Speaking at the Association's annual meeting in San Diego, USGA President Glen D. Nager outlined the main components of the multifaceted program, which will include:
* Analysis of key factors known to influence pace of play
* Development of a pace-of-play model based on quantifiable data
* Improvements to the USGA Pace Rating System
* On-site assistance at golf courses to help managers assess and improve pace of play
* Creation of player education programs
"The cry that pace of play has become one of the most significant threats to the game's health has become only louder over the last year," said Nager. "Industry research clearly shows that slow play and the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf detract from the overall experience and threaten to drive players away from the game. This problem touches every golfer, from the professional to the elite amateur to the collegiate player to the millions of recreational golfers at both public and private facilities."
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis added: "It is appropriate for the USGA to examine pace of play issues in part because we experience them at our own championships. Six-hour rounds are just not good for the players, our championships or the game. Slow play is also incompatible with our modern society, in which our personal time for recreation is compressed. This is an issue that demands our complete attention."
Stressing that pace of play cannot be tackled from a singular perspective Nager discussed in detail the various elements of the USGA initiative, which will commence this year. Emphasizing that the USGA will seek to establish partnerships with various golf industry leaders, from allied organizations to media partners to golf course managers, Nager said: "We must be committed to addressing over the long term the amount of time it takes to play, armed with the determination to improve pace of play and a belief that the time that golf takes to play can be reduced through the dedicated efforts of everyone connected with the game."
USGA Pace of Play Initiative:
Analysis of Key Factors: Factors known to influence pace of play include course design (overall length, green-to-tee walks, location and number of hazards); course management and setup (green speed, hole locations, height and location of rough); player management (most significantly, the proper distribution of starting times); and the effectiveness of player education programs.
Research to Produce Pace-of-Play Modeling: A major study is underway at the USGA's Research and Test Center to create the first-ever dynamic model of pace of play based on quantifiable data "“ a model that will be applicable to both competitive and recreational golf. Previous models and programs addressing pace of play have been based largely on observations and anecdotal evidence, while the new USGA model will draw from large-scale real-world inputs, including data from the PGA Tour's Shotlink system. Once completed, analysis of the model should greatly increase understanding of the key factors affecting pace of play and allow recommendations for improving pace of play on a course-by-course basis.
Pace Rating System: The Test Center model will drive improvements in the USGA Pace Rating System, first developed in 1993 to help players complete a round of golf at an optimum, reasonable pace. The USGA Handicap Department will utilize data from the Test Center model to better customize the Pace Rating System for individual courses
On-site Assistance at Golf Courses: New programs to help golf course managers assess and improve pace of play will be delivered by the USGA Green Section through its Turf Advisory Service. The group will expand its educational efforts about aspects of course management that impact pace of play. The on-site visits will evaluate the overall playing quality of a golf course, of which pace of play is a central component. Recommendations provided by the USGA may also generate economic and environmental benefits, providing additional incentives for course managers to implement new practices.
Player Education Programs: Nager said the Association needs to "double down" on its efforts to educate players on the fundamentals of how to play faster. To this end, the USGA will use its communication channels to reach its Members and the larger golf community with messages on improving pace of play, such as picking up one's ball on a hole once a player's Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) limit is reached. Other efforts could include promotion of alternate formats such as match play, foursomes and Stableford scoring that are popular in other parts of the world and that take less time to play than the standard individual stroke-play format. The TEE IT FORWARD campaign, developed in conjunction with The PGA of America, will continue to be promoted as a way to speed play and provide more enjoyment. The Association will support these educational efforts with an online resource center at www.usga.org that contains information to help golfers improve their pace of play.
"Progress in improving pace of play will come only when the entire golf community is committed to working seriously to address the issue," said Nager. "In this regard, I am pleased that the leadership of the PGA of America shares our concern about this critical issue. As our program develops, we look forward to engaging with the 27,000 members of the PGA, who can play an essential role in supporting our efforts to educate players and facility managers on how to improve pace of play."
The USGA will also work to promote the nine-hole round of golf as a viable option for golfers who are pressed for time. Contrary to the beliefs of some golfers, a nine-hole round is fully compatible with both the Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System. The USGA will work over the coming months with partners across the industry to identify the best opportunities to help golfers and golf facilities embrace and value the nine-hole experience.
"As a governing body, we can look at the Rules of Golf, at the Handicap System, and at many other factors from our unique position within the game to help to advance the contributions made by so many individuals and associations who have addressed this problem in the past," said Nager. "Significantly improving pace of play in the game is eminently possible, and we welcome the enthusiasm and contributions of the entire golf community as we work together toward this important goal."