average golfer who insists the golf swing should be no more difficult to execute than making a left turn – or in most of their cases, a right one- against traffic. Giving a 460cc, titanium headed, offset, draw-biased driver, with a frequency matched, low torque, high kick point graphite shaft and Winn grips, is like giving an iPod to a Druid.

We’ve long since learned in the world at large that technology will not and can not solve all of man’s problems. But for some reason, out on a golf course, we stubbornly cling to the notion that the solution to keeping our golf ball in the fairway and off the roofs of the adjoining golf course community requires a technological, rather than a human, or even, a divine intervention.

It’s not the screws in the club head that have to be moved and adjusted, so much as the loose ones in our head that have to be tightened.


Reid Champagne, a freelance columnist for more than 25 years, is currently the contributing humorist for Delaware Today magazine. His golf humor has appeared in several editions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.     


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Larry Hirsh 
Want to grow the game? Here are a few ideas.
Friday, April 23, 2010

By Laurence Hirsh


If we want to grow the game of golf, I’ve got a couple of ideas: If a Mom or Dad shows up at a golf course with their kid in tow, let the kid play for free.  I’m betting they’d have fun and come back again, and again.


Also, during slow times at courses when tee times go unfilled, why not let kids play for free?  Let them fall in love with the game.


I offer these suggestions because, as a golf industry consultant, I spend a lot of time around golf courses.  I see what’s going on.  Just recently, during visits to five courses, a client wondered whether golf discourages new recruits in a variety of ways?  Yes, I think it does.


And just last week, I attended a golf industry conference where the issue of developing new golfers and increasing rounds were the primary topics.  For years, industry leaders have talked about growing the game by appealing to women and kids, but only last month an article in the Wall Street Journal explored why many women are turned off by golf.


I believe a more "integrated approach" for growing the game is called for.


Golf’s core participant, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) is the adult male. Given modern lifestyles – i.e. more family activities -- golf might be well served by not only finding ways to encourage women and juniors but also by promoting golf as a family activity.


As a lifelong, avid golfer who grew up playing with my father and now plays with my two sons, I know that in addition to being a wonderful bonding experience, "father-son" golf makes it much easier for me to play more often.  Mom gets freed from the constant responsibility for the kids, I get to play more golf and spend more quality time with my kids.  We can even stop and do the shopping on the way home.  What could be better?


Between my travels to client clubs and facilities around the country and my quest to play as many courses as I can, I haven’t seen much family golf.  I probably shouldn’t be surprised.  Most families can’t afford to come up with three or four green fees on a regular basis.


That brings me to my idea about kids playing free with a parent or during slow times at courses. If kids were able to play free (or for a substantial discount) with a parent, I believe that revenues ultimately would be enhanced, because Dad (and maybe Mom) would play more often and kids will be exposed to the game.


Obviously, each course would have to come up with a plan that worked for them, but the idea is to get youngsters hooked on golf when they are young and broke for later in life, when they are working parents with kids of their own.


One area that can be explored is how to attract today’s younger generation.  While these are presented only as food for thought, and not relevant to all clubs, ideas for discussion can include the following questions:  Are collared shirts essential?  Must the bills of caps face forward? Are jeans, cargo pants and baggy pants that offensive?   And what about the common ban on cell phones?  For many of us, cell phones are now an essential work tool and lifeline to family and office?  Times and lifestyles have changed.


As the father of a 19-year-old (college golfer) who dresses much like his peers, I appreciate it that he takes "acceptable" clothes to wear on the golf course.  I can’t help but wonder if plenty of kids who don’t grow up in golfing households never give golf a try because of the dress codes and rules.


Let’s face it, to many people, golf is perceived as an expensive, elitist’s game.  Country clubs in particular are often regarded as stuffy places with too many intrusive rules.  I know of a club that has a sign at its swimming pool with 8 pool rules, each beginning with the word "NO" in bright red letters. That same club has 219 golf rules, as opposed to the 34 rules deemed sufficient by the United States Golf Association (USGA).


Change is always received with some degree of trepidation, but golf needs to reconsider some of its traditions and rules, if it’s ever hopes to revitalize its own economic health.


