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REARDON: While We’re Young

Dan Reardon
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Actor Ted Knight as Judge Elihu Smails in the film "Caddyshack" (1978).

Actor Ted Knight as Judge Elihu Smails in the film “Caddyshack” (1978).

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Perhaps you have heard the Rule of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). It applies in all walks and elements of life. I am reminded of this when I see the new Pace of Play commercials created by the USGA – the ones featuring Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer with the tagline “While We’re Young” from Caddyshack.

The suggestion to golfers is simple. Pick up the pace! But is that enough to really effect the change the game so desperately needs? Like Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug slogan, the USGA’s intended humorous reminder leaves the heavy lifting for others.

I think golf’s ruling organization in this country sees the game from the Google satellite view, a thousand miles up. From that perspective no one ever rolls their lie over in the fairway or the rough. No one switches balls during a round. Cards are signed and attested at the conclusion of play. And inside the leather is never a consideration.

Jeff Raffelson from the Golf Courses at Forest Park sees the game from the ‘street view’ perspective. His 36 holes of public golf in the Park are where the real golf public resides. For Raffelson and his golfers pace of play is one of the factors that affect where they are going to play golf and even ‘if’ they are going to play golf. Yes, Raffelson will admit that slow rounds at his course are as much a turn off for him as they are for his customers.

He will also tell you that every year slow play is the number one complaint he hears from his customers, not because the Park is slower than everywhere else. It’s because the problem that the USGA has attacked with a slogan is a problem that exists at the most exclusive country clubs and the least expensive munis.

In introducing the USGA’s new attempt to remedy the problem, USGA President Glen Nager reached out to the course operators around the country to enlist their support but for Raffelson’s boss at Eagle Golf, who operates the franchise in the Park, it didn’t sound like a call for help but a pointed finger.

Joe Munsch, CEO and President of a company that operates dozens of courses around the country was not pleased with Mr. Nager’s suggestion that courses need to be set up to be more “fun” to play. His open letter to the USGA said, “You said the game at the recreational level needs to be fun. You said golf course operators need to slow down green speeds, lower rough heights, widen fairways, and generally make the courses more playable. These comments suggest you have not recently visited a course that was not set up for one of your tournaments, because golf course operators have understood these issues and done these things for years.”

Raffelson will tell you that in the city they have applied that realization as long ago as the entire redesign project. When Hale Irwin and Stan Gentry came to the Park project they were charged with modernizing, improving and, because of Park use, rearranging the facility. Through the 27 holes at the Probstein courses water comes directly into play on four holes – once on Hawthorn, never on Redbud and three times on Dogwood (discounting a small creek at the sixth).

Two of the hazards are direct and require forced carries. The other two are lateral and both sit left of their fairways. For most people who play the game for recreation, laterals on the left are scenic, not menacing, because the majority of errant shots from this crowd slice away from the water. Less balls in the water, more fun for the customers, less time on the course.

The next time you play the triple nines consider the lines of the rough on both sides of the fairways. According to Raffelson, you will find a course cut more generously to the right than to the left, and that cutting philosophy applies to the length of the rough. Players will still find the rough on the right, and their searches will still slow the pace, but at Forest Park the set up is intended to balance the equation of punish and challenge with the most forgiveness to the right side of the equals sign.

For Munsch the irony of rolling out the “While We’re Young” series at the US Open at Merion was too delicious to let pass.

“Those of us on the front lines of the golf industry have understood this for years. Our courses don’t have six-inch rough, 530-yard par 4s, and 270-yard par 3s. The best golfers in the world were unable to break par at your tournament once again, and nothing about the course setup looked fun to me or to the golfers, based on their comments and on-course reactions throughout the week.
In the golf industry we fight, scratch, and claw to get golfers out to our courses. If they don’t have fun, they don’t come back. We have known for years that time is a factor. I am glad the USGA has finally come to this realization as well.
Welcome, at last, to the real golf industry. Here, the golf ball doesn’t go too far, short courses are not obsolete, the golf clubs are not too forgiving and even the recreational golfer enjoys an occasional birdie.”

Simple, when you put it that way.

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