For those in attendance at Finca Cortesin in Spain for last week’s Solheim Cup there was, amid a plethora of other niggling issues at a venue clearly unfit for purpose, one overriding feature of the biennial encounter between the best female golfers from Europe and the United States. The pace of play was nothing short of disgraceful. “Glacial” didn’t really do justice to how long it took those elite performers to complete even the most straightforward holes.

Disappointingly, if recent history is to be our guide, the same sort of torpor is likely to overcome the Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club over the next three days. Seemingly mired in varying states of indecision, the players on both sides have made even the most interesting event in golf tough to watch live. Ever-lengthening periods of inactivity have too often overwhelmed the intermittent snatches of action.

At this Ryder Cup, the “timing schedule” established by the tournament committee allows the players to take four hours and 13 minutes to complete a foursomes match, one hour more to finish up a four-ball contest and four hours and four minutes to get round 18 holes in Sunday’s singles. In other words, the average time per hole in foursomes should be a little more than 14 minutes. In four-balls that average goes up to nearly 17½ minutes. And in singles the allowed time averages out to a tick more than 13½ minutes.

Should those times prove to be inadequate (bet on that) there is an official “pace of play” policy for the match referees to follow. It goes like this:

“A match is over the scheduled time if it is over the scheduled time and is more than the starting interval behind the match in front. Should a match become out of position, the referee will inform the sides and the captains will be notified. If the match remains out of position by completion of the hole where they were informed, individual timings of all players will take place. Players will be informed that they are being timed.

“If any player exceeds 60 seconds to play a stroke, he will be informed that he has a bad time. If the same player (or in foursomes, the same side) exceeds 60 seconds on a second occasion, he (they) will receive a one-stroke penalty. If the same player/side exceeds 60 seconds on a third occasion, he will be informed that he has lost the hole in progress. In four-ball play there will be no effect on his partner. Any bad times will be carried forward for the duration of that match.

“Other than on the putting green, the timing of a player’s stroke will begin when he and his caddie have had a reasonable opportunity to reach his ball, it is his turn to play and he can play without disturbance or distraction.

“On the putting green, timing will begin when a player has been allowed a reasonable amount of time to repair his ball mark, all other balls have been marked on the green and he can play without interference or distraction. Time spent looking at the line from beyond the hole and/or behind the ball will count as part of the time taken for that stroke, as will the removal of any loose impediments.“Players will not be timed on a hole where it is possible for the match to end.”

All of which sounds pretty lenient to these Scottish ears, if only because professional golfers tend to be somewhat expert when it comes to stretching slow-play regulations to their limit. It really would be much better for all concerned if that widespread cynicism could be replaced by some serious efforts to alleviate what is one of the game’s biggest issues, in or out of the Ryder Cup.

Some suggestions:

1. Playing foursomes in a more efficient manner would immediately knock maybe half an hour off any 18-hole match. Watch over the next two days, it says here the players will not come close to that ideal. Instead of the player who is not hitting off the tee from par 4 or par 5 tees walking forward to wait for the arrival of the ball, both players will metaphorically hold hands on those tees. One will stand there doing absolutely nothing; the other will actually hit the shot after a conversation (if indeed there is one) that will surely go something like this:

“Let’s see partner. This hole is 490 yards long. I think I’ll hit my driver here.”


What a waste of time. When foursomes is played properly, player A hits his drive at a par 4 and does not stop walking until he reaches the green. Player B will have hit the approach shot way before A could reach the drive he just hit. It all makes sense. It is quicker. It is cleaner. And it is easier to watch.

2. There is already a ban in place on players practice-putting on a green after the completion of a hole. But there is also a loophole. If a player has had a putt conceded by the opposition, he is entitled to drop his ball back on that spot and have one go at making it. But only one. Is that needed? Let’s close the loophole and get the players moving to the next tee as soon as possible, rather than close to that ideal.

3. In four-balls—already the slowest of the three Ryder Cup formats—players often keep hitting shots long after they are out of contention in a hole. Let’s stop that practice. If a player has hit, say, three more shots than either of his opponents at any point during a hole, a compulsory “pick-up” should be enforced. Again, quicker, cleaner and easier to watch.


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