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Anyone who has been following this thread knows I’ve been having my frustrations with slow players at my club lately.  I’m normally a very calm person and it takes a lot to fluster me but the only thing worse than a putting routine that includes  plumb-bobbing, reading the break from four different angles, and removing every last kernel of sand from the intended line is starting said procedure only when it’s your turn to putt.

Author, New Yorker staff writer, and Golf Digest contributing editor David Owen has apparently had his own frustrations at his home club in New York and composed a blog post called The Slowest Member that poetically details a case study in slow play in a way that I never could.  With minimal begging, David was nice enough to let me re-post his piece in its entirety here at PGT.   His blog is called My Usual Game and is filled with high quality, honest golf writings.  Highly recommended.

I should add that respect for your fellow golfer has always been a core belief of “The Gentleman’s Game” and ruining the experience of those you share the course with through slow play or otherwise is, in my opinion, golf’s foremost deadly sin.  Modern, futuristic gear may disrupt the nuance and subtle beauty of the game but pace of play issues force even committed golf lovers home and threaten its very health.

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The Slowest Member of my club has the metabolism of a sofa. Standing over his golf ball, he freezes like a frog in a flashlight beam. Five seconds. Ten seconds. An afternoon. Just when you think he must have drifted into sleep, he swings—but it’s a practice swing, the first of two. Each rehearsal spawns a divot. Each divot flies in its own direction. At last, he inches forward and sets his club behind the ball.

Thirty minutes a hole is the pace at which he plays. He moves through our nine-hole course the way a meal moves through a python. You could tee off an hour behind him and play through him twice before he reached the ninth tee. He is absorbed by his troubles and seldom notices other golfers. You are tempted to wait for him to wander into the bushes, then tee off over his head.

The Slowest Member lifts his five-iron as wearily as if it were the hammer of Thor. He pauses at shoulder height to gather his resources, then lunges forward while somehow also falling back. His ball flies forty yards ahead and thirty to the right, and it doesn’t rise above his navel. He slowly lifts his head and looks around. The destination of each shot is first a mystery and then a surprise.

Once, I saw him walk into some pine trees to search for a ball that he had hit there. He didn’t take a club. After a minute or so, his wife hissed at him from the green, which he had missed from twenty paces. Golfers in the fairway took furious practice swings, hoping to be waved through. His wife hissed again. Her impatience merely inflamed his determination not to hurry. If his ball had been your child, you would have given up sooner than he did.

Some years, the Slowest Member plays more rounds than anyone else at my club. Each weekend gapes before him, an empty barrel to be filled one pebble at a time. The rest of us scan the parking lot when we pull in. Is he here yet? When did he tee off? One day, I saw his foursome spaced along the near shore of the pond on the fourth hole, each player with a ball retriever. Trolling the murky waters, happily lost in thought, they looked like fishermen.

In a two-day tournament one summer, the Slowest Member was the only entrant in his flight. His name on a sign-up sheet is preemptive. “Give him the title by default,” someone suggested. “Tell him he can have the cup if he stays home.” Even alone, he moves more slowly than any foursome except his own.

In the end, a playing partner was drafted from a different flight. Their twosome teed off last. The Slowest Member sliced two drives out of bounds before dribbling a keeper over the end of the first tee. The playing partner sighed, his own drive now grown cold in the fairway, a thousand miles away. “At least we’re off,” he must have thought.

But they weren’t off, after all. The Slowest Member walked right past his ball. Moving at the speed of the minute hand on a classroom clock, he set out for the woods to look for the two that he had lost.

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5 Responses to “The Slowest Member by David Owen”

  1. Avatar of freddiec freddiec says:

    Who doesn’t hate slow play? It really ruins a round and throws the whole course out of sinc. I met a guy a few years ago who I became good friends with, he was really the husband of one of my wife’s relatives. Highly intelligent guy, loves golf. We finally hooked up for a round and he ended up being just like the slowest member in the club, 3 practice swings, 10 seconds between each other, than paused over the ball about 8 to 10 seconds on the go swing. It was painful to watch his routine. I had to bite my tongue a few times and not say anything.

  2. Avatar of Blade Junkie Blade Junkie says:

    “He moves through our nine-hole course the way a meal moves through a python” – priceless :)

    Really well written and funny article – thanks for posting PGT

  3. Avatar of Alec Alec says:

    Good stuff.. I can’t stand slow play, never could. If it’s ever going to stop you gotta get em early. Even back when I was playing high school tournaments it was terrible. The kids all imitate the turtles on TV and then its all over. I remember a lot of times my coach (who also played really fast) would put me out in the first group just to set the pace and it’d still take over three hours to play 9 stinking holes. Drove me crazy, 15 year old kids walking off 55 yd shots and then chunking it right in the bunker.. Then they’d get to the green, oy vey ez mir…. Nowadays what’s considered normal for 18 holes in America, 4:45? 5:10? I don’t play much so I don’t know for sure but it can’t be faster than that. You could play twice in that time, even walking anyone under 70 should be able to play at least 27 in five hours.

    Unfortunately it is at this point a matter of changing the established norm, but in extreme cases like this guy somebody’s gotta sit him down for “the talk”. Explain the ways of the world to him and tell him that everyone else gets to automatically play through all the time. It’s a lost art, playing through and also calling up the next group on three pars on a regular basis now that I think about it. Hardly anyone gets how that automatically speeds up play if everybody does it, lots of guys argue it slows it down but it doesn’t if everyone was in the habit but that’s a different argument I suppose. But if kids and new players were taught to play quickly they would, they’d play better too because they wouldn’t waste all that time thinking about ways to make a hard game even harder.

  4. So right on about hitting up on Par 3′s. I guarantee this does not cross the mind of the young golfers at my home course. One of the courses I learned the game on was Morro Bay (where Loren Roberts learned to putt). One of the most difficult holes was the 8th, a long downhill par 3 of about 220 yards. They had a net installed down by the green where golfers would take cover while they called the next group to hit up. Occasionally there were groups who wouldn’t wave the next group on and pace of play would grind to a halt. Not uncommon to see 3 or 4 groups on that tee when people were being called up. Simple procedures like these would go a long way but somebody has to teach kids to do this.

  5. Avatar of Teddy Teddy says:

    If ever I give up golf it will be because of slow play. I live in Italy and the norm for a tournament is about 5 hours and 15 minutes. One of the problems is Titanium monster drives going all over the place, but the real problem is the slow player. Unfortunately a lot of people see a game of golf as a nice stroll, but it is at times taken to the extreme. Ever approached a green and seen the group ahead chatting on the tee of the next hole, and they only tee off when you have finished the hole? Or you get out really early and have the course clear in front of you only to find some idiots cut in front of you and hold you up? Or that 4some in front with trolleys going left and right without any apparent purpose, and you ask yourself what are they doing? Why are they not hitting their ball? Finally, somebody goes through their agonizing preparation and finally hits it. The other three now each take it in turn to assess their shot and go through the prep. I like to play twosome golf with my son and rarely do we get let through by the slow 4somes. I’ve found a trick, however, to alert them of my frustration. I stand on the tee and hold my driver above my head in both hands, like I’m about to do pull-ups, and then make slow stretching movements with it. I don’t know why, but 8 times out of 10 then group in front will finally let me through!

    Next week I’m off work and I hope to get out with my son and play persimmon golf. I dream of getting round in less than 3.5 hours, walking from green to tee and teeing up and hitting it. That is what golf is, to me.

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