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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Jim Meehan on golf: Slow play on local courses takes fun out of the game

Slooowww plaaayyy.

The United States Golf Association ran commercials a few years ago with Arnold Palmer, Paula Creamer, Butch Harmon and Annika Sorenstam nudging dawdling golfers to pick up the pace: “While we’re young.”

The best one featured a youngster lobbing the phrase at Tiger Woods grinding over a 5-footer at a putt-putt.

Loved those ads, and not just because they featured one Rodney Dangerfield’s best lines in “Caddyshack.”

Five-hour rounds are about as enjoyable as shanking a wedge or making a quadruple bogey. I rarely bother playing on weekends when courses are crowded. I’ve quit after nine countless times rather than endure a 2 ½-hour closing nine.

MeadowWood pro Bob Scott has “While we’re young” signs posted at his course but he’s not sure the majority of younger players get the reference. There’s a similar sign in Qualchan’s pro shop.

Both courses have had good results with keeping players moving at a reasonable pace. Qualchan’s goal is 4 hours, 18 minutes, which includes a five-minute break between nines. MeadowWood aims for 4:16.

The courses track times, marking down when groups leave the first tee. Qualchan wants a group to be through the first five holes in 70 minutes. Marshals have a spreadsheet that helps them monitor every group.

“If somebody plays in that time period (4:18) we don’t bother them at all,” Qualchan pro Mark Gardner said. “When they get outside the time, we might come by and politely tell them if they’re 10 minutes behind the pace.”

The scourge of slow play has long irritated Scott.

“The problem you run into is a foursome starting early enough can ruin it for 200 people,” said Scott, who usually marshals on busy Saturdays. “We want to be nice about it but at the same time periodically if you have to tick off four people to make 200 happy I’m going to do it.

“It’s like driving in the passing lane on the freeway going 60 when the speed limit is 70.”

A few months ago, Scott followed a foursome of ladies in their 70s with average scores around 95. He charted their times to play each hole, which helped him arrive at the 4:16 goal.

Scott hasn’t booted anybody off the course but he tries to coax along slower groups.

“You want everybody to enjoy golf,” Scott said, “but once you get to that 4½-5 hour round, a lot of people don’t enjoy it.”

The European Tour adopted a new pace-of-play policy in January that included the possibility of assessing offending players a one-stroke penalty. PGA pro Billy Horschel has stated that stroke penalties would be more effective than the current system with fines.

The LPGA trimmed an average round by 14 minutes in 2014 by moving tee time intervals from 10 minutes to 11.

Qualchan adjusts the course set-up to encourage quicker play, including friendlier pin locations to lower the chance of three-putts and keeping the rough down so players aren’t spending extended time searching for their ball.

“Weekends are always a little easier set-up than other days,” Gardner said.

Scott said one of the best decisions he made regarding pace of play was prohibiting fivesomes prior to the 2009 season.

Scott’s and Gardner’s advice: Play “ready golf” and use common sense.

“You see everyone hits a shot and goes to one ball, and they hit that ball and they all go to the next ball,” Scott said. “Be ready to hit your shot after the other person hits.”

“So many people try to get a little practice in during their round, work on their swing,” Gardner said. “They need to be ready to play. If that’s your ball and nobody is in front of you feel free to play.

“Just be aware of little things. Taking an extra minute or two a hole takes it from 4:18 to 4:45. Do your scorecard on the next hole. Cut down looking for balls to three minutes.”

Rules, marshals and courses can only do so much. Players need to do their part.

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