Golf columnist John Paul Newport writes in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Edition, “People love to complain about slowpokes, but golfers in a rush can be even more irritating.” Newport defends those who play at a “deliberate” pace against persistent complaints from “speed golfers” that they are slowing down play and making a round of gold take too long. Newport offers an amusing take on speed golfers who seem to be more interested in finishing than getting a good score, but he admits to having no solution for the problem:
“I’ll get back to you when I come up with a solution for how group A (slower in absolute time) and group B (faster) can happily occupy the same course.”
Neutral Source has the solution Mr. Newport is looking for.
Neutral Source doesn’t golf but has been known to watch televised golf when there are no real sports on TV, or perhaps as background noise for a pleasant afternoon nap. Nevertheless, Newport’s column (subscription might be required) raises an interesting regulatory conundrum. No, we’re not saying that government should decide how long a round of golf should take. The problem is what economists call an “externality.” Owners of golf courses, whether private clubs or municipal links, are like regulators when they set the rules that players must abide by when on their courses. And with relatively little effort, they can significantly reduce this problem and accommodate both speed- and leisurely golfers.
First, if you want to encourage speedy play on your course, require players to rent carts. Conversely, if you want to encourage the leisurely style preferred by Newport, then prohibit the use of carts, or even require players to carry their own clubs. Not everyone who chooses to rent a golf cart is a speed golfer, but it seems likely that most speed golfers rent carts. (Newport’s article is accompanied by a photo of George W. Bush, who along with his father are well known speed golfers. In the photo he appears to be jumping out of his cart.)
If you prohibit carts, the most determined speed golfers will take their business elsewhere — perhaps to a course that prohibits golfers to walk and carry their clubs. Even if they don’t go elsewhere, making them walk will slow them down. And most importantly, they will know what’s expected of them before they begin play.
If you require carts, you send the signal that speedy play is expected. Determined leisurely golfers will go elsewhere. Those who remain won’t be as slow, and they too will know what’s expected. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that speed golf and leisurely golf are different commodities.
Second, if you want to accommodate both speed golfers and leisurely golfers, restrict the earliest tee times for speed golfers. Rare is the leisurely golfer who wants to be on the links at the crack of dawn. (Start them on the back nine.). Put speed golfers in the fast lane where they won’t encounter leisurely golfers, and vice versa.
Both these regulatory tools can be used, either separately or together, at the same course on the same day. Ask golfers when the register for tee times how long they want to spend on the course. Use this information for placing them in the queue.
It’s possible that much of the real problem is that there are speed- and leisurely golfers in the same foursome. If the course is assigning unrelated golfers to a foursome, they can prevent this problem by assigning speeders with other speeders and slowpokes with other slowpokes. But if they are part of the same group there’s nothing you can do. Still, in that case the members of the foursome are mostly irritating each other, and they impose little external cost on others.