Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fixing slow play in golf: reduce bottlenecks

Stephen Shmanske, in his recent book Golfonomics, sheds some light on slow play on the golf course. Bottlenecks – especially par 3’s – are as much to blame as any other factor. Shmanske shows how pace of play on par 4’s can be perfectly acceptable at 14 minutes a hole, but overall pace of play for a round gets blown away by queues at par 3’s. The delays start out very small early in the day, but can steadily grow to 30 minute waits.

The problem with par 3’s is that only one foursome can play the hole at a time. Unlike par 4’s, which have two playing “stations”, par 3’s have, by design, only one “station” on which to play. Where play per station on a par 4 is generally about 7 minutes (14 minutes for the hole), par 3’s almost always require 9 to 10 minutes for completion.. Golfers can easily make their way around the course in 7 minutes per station – until they reach the par 3. Then the queue builds up and golfers start to get annoyed.

Many pace of play “experts” suggest that the key to improving pace of play is to spread the tee times. Rather than 7 or 8 minute spacings, they suggest using 9 or 10 minutes. But that hurts the golf course financially, as fewer foursomes can be scheduled through the day. Those who advocate 9 or 10 minute spacings are essentially saying that the entire golf course should be spaced to the requirements of the par 3’s, with their 9 minute stations.

Shmanske offers a solution, but admits it is difficult to get buy in. In his book, he shows that queueing can be eliminated at par 3’s if the foursome on the green delays putting out for two minutes, and allows the foursome on the tee to hit to the green. Then, as the second foursome makes their way to the green and – of course – the greenside bunkers, the first foursome goes ahead and putts out. In effect, this tactic allows two foursomes to play on the par 3’s single “station” simultaneously.

I was skeptical upon first reading Shmanske’s solution, so I used an Excel spreadsheet to simulate the queueing. Shmanske is absolutely correct. Calling up the next foursome before putting on the par 3’s will definitely end delays at par 3’s. My local golf association experimented with this tactic on one tournament hole this summer, and discovered it worked well. For some reason, though, they reverted to the one foursome per par 3 norm for the next tournament, and experienced the 15 and 20 minute waits as play backed up.

It’s very difficult to implement the call up strategy during non-tournament open play. but I think we need to find a way at my golf course.



Heather said...

Interesting. The idea of eight balls on one green might be a bit distracting. I agree that the par 3 back-up can be annoying. I always use the time to clean my golf balls or clubs. If there's a water station, I fill up. I know this may sound crazy, but sometimes I just enjoy my company. If I'm in tournament play, this is the time I clarify names and where people are from.

I hate 5 hour rounds too, but I expect to spend a little over four hours every time I play 18 holes. I know several gals at my course that LOVE to brag about how quickly they played. What's the hurry? Last time I checked, there are no prizes for playing in 2 1/2 hours. If I don't have 4 hours to play 18, then I accept the situation and play 9. I love to golf as much as I can, but sometimes it takes longer than others. As my daughter's kindergarten teacher used to say, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."

Jet Beagle said...

Yeah, worrying about stepping on the putting lines of 7 other golfers would be a hindrance. But that's not going to be a big problem at my course. Three of our par threes are longer than 170 yards, and most golfers miss the green with their tee shots.

Our tournaments have regularly been 5 hour affairs. I've frequently seen four foursomes on the longer par threes - one on the green and three waiting on the tee.

LoneWolf said...

I've tried this technique on par 3's when there is a backup and more often than not the people on the tee don't understand what is happening when you wave them on or they just wave for you to go ahead -- they're in no hurry.

The only way for this to work is for everyone to do it properly and the best way for that to happen would be for the courses to have instructions posted on the tee (and perhaps near the green) on how this is to work. The foursome on the tee needs to be ready to take their shots as soon as they are waved on and the foursome on the green needs to wait in a safe spot near the green (on the green would be safest if I'm on the tee 8=)

The idea of worrying about the lines of the other 4 golfers (assuming they've hit the green) is moot. If they wait until you're gone you've probably walked on their lines already without knowing it.

5 hour rounds may be the norm, but they don't have to be anymore than traffic jams need to be the norm on freeways. All it takes is a little courtesy.

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Leslie said...

There's a course I used to play on back in my home town in South Africa. There's one par 3 that they call the pull-pit, with a considerable drop of 50 metres. It takes you forever to get down to the hole. But when you finally get to the green there'll already by 8 balls scattered on or around the green. Club rules are that you have to play if there is no one on the green yet - and it works. I definitely support the 8 ball play up :).

Martini Golf Tees said...

I agree with the 9 or 10 minute tee time, but as you wrote the financial impact on the game would ultimately not be worth it