Golfers Urged to Play 9-Hole Rounds as USGA Tries to Speed Game

The U.S. Golf Association’s on-going battle against the clock is shifting its focus to 9-hole rounds.

The USGA, which organizes this week’s U.S. Open and governs the rules of play in the U.S. and Mexico, is unveiling a multiyear initiative aimed at reminding golfers of the option to “Play 9.” An American Express-sponsored ad campaign, featuring U.S. PGA Tour player Rickie Fowler, will debut during this week’s event in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

“People have made a decision in their mind that they are not going to play golf because it takes too long,” said Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs. “This is a way to let them know it actually doesn’t have to be that long. The 9-hole round has been around forever.”

As part of the campaign, the USGA has established July 23 as “Play 9 Day,” encouraging golfers to play a nine-hole round.

A 2012 survey done by the National Golf Foundation showed that 58 percent of avid golfers said 4 hours and 30 minutes is “too long.” That’s eight minutes longer than the average time the group found for a round on public U.S. courses.

The campaign comes as the sports faces a decline in popularity. About 400,000 players quit golfing last year, according to the National Golf Foundation. While almost 260,000 women took up golf, some 650,000 men gave it up.

About 27 percent, or 4,000, of U.S. golf courses are nine-hole layouts, according to the foundation. While nine-hole rounds can be played at most 18-hole public courses, they made up 24 percent of total rounds played in 2013, among courses surveyed.

Encouraging Words

For golfers who play 8-24 rounds a year, 33 percent said they would play more nine-hole rounds if the option were “more strongly encouraged,” according to a 2013 USGA-commissioned survey by Sports & Leisure Research Group. For casual golfers playing seven rounds or fewer, 38 percent said 9-hole rounds would encourage them to play more.

“For people who simply don’t think they have 5 hours to spend playing golf, playing 9 holes is a really viable way to make it fit,” Hirshland said.

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