If you golf more frequently than once per decade, you have faced the situation where you and your playing partners are having to wait for the group ahead to move so you can play. Since courses are not consistently all straight and short par 4’s, delays at a hole or two is common. But when you are waiting at every tee box and every approach shot while the players ahead dawdle, run back and forth to the cart to re-club and read every putt from every conceivable angle, you know you have a slow playing group ahead of you. (Or maybe you are the slow group and you see the group behind you waving — trust me, they are not just being friendly. Count the fingers.) A few times each year, a golfer playing in a professional tournament gets a penalty for slow play. What’s the deal with slow play penalties?
Slow Play Rules Can Differ
The rule says that a player must play “without undue delay” (whatever that may mean) and “in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish” (which is more helpful). In other words, every course and/or every tournament can decide to have their own slow play rules defined and enforced, as long as the rules committee sets it up. The PGA Tour has a set of slow play rules that cover all PGA Tour events. At your club, though, it is unlikely that slow play penalties are defined or enforced (unless you count the marshall who tells you to speed up). So an amateur player may play in three different tournaments and have three different (if any) slow play rules. If there are rules defined, the breach of those rules is a up to a two-stroke penalty.
The PGA Tour’s Slow Play Rules
The PGA Tour rules are pretty clear, but the enforcement can be arbitrary. To be put “on the clock” — the first step in penalizing a player for slow play — a gap between your group and the group ahead must be significant, usually greater than one hole. (Perhaps if your group is the first out in the day, you can’t be penalized because there is no group ahead of you to measure a gap.) Once the group has been notified that they are on the clock — and the entire group is “on the clock, not just one player” — each player is responsible to be ready to play their ball. When it is a player’s turn to play and they are at their ball or the teeing ground, they have 40 to 60 seconds to play. In theory, if it goes longer than that, the player gets a warning. If it occurs again in that round, the player gets a 1-stroke penalty. If it occurs a third time, the player gets an additional 2-stroke penalty, and if it occurs a fourth time the player is disqualified. However, some players routinely take longer than this and are never penalized. It will probably be a long time before the PGA Tour penalizes a top-20 player for slow play, but occasionally a low-ranking player or amateur playing in a pro tournament will get penalized.
What Can Be Done to Combat Slow Play at My Course?
Slow play can be addressed in two official ways. First, the USGA and the R&A can put more definition around “undue delay”, and define it as “upon reaching his ball, or upon taking relief or getting a rules clarification, a player has 45 seconds to strike the ball.” This way, in all games (friendly games, amateur tournaments or pro tournaments) the rules are clear. Frankly, the USGA’s effort to address slow play by running TV ads is weak given that they have the ability to define the rules.
The second way to address it is at your club itself. Each club has a rules committee, and each committee has the power to establish slow play rules. Ask them to set up the rules and post them in the pro shop and/or on the scorecard themselves.
The least effective way to address it is to hit into the group ahead of you, yell at them, confront them in the bar, and try to embarrass them. Not only will you likely get punched or kicked out of your club, you will have not enjoyed the day. If the group ahead of you is slow, either skip a hole or just enjoy more quality time with your golfing buddies.
USGA Rule 6-7
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