Laurence A. Hirsh, CRE, MAI, SGA is the president of Golf Property Analysts, a leading golf  and club property consulting, appraisal and brokerage firm. He is based in Conshohocken, PA.  He has performed consulting and appraisal assignments on more than 2,500 golf & club properties in 45 US states, Canada and the Caribbean.  Hirsh is a frequent author and lecturer.  A founder and first president of the Society of Golf Appraisers (SGA), Hirsh has also developed a golf course and brokered more than $100 million in golf course & club properties.  He is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and an active golfer with a handicap of 1.


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Keith Haslam[9/12/2013 11:47:16 AM]
There are probably a multitude of reasons why the game is not growing, but I really think one of them is that golf is just not seen as a game people want to play and the "traditions" are becoming a little old fashioned and I am not sure by changing it is being disrespectful to the game of golf. I have seen people adhering to the dress codes be the worst dressed people in the clubhouse, I see golfers adhering to the dress codes not rake bunkers, not repair pitch marks and I have seen some very smartly dressed golfers cheat as well - I think the general assumption that changing the dress codes will invite cheats and people to be disrespectful is a bit of a generalisation. Plus, in new emerging golf markets such as Russia, Bulgaria etc, their culture is different and wearing a very smart pair of denims with a shirt and jacket is what everyone expects and not allowing this means golf will never take off. Things change, we don’t wear tweed jackets like Tom Morris did, we all use equipment that 20 years ago would have been unheard of! And recently I heard a very good statement from the GM of the Savoy in London - "traditions are just new innovations that we liked and kept" - maybe we need to keep innovating to have future traditions!
Kevin Shaw[9/12/2013 10:50:24 AM]
Growth of the game is essential, we do need to make a few changes. However we must also adhere to the traditions that make this game great. Especially the tradition of respect. Respect your surroundings. by appearing in dress that is appropriate.If you want to wear a rally cap go to a Eagles game , not to my course, if you want to wear jeans, ( and I do off course) wear them but not at my course. cargo shorts are OK but there are some course that do not think so . So be it. Respect is the foundation this game is built on. How can we expect our young players to call a penalty on themselves if they don’t respect the game, the course they are playing or the rules they are playing by. If you need your phone, excuse yourself, go to a place designated by the course to answer it and meet me on the next hole (emergencies excluded, of course) I can’t wait for the opportunity to turn mine off.I also don’t want to hear yours start ringing or listen to your conversation Enjoy the game as we all should, without the distractions of our modern life and pass THIS change onto our younger players to enjoy and stop thinking about how technology can interfere with it, how a dress code can enhance the experience rather than deter from it and enjoy the game for all it’s worth.
Steve[4/28/2010 5:55:52 PM]
Golf is a difficult game to learn. Golf takes too long to play 18 holes. Weekend play at most public courses is tedious at best. People give up on golf for those reasons IMO. It takes a lot of time to become reasonably proficient on the golf course. Not everyone can learn the game quickly and they become frustrated and quit. It takes a lot of dedication and time to break 100 and then 90 and then 80. I have a friend who started the game at age 50 or so a few years. He went to a golf school. Now he plays and shoots in the low 100s. I suggested that he take more lessons and try to improve. My suggestion fell on deaf ears. He just likes the thril of hitting an occasional good shot. All of your suggestions are good but in the end it takes someone who really wants to learn the game. There’s a difference between a golfer and one who plays golf.
Will[4/25/2010 5:00:29 PM]
Nobody looks good in cargo pants.
Russ[4/24/2010 3:07:07 PM]
Given how much time a round of golf takes these days, I think courses ought to offer 6-hole and 12-hole green fees. You could squeeze in a round over 2 or 3 days.

S-l-o-w play dragging down the game
Friday, November 6, 2009

Yet another article on “Slow Play”

By Steve Shaffer


A few weeks ago a friend called me to complain about another five-hour round on a hot, hazy, humid day at one of Philadelphia’s public courses. When he told me it was on a Tuesday morning, not a weekend morning, I was shocked to say the least.


Past experience has taught me to avoid public courses on weekend mornings, because the golfers are usually packed onto the course, and five-hour rounds are commonplace; I play most of my golf on weekdays or weekend afternoons.


