Learning from the Scots and Irish
I was in Scotland recently playing courses in and around St. Andrews with three of my closest friends. We had glorious weather (the rumors of wind and rain in Scotland are totally unfounded). I had been to Scotland many times in the past, but on this especially wonderful trip I noticed some things that somehow escaped me on prior visits. The first thing is the pace of play was amazingly quick without being the least bit rushed. We played premier courses including the Old Course in three-and-a-half hours walking as a foursome. The courses were full, but everyone moved briskly. I was curious as to why the pace of play was so much better in Scotland than it typically is in the U.S.
There appear to be two explanations.
In Scotland, it is expected that you will be prepared to hit your shot immediately when it is your turn to play. This means that once you hit, you go to your ball watching behind you to ensure you are not interfering with another player’s next stroke or running the risk of a wayward Pro V1 ball making a dimple on your rear. By the time it’s your turn to play, you’ve determined yardage, selected a club and decided exactly how you want to play the shot. I don’t see this much in the U.S., but I’m convinced it reduces the time for a round by 15 to 30 minutes without negatively affecting the quality of play or the enjoyment of the experience. Even great golfers in major competitions can play at pace. At this year’s 119th BMW Philadelphia Amateur, finalists Jeff Osberg and Jeremy Wall, amazingly talented golfers, played each round of the Final in just more than three hours.
Another factor in pace of play is that the Scots and Irish love different types of competition. Stableford scoring is very common with players picking up on a hole when a point is no longer possible. For some reason a Stableford score of “0” on a hole seems much less catastrophic than an “X” on a card. On our second day at Prestwick, all the early groups were playing foursomes. Here in the U.S., we don’t like to play alternate shot despite its popularity in the Ryder Cup (I must note that my playing partner Russ Ball visibly blanched at the thought of having to play his shots from the heather and gorse areas and pot bunkers where my balls usually come to rest.). Those foursome groups at Prestwick and elsewhere frequently finish 18 holes in two hours.
With all the research indicating that pace of play is a major factor negatively affecting the growth of the game, why not try some of these Scottish and Irish practices and formats?
A second observation from my trip was that the greens fees, when accompanied by a member, were exceptionally reasonable. I had actually noticed this in the past at the two clubs where I belong in Scotland and Ireland. The reason is very simple. Virtually every course in Scotland is a member’s course, but they are all also open to the public without any introduction by a member. There are, of course, large blocks of time reserved only for members, but there are also plenty of time blocks for visitors. The visitor’s fees are steep but not outrageous. The members are perfectly fine with having many visitors as this subsidy from guests keeps their costs at a lower rate.
GAP clubs should consider more visitor access as a way to improve economics.
There was one final observation. Apparently, the Scots don’t only drink Scotch (or whiskey as they would say). At Prestwick, I was introduced to a digestive called Kummel. Kummel tastes a little like aquavit so it’s much like drinking alcohol laced rye bread. Kummel is so popular at Prestwick that the club goes through 25 to 30 bottles a week during the summer. Kummel is said to steel the nerves and calm any anxiety on the first tee. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that while that may work for the Scots, it didn’t for me, although after a shot of Kummel, my duck hook actually looked straight to me. Hope your shots this summer are straight and long in reality.
T. Quinn Spitzer