Enlightening forum shows drive to speed up golf is finally gathering pace
A ROGUE’S gallery, a hall of infamy? Call it what you like, there appears to be a desire to have golf’s slow coaches publicly outed. “There is maybe a fear to publish,” suggested Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, during day two of the Time for Golf forum on pace of play at St Andrews. Funnily enough, those are the same words the sports editor mutters when poring over this scribe’s copy.
While the names of golfers who have racked up so-called ‘bad times’ on the European Tour are pinned up in the tournament office at each event, they are not made readily available to all and sundry. Over two enlightening days, in which a host of slow play related solutions have been kicked about, Slumbers expressed an enthusiasm for a bit of naming and shaming.
Officials on the European men’s circuit have dished out 24 penalty shots on the tour since 1998, which doesn’t appear to be that many. In comparison with PGA Tour events in the US, though, it’s sizeable. There hasn’t been one player penalised in a regular event there since 1995.
There is a general belief it is only the rank and file players who are targeted by referees but Kevin Feeney, a tournament director with the European Tour, insisted that was not the case. “At the Open this year, I moved in on a group with Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia,” said Feeney. “Sergio made an effort to speed up and I thanked him but Jordan, who is usually pretty quick, didn’t and I said ‘you’re on the clock’. We are targeting individuals.”
Feeney revealed the number of bad times on the European Tour this year was 51 compared to 65 in 2014 and 67 in 2013. “The message is getting across but it’s taken a Herculean effort,” he said.
Those efforts are not helped by players who routinely play slow, speed up when the referee arrives and then revert to a funereal pace when the official departs. “Extreme selfishness,” is how the respected coach, Denis Pugh, put it. Stephen Gallacher, the Scottish touring pro, was more damning. “It’s a form of cheating,” he declared.
Whether it’s reducing the time allowed to look for a ball from five minutes to three or allowing players to keep the flag in while putting, to rewarding recreational golfers who up the pace with a free pint and a sandwich, the campaign to get the game moving seems to be gathering pace.