A Day in the Life / Golf: September 32nd, 2005

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My “player’s receipt” from the golf course I played today was stamped “2005 SEP 32.” I have a sense there is a deeper meaning to this, but I just don’t see it right now.

“You are allowed 5 minutes to search for a ball, after which if it is not found or identified it is lost.[1]”

A typical golf course runs 6,000 yards or more of fairway. But if you want to know how far you actually walk, you’ll have to consider the distance between the holes. Let’s add 15% or another 900 yards. That adds up to about 4 miles distance to be walked. Using the average pace of 3 miles per hour it means 80 mins walking time. According to the National Golf Foundation an average golf score is 97 [2]. If the average golfer takes on average 30 seconds to review the lay of the ball, determine the distance to be travelled, assess wind and other environmental factors, select a club, take a practice swing to loosen the muscles, check alignment, grip, posture, address the ball and finally swing, that adds another 194 minutes for a foursome for a total 274 minutes or 4.5 hours to play 18 holes.

So, now to the point: Golf courses usually expect the pace of play to be some where between 12-15 minutes per hole. At 15 minutes per hole that adds up to 270 minutes. The 6,000 yard course I often play expects 255 minutes for a round. This means that there is really no time to do anything other than walk and hit the ball.

Clearly you can’t take 5 minutes to look for a ball, unless you can do it without adding to the overall time of play. The unfortunate truth is that if you are a new golfer, playing more than the average number of strokes or a woman (because in fact the average score for a woman is 106) you’re in trouble. So what are we to do if we loose a ball? Some options:

  1. Forget about looking for lost balls; just suck it up [i.e., take the penalty shot] and move on
  2. Don’t look for lost balls, but don’t take a penalty either. If you have a handicap above some threshold (say 10 for men, 15 for women) you don’t take a penalty if you loose a ball. Heck, you already paid a financial penalty in the cost of the ball.
  3. Forget about constraints on pace of play; take as much time as is necessary. The role of a marshal would change from that of keeping things moving to anger management. But this should not really be a problem as under the rules golfers are suppose to conduct themselves in a disciplined manner and demonstrate courtesy [3]
  4. Make balls easier to find: have the manufacturers include RFID chips in each ball so they can be easily found. What they loose on ball sales can be made up in the gizmos to read the chip’s signal.
  5. Don’t loose balls in the first place: do what they do on the PGA tour: line the fairways with thousands of people, install multiple camera towers at strategic points along each fairway and have people monitoring each shot. As an alternative, a blimp hovering over the course could serve the same task.
  6. Require golfers to prove they are able to play to some handicap. This may be of some challenge to those who do not belong to a club where handicap is tracked, therefore some licensing scheme would have to be developed.
  7. Have marshals patrol the fairways to pressure the laggards. Avoid hiring nice people for such jobs. Ex-convicts, members of motorcycle gangs, neighbours, people with scars, twitches or leers seem suitable.

There are other things that consume time on the course that will have to go:

  1. Replacing divots
  2. Repairing ball marks
  3. Raking sand traps
  4. Buying beverages from the cart person
  5. Bio-breaks
  6. Talking with the people you are playing with

If further optimizations are necessary, it will be necessary to review how we execute the golf process. There are two possibilities here:

  1. Force everyone to take carts. This could save some time, but what may be more effective is
  2. Remove the sequential nature of the game and allow everyone to hit their ball at will. Sure, some injuries may result but the increased risk of material physical damage does add more excitement and thrill to the game, something sorely lacking.

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