From the Golf Journal Archives - Are You a Slow Player? Are You Sure?

Mar 09, 2012

By John D. Ames, USGA President

(Note: This article originally appeared in the June 1958 issue of Golf Journal.)

One breed of golfers goes out to the course happy and in high spirits. That’s fine, but these men laugh, joke and gambol their way around, and four hours and more pass in a flash. Their contented preoccupation often blinds them to the fact that they are holding up other players.

Accuse them of slow play and, in blissful ignorance, they will deny it emphatically.

The tortoises of golf include some business executives whose work, ironically enough, often entails the establishment of good will. Yet on the course they can become self-centered, totally unaware of the atmosphere of ill will they are creating behind them.

Another occasionally difficult breed is the golf fanatic who takes the game so seriously that informal rounds are treated as meticulously as the club championship.

The fanatic is sometimes filled with theories which he has to recall and rehearse before each shot. His golf is usually no better in consequence.

In between these types you have the average golfer who loves his weekend game and wants to get on with it. What’s to be done?

What is Slow Play?

The first step is to define slow play. In an attempt to arrive at a satisfactory answer, we asked a number of players of various levels of ability and a number of officials for their opinions.

Rex Baxter, of Amarillo, Texas, a member of the Walker Cup Team, thinks it is: “A needless taking up of time which slows other players.”

Totton P. Heffelfinger, of Minneapolis, Minn., chairman of the Golf Committee at the Minikahda Club and a former president of the United States Golf Association, holds a similar opinion: “Any unnecessary delay in play.”

Dr. Frank M. Taylor, Jr., of Pomona, Calif., the runner-up in the last Amateur Championship, applies an interesting text: “Players are slow when they consistently have open holes ahead and players piled up behind.”

Several attempted to relate slow play to specific time intervals, but the length and difficulty of courses and the degrees of crowding vary so widely that this does not seem to be a fruitful approach to the problem.

To us, needless actions holding up the flow of play constitutes slow play.

Although delaying other players is often an indication of slow play, it is not a final test. Some, by nature, move more slowly than others, but a player whose normal pace is slightly slower than another may not be guilty of needless delaying actions. (He should, of course, let the faster player through.) Some become involved unavoidably in situations which require a bit of extra time. They may temporarily delay other players without being guilty of needless delaying actions. (They should, of course, catch up quickly.)

And by the same token, the last players on the course may be guilty of a thousand needless delaying actions even when there is no one behind them. They are delaying each other and the flow of play – not to mention any scorers and officials who may be waiting for them.

Having defined it, how do we solve it?

The solution is not hopeless, but it is difficult. It will be found only when the gay gamboleers and the solemn fanatics finally come to identify themselves for what they are and to recognize the rights and desires of others. The corrective process is, according to Harold Sargent, president of the Professional Golfers’ Association, one of “education.” He means continuous and repetitive education.

Are You Slow?

Every golfer is opposed to slow play, as a matter of principle. Unfortunately, almost every golfer considers himself a fast player, and so slow players rarely relate themselves to admonitions against slow play.

We asked each one of the players and officials with whom we discussed this matter if they considered themselves slow players. Every one responded with an emphatic “no.” We happen to know these individuals well enough so that we have no reason to doubt their self-appraisals – and yet the nature of the replies was indicative. We have never heard this question answered with a “yes.”

You might ask yourself these questions:

Are you a fast player or a slow one?

Do your clubmates agree?

If you would carry this further, work out with your conscience answers to these questions:

Are you always ready to tee up when your turn comes, or does your turn frequently catch you unaware, with your ball unwashed, your driver still in the bag and without a tee?

Do you take one or more practice swings immediately before each stroke? If so, why?

Do you waggle your club simply to get the rhythm for the stroke, or are you engaging in a mannerism or stalling for time while you think out a problem you should have thought out before you addressed the ball?

Are you silent and attentive when others are about to play, or do you sometimes distract and delay them by engaging in idle chatter?

Do you watch every ball hit until it comes to rest, so wild strokes can be quickly found, or are you concerned only with where your own ball comes to rest?

Are you one of those who holds up play be explaining your bad shots and reexamining your swing? You cannot alter the result and few will be interested in your explanation.

Do you speed a double caddie’s work by taking the club or clubs you will need when your partner’s ball is in trouble, or do you wait for the caddie to criss-cross back to you with your club after your partner has played?

