LPGA Cuts 14 Minutes Off Rounds Due to Pace-of-Play

Playing a round of golf is getting faster, at least for professional women.

As part of a yearlong partnership with the U.S. Golf Association, the LPGA, golf’s top professional women’s circuit, reduced 18-hole playing times by as much as 14 minutes during the 2014 season.

With a new pace-of-play policy that focused on a custom “time par” sheet designating a specific amount of time for the lead group to play, and adding a minute to the time between starting times, top women golfers spent 3.4 percent less time on the course.

The USGA, which governs golf in the U.S. and Mexico, revealed the results of the partnership during the first day of a two-day pace-of-play symposium at its Far Hills, New Jersey, headquarters. The USGA and LPGA are among the groups trying to cut the time for a round, among the reasons cited by golfers who have quit the game. Since 2009, about 1 million have given up the sport, according to the National Golf Foundation

“Pace of play is probably one of the most complained about issues on our tour,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s chief tour operations officer. “We got the buy-in from the players right away.”

In the first 6 LPGA events of this past season, groups that began play every 10 minutes took an average of 4 hours, 54 minutes, according the USGA/LPGA study. A tournament’s average longest round lasted 5 hours, 12 minutes. The longest round this season took 5 hours, 35 minutes.

When LPGA tee times were shifted to 11 minutes in between groups, the average playing time dropped by 5 minutes to 4 hours, 49 minutes, while the average longest round dropped by 8 minutes to 5 hours, 4 minutes. The longest round with 11-minute tee times was 5 hours, 24 minutes, a reduction of 11 minutes.

‘Time Par’

The time savings were even more dramatic when the LPGA combined it’s “time par” rule with 11-minute tee time intervals.

When players were sent off the first tee every 11 minutes and forced to maintain the same playing time as the group in front of them, which is responsible for setting the day’s “time par”, the average playing time dropped by 14 minutes to 4 hours, 40 minutes and the average slowest time of the day fell by 18 minutes to 4 hours, 54 minutes.

The reason, Daly-Donofrio said, was due to a reduction in “backups” on the course, or areas where players were forced to wait for the group in front of them to finish playing a hole.

“The biggest hurdle we had to get over was mental,” she said. “Intuitively it doesn’t make sense, but when we saw the data, you can’t argue with it. When you play faster, it’s better for everybody.”

Faster Open

As the LPGA improved its pace of play, the U.S. Women’s Open also saw a reduction in playing times in June at North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort. The average time for the opening two rounds of the Women’s Open took about 5 hours, 10 minutes, 30 minutes less than it did the previous year at New York’s Sebonack Golf Club.

“If a group plays in 5 hours and doesn’t wait, they think it’s great,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules & competition. “If they play in 5 hours but have to wait for 20 minutes, they think it’s an eternity on the golf course even though it’s the same 5 hours.”

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