The problem that day, my friend told me, was that the golfers ahead of his group—at least two or three groups—seemed to be struggling and they were all over the course. When my friend asked a ranger to speed them up, the ranger said he’d already tried, to no avail.


To get to the heart of the slow-play problem, I went to the “horse’s mouth” -- the head pro and the general manager of two of the area’s busier public courses.


At Warminster’s Five Ponds Golf Course, head pro Gary Deetscreek basically said that the golfing public has become resigned to the - to 5-hour rounds.


He made other points as well: Public courses are constrained by the quality of golf their patrons play as opposed to private clubs; when patrons complain, it often turns out there were off in their estimation of how long it took to play the round. At Five Ponds, they monitor a group’s starting time, when it make the turn and when it finished.  Rangers monitor play, said Deetscreek, but sometimes patrons tell them to “F… off.”  On rare occasions, patrons who were holding up play at Five Ponds have been asked to leave the course.


One recognized expert on slow play, Bill Yates, who consults clubs and courses on slow slow, has come up with what he believes are the 5 Major Factors in slow play.  They are:


-Management Practices and Policies

-Player Behavior

-Player Ability

-Course Maintenance and Set Up

-Course Design


When I told Deetscreek that some golfers refuse to play public courses on weekends because of slow play, he mentioned the famous line from Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”


After our interview, Deetscreek sent me a follow-up email with more observations on slow play, based on his 22 years at five different facilities and another five years at private clubs.  He cited eight factors that influence slow play, most importantly player ability:


1. Difficulty of course

2. Player Ability

3. Player Ability

4. Player Ability

5. Player Behavior

6. Course condition

7. Course Set-up

8. Course management and procedures


At Limekiln Golf Club in Horsham, a 27-hole course, general manager Robin Roberts, Jr., put the onus for slow play on the PGA Tour and its failure to penalize slow play. If the pros don’t speed things up, why should the public?


Like Deetscreek, Roberts cited course difficulty and player ability as factors in slow play.  He also added another:  The attitude of the golfer, or what Yates’ calls “Player Behavior.” Do they care about the groups behind them?  Some really don’t, according to Roberts.


Limekiln has preferred weekend tee times and carts are mandatory before 2 p.m. on weekends. Since there are three nines, tee times are filled on weekend mornings at 7-8-minute intervals until 8:30 a.m. This causes a built in 4.5 to 5 hour round, because as groups tee off on each nine, they must wait until the last group clears their nine to start on a new nine.


Roberts described slow play as a “constant battle,” and said his rangers sometimes ask a slow group to skip a hole, if they’re more than about a hole behind. He’s been there since 1990 and has never asked a group to leave the course because of slow play. He went on to say that if he only had 18 holes he would use 10-minute tee time intervals.  As it is, he recommends continuous putting as one way to speed up play.


If you ask me, public golf course management can do a better job by encouraging speedy play of the early morning weekend groups. As they go, so goes the rest of the day. Perhaps some incentives would help – maybe a sleeve of balls for finishing in 4 hours or less, a free hot dog, a discount on their next round, etc.


Of course, there are days when speedy play is impossible-in the spring when the rough can’t be cut and is high or when the course is cart paths only after a heavy rain, as Roberts pointed out. And, it goes without saying that public golfers should really care more about pace of play. More effective rangers would help too.  Courses should post guidelines for faster play near the first tee.  Would this sign on golf carts help?




Steve Shaffer is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and Temple University School of Law.  A semi-retired lawyer, he is a former member of Commonwealth National who now travels the region and the nation in search of new golf experiences.




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Steve Shaffer[11/9/2009 2:12:08 PM]
I played Limekiln Sunday, November 8. My tee time was 11:08 a.m. We started at about 11:15a.m. and finished at 4:00 p.m. so our round was 4:45 hours. Limekiln is not a difficult course. It was not cart paths only.I can attest that PLAYER ABILITY is the cause of our slow pace of play. We were behind 2 groups of players that did not seem to be anywhere near bogey golfers. This pace of play is the reason many golfers join private clubs. Slow play is just not tolerated at private clubs. When I was at Commonwealth,a much more difficult course than Limekiln, even bogey golfers finished under 4:10 hour rounds. Why? Because they cared.
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