Without Undue Delay: Playing Efficient Golf

I am well-known in my golfing circles for playing quickly. Growing up on a local municipal course, often with the need to finish between the end of school and dark, I developed a series of quick play habits that are not often developed by other golfers. I advocate fairly loudly for a movement to decrease the time-cost involved with golf, and I feel that it is the cost of time, not money, that ultimately impedes the healthy development of the game. As an observer of the daily operation of large-scale resort golf; I delight in seeing efficient golf habits and cringe when I see less-than-ideal situations arise, the effects of which may not felt by the group in question but definitely by those behind.

A common misconception of efficient play is that the golfer must rush in order to play in under 3-4 hours. This post will illustrate small things groups can do in order to play most efficiently without ever feeling the need to rush, and most importantly, without ever feeling rushed. It is important for me to note that at no point will I advocate doing anything faster, and I will approach the ideas from the standpoint of feeling. At no point should a golfer feel rushed, and this is accomplished by minimizing down-time from shot to shot.

Walking v. Carts: Spending More Time Doing and Less Time Waiting

That carts are somehow a quicker way to play golf than walking may be the largest misconception of pace-of-play. In fact, it takes a nearly perfect storm of course conditions, golfer capacity and timing in order to see any significant pace-of-play advantage with carts over walking. In my opinion, the majority of slow-play habits have developed due to the presence of the golf cart. As such, the majority of this post will address groups using golf carts. Considering how much simpler it is to simply pick up a bag and proceed to the next shot should be enough to sell the notion that walking is indeed as quick, or quicker, than a round with a cart in the majority of cases.

This point touches on the above concept that minimizing downtime will make the golfer feel less rushed while playing more efficiently. The only aspect of golf accelerated by the golf cart is the time it takes to travel from the location of one shot to the next. This acceleration is directly affected by the ability to get near the ball; something which we do not take for granted especially as the golfer approaches the putting green – the area where the majority of shots will occur for most holes. Invariably, this limited acceleration leads to a situation where golf carts move players from the tee to the landing area on the hole faster than the group in front of them can clear the green. The net result? Downtime in the fairway.

Now consider the walking group, whose transit time to the next shots now synchronizes with the time taken by the group in front to clear the green in a more efficient way. The walking group may not get to their next shots quicker than a group with carts, however, they will have spent more time actively getting to their shots and less time waiting to play them – perhaps the major contributor to an efficient pace without feeling rushed.

Removing golf carts from the picture of pace-of-play is not realistic in the current economic model of golf. Therefore, little progress on the subject can be made if the discussion is limited to the now generation old golf cart v. walking debate. Let’s move on and discuss how to use the golf cart more efficiently through two main points.

1. Put the golf cart between the ball and the target.

Alright, obviously not directly in between! Instead, think that the first steps taken toward the golf cart after playing a shot should be forward as it relates to the target and not backward (in other words, you’re getting closer to the green than the tee). In the fairway, this means driving the golf cart a little bit beyond the ball and walking back to play the shot. At the green, this means parking carts between the green and the next tee where possible, and behind the green where it is not.  At first thought, this may seem like a zero-sum proposition with any time saved but the cases where the time spent cancels out are rare for one very good reason: By walking backwards to play a shot and then walking forward after the shot is played the golfer is clearing the target area faster, therefore allowing the group behind to play. Walking backward to play the shot also adds a bit of activity which negates the downtime caused by getting to the ball quicker with the cart, contributing to a unrushed feeling. For these two reasons, this is the absolute most important method to improve the efficiency of your next round of golf with a golf cart.

2. Minimize golf cart trips wherever possible.

This one takes a bit of understanding of the golf course, and an allowance for golfers not familiar with the routing is needed. The biggest time saver comes in times where the routing bends at a 90° angle from the green to the next tee. By parking the golf cart next to the tee, grabbing putter and driver and proceeding directly from the green to the tee the group will minimize cart trips. Care should obviously be taken to not disturb the group in front and each context is different. The advantage of having one cart trip serve upwards of four shots extrapolated over several holes (if not all) should be obvious.

A sub-point to this idea happens with nearly every group on every hole. One player can grab putter/sand-wedge/chipping clubs and walk to the green while the partner takes the cart to the appropriate spot. This hammers home the point: Increase doing and minimize waiting.

The other sub-point here is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of golf cart use: The ball-to-ball shuttle service. Every golfer has seen a group where one player sits in the golf cart waiting on his partner to play and then both drive to the waiting partner’s ball while the other waits. In terms of adding downtime to a round, this may be the largest contributor and the ripple effect is felt with every group behind. Suddenly, one player’s downtime becomes an entire golf course’s. The solution is simply put and the combination of everything written above, drop the player off at the first ball reached in the fairway (the players who also, not just coincidentally, have the honor to play) and drive forward to the other players’ positions. Watch the time previously bled out sitting and waiting contribute to a much more active and enjoyable round!

Optimization

The model for efficient golf will come when players familiar with the course layout can combine the above two points. Suddenly, the traffic begins to develop a rhythm and flow that negates or compensates for other contributing factors to slow play like pre-shot routines and differences in ability. I am curious if any readers have further input and what some specific experiences are with cart-flow management.

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