Welcome back. I’ve used Uncle Joe as a stand-in for The Great Satan, the Slow Player, because Joe’s opponent in WWII, Mr. Hitler, is just a wee bit over-employed as the personification of evil. As I pointed out in my previous post, since there appears to be near universal agreement that slow play is horrible, why not find another poster boy who was undeniably messed up.
So here we are on the virtual first tee of our extended conversation about that plague on humanity, slow play. To begin , let’s define our terms.
What is slow play? Now a lot of you are pretty sure that there’s an objective answer to this, say anything over 4 hours for example. But for others anything lasting longer than 3 hours and change is an abomination. Others might be more lenient. Can we all just inhale, exhale–that’s it– and agree on the following two assertions, both of them based on two of the greatest lines of the 20th century? First off, let’s accept that there is an element of subjectivity to all of this, which brings to mind George Carlin’s line about driving: “Anybody driving faster than you is a maniac and anybody driving slower is an idiot.” So for most golfers, slow play is anything that slows them up. But then having said that, I will acknowledge that defining slow play also reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s statement that while he couldn’t define hard-core pornography, he knew it when he saw it, and we all know what slow play looks like: it’s the view you get of watching a guy plumb-bob yet another putt as you stand 140 yards away. Again. And it’s still only the fifth hole.
How is slow play affecting the game? I have read comments asserting that slow play is killing the game, that somehow the additional 30 minutes that distinguishes a four and a half-hour round from the normative four hour one is driving people away from the game. (I understand that the standard for play in the U.K. may be something even brisker, say 3 hours or so, which makes me wonder if an English hour is, like the pound sterling, that much more valuable than its American counterpart. Is there an exchange rate for units of time? Discuss amongst yourselves.) Folks, let’s get this question of time and golf’s struggle to attract and retain players in perspective. It’s not the added hour or even half hour that’s keeping people away. You lost them at the number four, or even three for that matter. People have a lot going on these days and they’re looking for ways to recreate where they can be done, showered and back to the rest of their lives in a lot shorter period of time. What’s hurting golf isn’t so much the time it takes to play 18 holes as the requirement that you play 18 holes. But that’s another discussion.
What’s with all the drama? Good Lord, but golfers do get worked up on this topic. I’m not here to defend inconsiderate behavior and slow players should allow faster groups to play through if their natural pace is simply more leisurely. But I’ve seen vein-bulging yelling fits, and you may have heard about a recent incident on a Texas golf course in which a threesome trying to play through a slower group in front of them got into a fight and one player was stabbed with a broken shaft, severing an artery in his groin. But what is behind the anger here? Yeah, it sucks to have to wait on shots but it’s not like the group in front of you is making you go to the back of the line at the DMV. You’re out with your friends in a nice expanse of grass and trees doing something you enjoy. I suspect that there is bit of the “I paid for this microphone” attitude at work here. You’ve paid your greens fee, or your membership dues, and goddamn it, you are entitled to play your game at your pace, no matter what, and anybody who interferes with that is an asshole. That pretty much sums it up, right?
Well consider this repositioning, which I do in my role as the Devil’s Advocate on this topic. Maybe, just maybe, the slower player is savoring the game a bit more deeply. For them it’s not something to dispense with in as short a time as possible, but rather an activity to be enjoyed as deeply as possible. Viewed in this regard, slow play is like Tantric golf, which brings to mind the world’s most famous advocate of the Tantric arts, Sting. He’s got quite the rep for marathon shagging, and if there is any proportionality here one can only assume that a round of golf with him would likely be like a cricket match, lasting days. The words you wouldn’t want to hear while waiting for your group to be called would be “Sting foursome on the tee.”
Next up: The causes of slow play.