Blame it on Jack Nicklaus. Ever since the “Golden Bear” came along, with his yardage books and methodical approach to every shot, amateur golfers have adopted a similar style of play. That is to say, painfully slow.
Nicklaus’ pace was justified by a record 18 major titles claimed during his incomparable career. Besides, he was a notoriously fast walker between shots. The everyday golfer, though, has no reason to analyze the lie, wind and green contour with Nicklaus-like intensity.
What’s the big deal about slow play? After all, golf is supposed to be a leisurely game, right?
Yes, but there’s a difference between leisure time and wasted time. In America, golfers long ago crossed the line. Consider that in Scotland – the game’s ancestral home – a four-hour round is considered an abomination. In the U.S., that’s a pretty quick pace for a foursome playing 18 holes. What’s more, the Scots eschew golf carts in favor of walking, while Americans have become dependent on motorized transport around the course.
If golfers would just follow this handful of simple directives, the game would be much quicker – and more enjoyable for everyone.
Practice “ready golf”
It’s a time-honored golf tradition that the player who scores lowest on one hole tees off first on the next. Forget about it. Instead, whoever is ready to hit first should hit first, and so on until everyone has played.
Pick up putts “inside the leather”
Unless you’re playing in a competition where the rules state you must hole out, there’s no need to attempt any putt shorter than 18 inches or so. Most regular golfers adhere to the “inside the leather” guideline: Place the putter head in the hole and lay the club on the ground toward the ball. If the bottom of the grip (i.e. the leather) falls beyond the ball, the putt is conceded.
Don’t obsess over lost balls
Officially, golf’s rules allow 5 minutes to search for a ball before it must be deemed lost. In a casual round, reduce that to 3 minutes.
Yes, golf balls can be expensive, costing upwards of $4 each for premium brands. If you are loathe to lose these precious eggs, purchase used balls from a local retailer or one of the many online outlets that sell balls that are “broken in.” Most offer quality balls in various stages of wear, from badly battered to barely bruised.
One mulligan, period
Another of golf’s kinder informalities is the allowance of a “mulligan,” or do-over. Typically observed on the first tee, a mulligan lets the golfer try again, at no penalty, after misplaying her initial attempt.
Mulligans should be kept to a minimum – one per round. Too many amateurs give themselves practically unlimited mulligans, lengthening their rounds by adding shots plus time to track down an extra ball.
Prepare while your partner plays
Golf carts are intended to speed up the game, and they do – but only when used properly. Here’s an example of all-too-common cart misuse:
Two golfers riding together tee off. One hits into the right rough, the other down the fairway’s left side. They drive to the ball of the first golfer, who plays his shot while his partner watches from the cart. Then they drive to the second golfer’s ball, where the scene is repeated.
Here’s the preferred, speedier method: Drive to the first player’s ball and, as he prepares and then hits, golfer #2 walks (or drives) to his ball, having chosen a club or two. By the time golfer #1 has played, golfer #2 is in position and ready to hit.
Walk, don’t ride
This may seem counter-intuitive, given that a cart covers ground much quicker than a golfer on foot. But thanks to the above scenario, riding often takes much longer than it should. When walking, most golfers go directly to their own ball, not their partner’s, then play when ready.
Besides, walking is much healthier and offers a more engaging, natural interaction with the course.
Just ask the Scots.