There are two reasons why I passed up being a professional golfer. The first was my inability to hit a ball straight and long. The second was the prospect of spending most of my life waiting for the group ahead to clear the green.
Players who are relatively new to the game, having watched the Masters on TV, could be forgiven for thinking that it’s perfectly normal to wait half-an-hour on the tee.
Well it isn’t. And it comes to a pretty pass when a 14-year-old, the youngest ever player to make the cut in that great tournament, did so despite being docked a shot for not getting a move on.
Where I come from, Highgate Golf Club in North London, playing with a brisk rhythm is the norm. Three hours to get round was the mark for the low handicappers. Three-and-half hours is tolerated for players of lesser ability who, such as yours truly, waste some of the extra time looking for errant balls.
Brisk play does not mean rushing – if you do anything of a golfing nature too fast disaster beckons. But it does mean thinking. When I packed in work and came south I found that too many people who play golf (I don’t call them golfers) in our idyllic surroundings seem to have left their brains as well as their manners in the locker room.
In the course of seemingly endless rounds at a selection of clubs in the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes, I had plenty of time to contemplate the causes of such ennui. National characteristics emerged. The French, although they know the rules of golf and its etiquette, are slow because they are generally selfish and have little concern for other players. The Dutch are slow because they are tight-fisted and would sooner lose a limb than give up on a lost ball. The Germans are slow because they can’t understand why the game is difficult to get right even with someone with an ordered brain, and they wish to discuss the matter endlessly with their playing partners. The Japanese are slow because they are delighted to be playing on a real golf course rather than a five-tiered driving range in Kyoto and they want the experience to last several days. The Yanks, the Scandies and the Brits (if not drunk) tend to be quicker, but as they are mostly of retirement age they seem to forget that other people may not have “all day”.
The golf professionals I have met in France, and I include the men and women who run the clubs as well as those that teach the game, are of accord: when learning golf, etiquette should be up there on the syllabus alongside technique.
Ruined rounds and rocketing blood pressure would be avoided if every player made a habit of:
Concentrating on being just behind the group in front rather than just in front of the group behind.
Letting faster – usually better – players through, especially when your group is searching for a ball.
Always playing a provisional ball if you are unsure where your shot finished – this applies to all shots, not just the drive.
Working out rough club selection and shot type as you walk towards your ball.
Before putting out, leaving clubs/carts on the side of the green nearest to the next tee.
Not waiting until it’s your turn before “reading” your putt.
Picking up when the result at a hole is evident.
Marking cards while another member of your group is teeing off at the next hole, rather than hanging around on the green.
It all comes together if you think in these terms: don’t rush your play, be ready to play.