PACE OF PLAY
Lou Riccio’s Golf Laboratory June 10, 2014 By Thomas Dunne

Few have studied golf's pace of play issues more than Columbia professor and former New York transportation commissioner Lou Riccio. (USGA/Jonathan Kolbe) 

Few in golf have studied golf’s pace-of-play issues in greater detail than Lucius J. “Lou” Riccio, a Columbia University professor and former New York City transportation commissioner.

A longtime USGA committee member and one of the original members of the Handicap Research Team, which developed the Slope System, Riccio, 66, is an industrial engineer who approaches golf as a system. He draws analogies between golf courses and factories, using terms like “throughput time” that are more often used to describe the efficiency of assembly lines.

Riccio decided to apply his professional skills to the problem of slow play after walking off the course during a particularly slow round at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., in the late 1990s. He developed a series of computer simulations, with variables that included walking speed, shot-preparation time, and tee-time intervals.

His findings led him to create the Three 45 Golf Association, a volunteer organization named for his view of the desired duration of a round of golf. Its aim is to inform golf’s many stakeholders, from course operators to superintendents to players, on best practices for improving pace of play.

“Everyone’s convinced that slow play is caused by the group in front of them,” Riccio said. “That makes it so easy for course managers to pass the buck, and it can be hard to convince people of the real problem.”

Riccio, who was a presenter at the USGA’s Pace of Play Symposium last fall, has identified three often interconnected factors that contribute to slow rounds: 1. Player behavior; 2. The golf course (how it is maintained and the difficulty of its setup); and 3. Course management.

All three were acute problems at Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mike Giordano’s management team has fully embraced Riccio’s prescriptions. Printed handouts are distributed to golfers before teeing off at Marine Park, with pieces of advice including:

  • Walk directly to the ball at a speed of at least 3 miles per hour (or 100 yards per minute).
  • Be ready to hit and never take more than 45 seconds to plan, address and hit a shot.
  • Never take more than 45 seconds to study the line and putt out (all putts).

One key element of Marine Park’s management practices is the positive reinforcement provided by Marine Park’s player assistants, a result of Riccio’s knowledge of consumer psychology – specifically, how people use public spaces. If a message is worded positively rather than negatively, it can make a difference.

“Say you’re trying to keep a park clean,” Riccio explained. “If you put up a sign that says, ‘Please Deposit Trash in Bins’ instead of ‘Don’t Litter,’ people will follow the instruction more.”

At the golf course described by Giordano as an “urban golf laboratory,” Riccio’s ideas will be tested. Over time, the results and solutions from Marine Park just may find their way to other busy facilities around the country.

For more on Lou Riccio and his “Pace of Play Bible,” visit three45golf.org.

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