Slow play an issue for pros and amateurs

Kevin Na hits his tee shot on the

Kevin Na hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during the third round of The Players Championship. (May 12, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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Regular everyday golfers really can play like the pros, at least in one respect. People in both groups can make a round seem like it will take all day.

Slow play has been the talk of pro golf lately, what with Kevin Na being put on the clock while leading the PGA Tour's signature Players Championship and Morgan Pressel forfeiting a hole and ultimately losing at the LPGA's Sybase Match Play after she was penalized for taking too much time. Those snarls hit home on Long Island, where course traffic can get heavy.

"Pace of play is always an issue," Franco Russo, president of Smithtown Landing Country Club, said Monday during the Long Island Golf Association's Presidents' Invitational at Garden City Country Club. "We have it in our bylaws. But it's difficult, on a public course, to speed up play."

Smithtown Landing has 135 members, which means many people on the course on any given day are daily-fee golfers of varying experience. "If there are guys who aren't [frequent] golfers, and you say you'd like to play through, they'll look at you and say, 'Why?' " Russo said.

While a snail's pace is an annoyance in pro golf -- frustrating quicker golfers and TV networks -- it is an absolute killer at public courses such as Bethpage Black, where a round can take six hours. If everyone is going slowly, fewer golfers can get on the course and that is bad for business. Also, surveys reveal that many people quit golf because it takes too darned long.

John McGrath, tournament director for the Long Island Golf Association, tournament chairman for the Bethpage-based Nassau Players Club and an avid public course golfer, said, "The two things that slow down play the most are people spending an inordinate amount of time looking for lost balls and an inordinate amount of time on the green -- marking two-footers, reading two- and three-footers from three different angles.

"The biggest problem is the PGA Tour. People see how long these guys take to make a shot, and they think that's OK," McGrath said, adding that pros often walk quickly between shots. "You see people out on the public golf course, they're walking like they have two weeks to get there."

He advises diplomacy and common sense -- keep up with the group ahead of you and if you're sharing a cart, walk to your ball while your partner is addressing his or her shot. "It can save a minute a hole," he said.

Slow play is a delicate issue. Public and private courses value every customer and do not want to offend anyone. But they find that golfers are happier when everyone is moving right along.

"Our members don't have time to play five-hour rounds," said Mark Brown, head pro at the private Tam O'Shanter Club in Brookville and one of the fastest (and best) golfers in Met Section tournaments. "We instituted a slow-play policy three years ago and it's the best thing we've done since I've been here."

A round that takes longer than 4 hours, 20 minutes results in a letter being sent to each player. "We've only had to send out six letters, and no one has ever gotten a second letter," Brown said, adding that the average round this year is 3 hours, 55 minutes.

Russo said the best thing savvy golfers can do is set an example, and a tempo. "All in all, I think it involves a lot of education," he said, "and a lot of patience."