Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK
Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK

Traditionally, three reasons have been put forward for what was, until recently, a steady decline in golfing numbers over the past decade.

First, it is too difficult. Second, it is too expensive. And third, it takes too long.

It’s hard to argue with any of these notions. Golf is as difficult a sport as one could find and even the very best of players will admit they are unable to truly master the game for any length of time.

For us amateurs, the attraction of golf is that you are only ever one shot away from glory. The problem is that you’re only ever one shot away from the game bringing you to your knees, too.

Then the costs. Yes, you could argue that it is possible to play the game on the cheap, but then you’d be missing out on all the fun of playing premium golf courses and improving your set of clubs with the latest, best new models.

Unfortunately, the reality is that a brand-new set of golf clubs could set you back R25,000 — and that’s before you factor in green fees. Some of the top estate courses around the country will happily knock you over a grand to tee it up during their peak season, while joining a golf club can be quite a hefty investment too.

All of this hardly makes golf the kind of sport accessible to the majority of the South African public and it is understandable that participation numbers have been on the decline.

Yet, here’s an interesting fact. Since the onset of Covid-19, we have seen a steady upturn in the number of golfers and rounds played on our many wonderful golf courses in SA. Globally the trend continues.

Credit must go to GolfRSA. While other sports remained closed, the federation moved quickly to convince the government that its Covid risk mitigation plans would ensure that golf facilities were safe spaces where people could exercise and enjoy their favourite pastime.

Estimates are that the number of rounds in SA have grown by 10%-20% on pre-Covid days. It’s wonderful for the sport and shows how golfers seem to have found a way to get around the cost and the difficulty of the sport.

Sadly, there seems to be no discernible effort to speed up play. And it is slowly squeezing the life out of the game.

Really, it’s not that hard, guys. There is no good reason for any round of golf to take much more than four hours, and yet we regularly hear stories of rounds taking over five hours to complete. Hit, wait, hit. Rinse and repeat.

Corporate days are the worst offenders, with a combination of novice golfers, sponsor activations and, often, alcohol slowing things down to a snail’s pace. It’s enough to turn diehard golfers away from the game, never mind new or returning players.

The great irony is that if you ask any golfer in any fourball, they will tell you they are not slow. It’s much easier to point the finger at somebody else.

So, is it time for us to have our golfing interventions and reveal some uncomfortable truths to the plodders in each of our fourballs? “Sorry Johnny, but we need to talk. Are you sitting down? I know this is hard to hear, and please know that we will support you through the rehabilitation process, but the thing is, well, you’re a slow player.”

What, then, are some of the solutions to speeding up play? For starters, there needs to be a concerted effort by everyone to pick up their pace. It sounds obvious, but one slow coach at the front of the field can slow the entire day down.

The easiest solution is for players to play “ready golf”. This means that if you are ready to play, and you’re not going to distract or endanger a playing partner by doing so, just go ahead and hit, even if you are closest to the green.

And when it’s not your turn to play — get ready. Don’t wait for your playing partner to hit before selecting your club or reading your putting line. This goes for when you are on the tee as well. This is not professional golf, and it is meant to be fun, so kindly stop with the seven practice swings and repeated club switching.

For some players, a solution could be to put the ego aside and play from the tees that are most suited to their ability. So instead of Johnny the 22-handicap playing the course off the tips, rather let him move a few tees up and adjust his course handicap accordingly. I guarantee that he will have more fun, make more pars and birdies, and will undoubtedly speed up because he is no longer taking three shots to reach the par-four green.

Although there are plenty of other tips that can help speed up play, unless there is a general commitment to playing quicker, we are going to find many golfers becoming frustrated and turning away from the game.

So, for the love of golf, please hurry up.

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