THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Jack Furlong
The attention span of sports fans has dwindled over the years, resulting in professional leagues making alterations to their games to force action and keep viewers intrigued through a consistent pace of play. For example, gridiron football added the play clock; basketball added the shot clock; and tennis added the serve clock. Baseball made the most recent and most drastic changes, adding a pitch clock that forces both the offense and defense to be ready for play (whereas most other clocks put the onus only on the offense).
One sport that doesn’t always come up when discussing pace of play at the professional level is golf. Sure, there are rules that govern pace of play, but the chances of coming up against one with risk of penalty are slim. A news story may pop up from time to time about the pace of play during a major tournament, but most professionals are conditioned to work at a pace that never truly results in an issue regarding the pace of a round.
However, as golf is an accessible and recreational sport played by so many people of so many ages, the pace of play at the amateur level (such as at your local public course) becomes more of a social issue than one that might result in a stroke penalty. The traffic jams that result in slow play do more to affect customer service and business than the actual competition within the sport. The resulting stories of aggravation tend to revolve around the group ahead or behind that skirt etiquette, resulting in golfers feeling things like anxiety, frustration, and/or anger.
Some pace of play issues simply cannot be avoided at your local course. If it’s a beautiful day when most people don’t have to work, the number of golfers who flock to the course can be quite high, resulting in a natural backup that happens like the ones during rush hour on major highways. However, even when these issues arise, golfers can take precautions to ensure they’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Most golf courses try to govern the pace of play so that everyone’s game can be more enjoyable. Groups of golfers are capped at four, and golf carts can be required in high volume situations. Some courses book better golfers earlier in the day and not-so-good golfers later in the day so that handicaps are more uniform and dictate a more proper pace of play. Different colored tees and their placement can change the difficulty of each hole, allowing a golfer with a higher handicap to start closer to the green than a more experienced golfer. Perhaps most importantly, many golfers have adopted the policies of “ready golf,” meaning the etiquette of waiting for golfers who are farther from the hole to go first is waived in the name of speeding up the game; in other words, if you’re ready to go, just go!
And yet, some golfers are still oblivious to these guidelines and their slow pace. Some players believe it is their right to take as much time as needed since they are paying customers, and if that means taking an eternity to line up a putt, then so be it. Others believe that the golf course is the perfect social opportunity to consume alcohol or smoke marijuana, altering their behavior and state of consciousness while ignoring the consequences this might have on others around them. This behavior can be reflective of the same obliviousness towards people elsewhere in life, demonstrating a lack of general courtesy for their fellow man.
Acting this way, though, isn’t just reserved for the golfers. Many courses employ rangers whose responsibility is to drive around the course and ensure that golfers are adhering to the rules, especially regarding pace of play. There are many rangers who do a great job, but there are also plenty of rangers who align more with the oblivious golfers, believing it is their job to treat the course like sacred ground and reprimand every person who so happens to commit even a minor infraction. Ultimately, both golfers and course employees have the power to do the same thing: create undue conflict for the public because of a lack of common sense and the inability to choose the proper words to communicate.
Regardless of our role on the course, the sportsmanship involved with our words and actions can significantly alter our experience and the experience of others. Walking the fine line between taking our time and keeping a good pace can take practice, but a simple awareness for others around us might be the catalyst to finding that balance. Course rangers might see a better pace when they ask for help from golfers to assist with their desire to improve the pace, rather than demanding change to adhere to the rules.
Public and amateur golf has the potential to become a powder keg of pretentiousness and arrogance that breeds contempt rather than enjoyment. The game of golf is already difficult, and yet everyone involved with the game can make it harder than it needs to be due to poor sportsmanship, poor communication, and a lack of awareness for others. Imagine how much more enjoyable a day on the course could be if everyone embraced the personal responsibility to be conscious and empathetic of the others present.