Golf courses are in trouble. The game has been losing players and not creating new ones. One big culprit? Slow play. The courses are getting bigger because the equipment we use today allows elite players to drive the ball so far they should file a flight plan. Plus, most courses are residential developments and developers make more by cramming in more houses. But the main problem is that hacks like me emulate what we see the pros do on TV. Those folks take forever to set up their shots. Lining things up, tossing grass in the air, pulling the perfect club. So we do, too. Here’s the difference: pros usually have some idea where their ball is going. Even average golfers take an additional 30 strokes. End result? It takes five and a half hours to play a course, and few people have that kind of time. So, how can we get things moving?

When I posed this problem to readers, I received dozens of thoughtful suggestions for speeding up the game and attracting more players. (I also got a note from the wife of a recent retiree, who’d love for someone to open a 25-hole golf course to fill her husband’s newly emptied calendar.) The purpose of this column is to use creativity to solve a problem rather than spend your way to a solution, so I systematically removed the helicopter-caddy or conveyor-belt-cart-path types of solutions. (Though I’d love to play one of those courses some day.) Here are my three favorite solutions, all of which are inexpensive to implement.

No. 1: Chop Up the Course
David Rothstein, Los Angeles    
Take an 18-hole course and split it into three six-hole courses--each with one par 3 and one par 5. That way, the player can choose how much time to commit: one, two, or four hours to play six, 12, or 18 holes, respectively.

I like this idea, because it lets people who are in a rush play through. Plus, breaking up the course could provide new revenue opportunities like pro shops or restaurants and beer gardens on each turn. It also gives players a natural exit point on the course--something that isn’t always obvious at many courses.   

No. 2: Charge by the Minute
Joe Sievers, Seattle    
Offer a discounted green fee if customers report back to the pro shop or restaurant after the round within a certain time limit--or an extra bonus percentage off your their next round. You could also make groups who play significantly slow pay an additional surcharge on top of their green fee. This encourages people to move at a brisker pace, play ready golf and give up looking for a $2 ball for 10 minutes when the cost savings is more significant. The golf course wins by moving more golfers through during peak weather and weekend tee times.

Joe’s is a practical model and pay-by-the-minute was a popular suggestion. Golf is one of the only sports that allows players to think for a few minutes before every time they put the ball in play. Imagine what Steve Nash could do with that.

No. 3: Use Fewer Clubs
D. Adams, Auburn, New York    
Occasionally, we have fun playing “One Club.” Two players who are partners must select one club to carry for each player and one golf ball. You have to improvise and use your one club in different ways, depending on where your partner just left the last shot.

Sorry, purists. D. Adams is having fun here, which is what everyone needs to do on the course. I got a lot of suggestions to make the cup bigger or to put a GPS in the ball. But this simple idea is a free way to put a little Caddyshack into your afternoon. It’s easy to imagine that the side bets and laughs will make for the most memorable rounds you’ll ever play. 

Published on: Oct 8, 2013