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Ready Golf?

We all know the scenario: Playing the monthly medal, you are standing at your ball in the fairway with club in hand and the green ahead clear. But you are clearly not furthest away, and the player who should be up is just leaving the tee after re-adjusting the straps on their bag. The etiquette of the game dictates you have to wait. Not only does this waste time, but it also throws your game out of rhythm.

Is it time to do away with the old-fashioned order of play during strokeplay golf, to expedite increasingly time consuming rounds of golf?

The Golfing Union of Ireland certainly thought so during the second round of the recent AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship in Ballyliffin. With poor weather conditions leading to long round times on day one, the Championship Committee decided to implement ‘Ready Golf’, resulting in a significantly improved pace of play.

The R&A refers to Ready Golf in its Pace of Play manual as commonly used term which indicates that players should play when they are ready to do so, rather than adhering strictly to the farthest from the hole plays first stipulation in the Rules of Golf.

Ready Golf has been adopted by many as a catch-all phrase for a number of actions that separately and collectively can improve pace of play. There is no official definition of the term, but examples of Ready Golf in action are:

  • Hitting a shot when safe to do so if a player farther away faces a challenging shot and is taking time to assess their options;
  • Shorter hitters playing first from the tee or fairway if longer hitters have to wait;
  • Hitting a tee shot if the person with the honour is delayed in being ready to play;
  • Hitting a shot before helping someone to look for a lost ball;
  • Putting out even if it means standing close to someone else’s line;
  • Hitting a shot if a person who has just played from a greenside bunker is still farthest from the hole but is delayed due to raking the bunker;
  • When a player’s ball has gone over the back of a green, any player closer to the hole but chipping from the front of the green should play while the other player is having to walk to their ball and assess their shot;
  • Marking scores upon immediate arrival at the next tee, except that the first player to tee off marks their card immediately after teeing off.

It certainly made a difference in the Irish Amateur Champs: the first group finished 15 minutes ahead of the 4.5 hours timing schedule – 25 minutes quicker than the previous day. The final group finished the day 16 minutes behind time, but better by 45 minutes compared to round one.

GUI Championships Manager Mark Wehrly explained the decision during the tournament:

We have challenging conditions and a lot of ball searches and provisional balls. Playing Ready Golf is a logical reaction to the fact that, quite often, players will be ready to play before those who would be farthest from the hole in this set of circumstances.”

And there is further evidence to suggest that playing Ready Golf does improve the pace of play. In a survey of Australian golf clubs conducted by Golf Australia, 94% of clubs that had promoted Ready Golf to their members enjoyed some degree of success in improving pace of play, with 25% stating that they had achieved ‘satisfying success’.

In matchplay it’s a different story of course. Playing when it’s your turn is part of the contest, and leaving yourself a longer approach to strike the first blow can be a canny strategy. In matchplay contests the honour/order of play system must stay.

And when Ready Golf is being encouraged players have to act sensibly to ensure that playing out of turn does not endanger other players.

An argument against playing Ready Golf is that the game could lose its discipline. Things could turn into the whacky races, with players focused solely on their own game, charging towards their ball and paying no attention to what playing partners are doing. Perhaps playing in turn an essential element of the social and sporting side of golf?

A happy medium seems logical. It shouldn’t be Every Man for Himself out there, but when it makes sense to play out of turn in order to keep pace, perhaps it shouldn’t be deemed poor form. But by all means have your say below…