Collaboration, Innovation Key to Improving Pace of Play February 12, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J.

The USGA's Jim Moore sees the Resource Management Software Tool as a strong asset for golf facilities across the country. (USGA/Mariah Tauger)

Pace of play is a focal point of the USGA’s continuing efforts to improve the health of the game, but it is not an issue that can be remedied easily or by one organization alone. To that end, the USGA in January hosted 125 industry experts for the Association’s third Pace and Innovation Symposium, at Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, Calif.

The two-day symposium featured representatives from the USGA, The R&A, the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and The First Tee, among others.

“The USGA is committed to bringing the industry together to share ideas and foster collaboration in order to find solutions that address sustainability and viability of facilities,” said Rand Jerris, Ph.D., senior managing director of Public Services for the USGA. “We recognize that change needs to happen for our industry, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later. The symposiums offer a substantive opportunity to strengthen the game’s future by creating a more compelling experience for golfers through technology and enhanced facility operations.”

The first day of the symposium focused on the golfer experience and potential solutions to improving that experience, as well as the manner in which resource management can affect pace of play. The session provided some important takeaways, including:

  • Golfer experience is determined by flow, not round times.
  • Studies show an increase in round times of as much as two hours between the first group on the course and later groups. Most of that time is spent waiting.
  • On average, golfers would pay 9.1 percent more in green fees for a 15-30-minute improvement in pace of play. Golfers under age 40 would pay 14.2 percent more; golfers between ages 40 and 49 would pay 11.5 percent more.
  • A large number of golfers ages 25-44 have expressed a desire to cut 60 to 90 minutes off their typical round time, creating a market for shorter formats such as three- and six-hole loops.
Photos: 2016 Pace and Innovation Symposium

In response to these findings, it is recommended that facilities set an aggressive pace for the lead group on the course, control the cycle times (the gap between groups) for the non-lead groups, and balance starting times with cycle times. The USGA Flagstick Tool is a key component to solving pace-of-play issues, as it will allow facilities to measure and track pace of play in real time, providing a clear picture of pace of play throughout the course, allowing delays to be quickly identified and addressed.

From a resource-management perspective, balancing the need to save money and water with the desire to leave the golfer experience unaffected is challenging. The USGA Resource Management Software Tool, which will be beta-tested starting this year, uses the data gleaned from GPS loggers that are provided to golfers to track their movement throughout the course. The data can help facilities improve pace of play and the golfer experience by:

  • Determining which areas on the course are being used by players, which may allow for a reduction in maintenance and water use.
  • Identifying course features that result in slow play.
  • Track mowing heights and maintenance methods that can lessen wear and tear on equipment and determine where players are getting “stuck” waiting on maintenance staff.

“The software in the Resource Management Tool can be regionally and golf course-specific, and used to create a model to help facilities perform ‘what-if’ analysis regarding utilization of resources,” said Jim Moore, USGA director of Green Section education. “This will allow facilities to put money into work on their courses where golf is actually being played.”

The second day of the symposium focused on the physical characteristics of golf courses and how they can affect pace of play. Several golf course architects shared case studies, as often the architect is the first point of contact in improving pace of play and the golfer experience. Some of the chief design influences affecting pace of play are:

  • Length
  • Hole sequencing
  • Distance between green and tee
  • Blind shots
  • Green contours

“Improving pace of play and providing great playing conditions are important to golfers, and we are working to provide technology solutions and best practices that will help facility managers provide a better product for their customers,” said Hunki Yun, the USGA’s director of strategic projects. “We look forward to continuing to provide facilities with the tools that will allow them to offer a first-class experience for all who wish to enjoy this great game.”

Improving pace of play is crucial to the game’s health. Based on the industry collaboration in evidence at the symposium and the technological enhancements being put into practice, it’s only a matter of time until golfers start spending less time waiting to hit their next shot.