Do you replace your own divots when you have a double caddie and your partner is waiting to play, or do you require the boy to do it and delay your partner?

Do you stand near your playing companion while he plays and then move over to your own ball, or are you at your own ball whenever possible without interfering and ready to play as soon as it is your turn?

Do you think out your next shot as far as possible while walking to your ball and waiting for others to play, or do you wait until it is your turn to play before starting to estimate the distance, the effect of the wind and the relative advantages of different types of strokes?

Do you walk forward or consult the scorecard to check distances as a matter of habit, even on your home course, or do you make it a point to remember them?

Do you line up your putts and remove loose impediments as much as possible in advance, or do you worry about what your opponent may do until it is your turn?

Do you request that other balls be marked and lifted on the putting green as a matter of routine, or do you do this only when Rule 35 permits because of a real possibility of physical interference or assistance?

Do you re-try putts while others are waiting behind you, or do you get on with the game?

Do you determine the scores and mark the scorecard on the putting green while others are waiting behind you, or do you do this while walking to the next tee?

Your answers will tell you whether there are ways in which you might expedite your own play.

Golf committees have tried to cope with this problem on the club level in an infinite variety of ways:
-By constructive letters to slow players.
-By signs and slogans.
-By the use of course rangers.
-By permitting slow players only late starting times.
-By suspension of playing privileges.

Jack Fleck Suggests Slogans

Jack Fleck, the 1955 Open champion, is an advocate of the signs-and-slogans approach and suggests:


Other slogans which might be effective at strategic points in the clubhouse and on the course are:










Club golfers often look to the tournament players for inspiration, and it is a pity that a few of the country’s best set a bad example as far as speed is concerned. It has always seemed incongruous to us that the cream, instead of operating with the dexterity of master craftsmen, often resort to painstaking deliberations.

Everyone has seen the player “picking up nothing and throwing it no place,” as Miss Barbara Romack so aptly put it.

Copying mannerisms, and delaying ones at that, reflects only on your own lack of analysis. Van Wyck Brooks in his recent book “From a Writer’s Notebook,” expressed it neatly when he said: “Mannerism is the sign of a second rate mind; pride in mannerism is the sign of a third-rate mind.”

That might form a good quote for any first tee. Expressing similar sentiments, and equally appropriate, would be Robert Burns’ famous lines:

“0 wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!”

However it is done, golfers must be reawakened to their duty to their fellow players.

Golf, unlike the more agile sports, calls for a good deal of thought. That thought has to be applied not only to the playing of each shot, but to anticipatory moves.

Time Can Be Saved

It only needs each player to save five seconds per shot to save half an hour per round for a group of four. Translate that into practice: If the player who has the honor stops to wash his ball, he can lose five seconds. If the second player takes a couple of practice swings, five seconds more. And so on. The timesaving possibilities are infinite with just a modicum of application.

Committees have an advantage in tournament play. They can invoke Rule 37-7 which reads in part:

”Players shall at all times play without undue delay.

“Penalty: Match play – loss of hole; Stroke play – two strokes. For repeated offense—Disqualification.”

Nearly all the players with whom we talked believed that this Rule should be invoked more frequently in competitions, after appropriate warnings. The players represented a cross-section of amateurs and professionals, youth and experience, men and women. Some of them were Rex Baxter, Jr., Jack Fleck, Ed Furgol, William Hyndman, III, Charles R. Kocsis, Harold Sargent, Miss Curtis, Mrs. Ernie Burke of Indianapolis (Miss Jane Nelson), and Mrs. Scott L. Probasco, Jr., of Chattanooga, Tenn.

Apathy Towards Slow Play

People have grown apathetic to slow play. They have come to accept it as a necessary evil which cannot be eliminated. Even some golf administrators resignedly stated that there was, in their opinion, no solution to the problem.

We do not take this negative attitude. To be complacent is contrary to the spirit of the American people, and especially to the sports-loving community who are fervent in their allegiance to the game they love.

Slow play can hurt the development of the game at clubs and public interest in tournaments. Many people do not have time to play if a round consumes the better part of a day. And spectators quickly lose interest in players who cannot seem to get on with the play of the next stroke.

We appeal, therefore, to you all to make a conscious effort in this time-saving age to streamline your round.

(USGA Museum)

(USGA Museum)

(USGA Museum)