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In Speedgolf, expect huffing and puffing

The clubs carried by the world's No. 1

The clubs carried by the world's No. 1 amateur golfer Chris Williams, pictured, are no different than the clubs used by Speedgolfers. The only major difference between Speedgolf and "normal" golf is the tempo of play. (May 13, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Running and golf aren't exactly chocolate and peanut butter when it comes to perfect combinations.

Still, to the millions of people who regularly do both in this pressed-for-time world, the idea of getting your workout while playing your favorite game seems like a winner.

Speedgolf, as the simultaneous pursuit is known, has a convert in Bryan Theis of Roseville, Calif. He has shown up at nearby Haggin Oaks just after dawn every Sunday except one since the course started offering Speedgolf tee times in April -- from sunup until 7 a.m. He plays 18 holes for $10 and is home before 8 a.m.

''I get home when my wife is getting up," said the 30-year-old father of one.

He's found a way to run that's enjoyable and lost 7 pounds and any desire to spend five hours playing a traditional round of golf.

''This is golf for me now," he said. "The other golf is boring."

Scoring in Speedgolf is the total of strokes and minutes taken to complete a round. Players generally carry five or six clubs and two or three balls in a lightweight bag. The deviations from traditional golf rules are the flagstick is left in while putting and lost balls are dropped anywhere in the line of flight of the previous shot with a one-stroke penalty.

The projected fastest golfer tees off first, the slowest last. While golf is a famously social game, Speedgolf is a solitary endeavor.

Theis, who carries a 10.4 handicap index, said he typically shoots an 84 in about 59 minutes despite having to improvise with fewer clubs. That Theis' average Speedgolf score matches his traditional golf score doesn't surprise Tim Scott, the executive director of Speedgolf International.

''Speedgolf demonstrates that you can play just as well, if not better, when you play fast," he said.

Shanon Hoyt started playing Speedgolf in April alongside Theis, his neighbor. But the PGA pro who teaches at Golf Galaxy in Roseville and has run the California International Marathon in three hours, is thinking bigger.

Hoyt, 40, whose best score is a 74 in 49 minutes, is eyeing the Eastern Speedgolf Open in Richmond, Va., at the end of June.

''I want to be competitive with the top guys out there," Hoyt said.

Hoyt's core clubs are a 17-degree 4-wood, a 5-, 7- and 9-iron, a 58-degree wedge and a putter.

His pre-shot routine? "Breathing," he said. There's no time for practice swings, emotion or over thinking, either.

''New golfers do better in this format because they don't have a chance to sabotage themselves," Hoyt said.

Scott is surprised that more people haven't embraced the concept.

While recreational leagues have blossomed in Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Ore., between two and six people are showing up Sundays at Haggin. At another local course where Speedgolf is offered on the back nine every morning except Saturday, there are days when no one plays.

Some of the reasons for the lack of Speedgolf participation:

-- Early start. The only time Speedgolf can be played is before anyone else has started, and only at courses where operators will allow maintenance to be interrupted.

-- Intimidation. "Golfers are afraid they're going to shoot a million, when that's not the case at all," Scott said. "Maybe we need to look at the running community a little more. They're more adventurous."

-- Break from tradition. "To the more serious golfers, this might seem like a dog-and-pony show," Scott said. "Of course, it's not." Drinking beer and talking smack during a round are out of the question, however.

-- Lack of marketing. While the concept of Speedgolf has been around since the early 1970s -- and gained notoriety in 1979 when Steve Scott, the former American record holder in the mile, shot a 95 in 29 minutes, 30 seconds -- it remains largely a mystery.

Speedgolf International recently received a $100,000 infusion of working capital. Mike Keiser, the developer of Bandon Dunes, finances the national championship at his Oregon resort, but the sport is still dwarfed by disc golf.

Speedgolf International's mission is to "emphasize faster play, fitness, creativity, fun and better golf performance."

If it's to become financially viable, Scott said it will do so on the strength of a national tour. There are three national events this year, culminating with the world championships in October.

''We've always thought this would be a viable thing at the elite level and attractive for TV," Scott said. "There is some momentum. I just want it to go faster than it is."

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