Faced with the need to improve pace of play at their events, LPGA Tour officials joined forces with the USGA in 2014 and were able to give something back to players that many of them value greatly: 14 minutes of their time.
Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s chief Tour operations officer, said that waiting between shots is the most common complaint she hears from competitors. Having endured those same frustrating delays during her 11 years as an LPGA Tour player, Daly-Donofrio took it upon herself to search for a solution.
Daly-Donofrio had attended the USGA’s first Pace of Play Symposium in November 2013, so she turned to Matt Pringle, the USGA’s technical director of equipment standards, for help. Pringle analyzed data through the first six events of 2014 and suggested that the Tour implement wider tee-time intervals. That process further led to the creation of a breakthrough pace-of-play policy, which contributed to reducing the average LPGA round by 14 minutes over the course of the 2014 season.
Daly-Donofrio and Pringle shared their pace-of-play success story on Day 1 of the second annual two-day Pace of Play Symposium at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.
Employing science-driven solutions derived from data collected at tournament sites throughout the year, Pringle and Daly-Donofrio created a two-pronged approach: 11-minute tee time intervals for groups of three, instead of the previous standard of 10 minutes, and an amended time-par policy that simplified the process for both players and officials.
The LPGA’s pace-of-play policy sends one clear message to its golfers: if you fall behind, you must catch up. Simple, straightforward, and ultimately, successful.
“We started our policy this year at Kingsmill [in mid-May] and we’ve had a lot of great feedback,” said Daly-Donofrio, a two-time LPGA Tour winner. “The approval of the players has been huge.”
Statistics for the 2014 LPGA Tour season showed that the average grouping of three players finished in 4 hours, 54 minutes when a 10-minute tee-time interval was used. With the adoption of tee-time intervals of 11 minutes and the new time-par policy, average round time dropped to 4 hours, 40 minutes.
A time-par sheet, which establishes a target time for lead groups to finish each hole during a round, is created for each tournament. Instead of tracking the time-par performance of every group, the lead group is the only one on the course responsible for keeping pace with the time par. Every other group in the field is responsible for simply maintaining its position on the course in relation to the group preceding it.
“Players felt the old time card policy made them worry more about things going on behind them than worrying about what was in front of them,” Daly-Donofrio explained. “Now, the only thing groups on the course are responsible for is for keeping up with the group in front of them.”
If players fall behind the group directly in front of them, they will first receive a warning and if they continue to lag, they will be put on the clock. Officials are also permitted to warn or time the lead group, even if it is under its time par, if those players are holding up groups behind them. This promotes pace-of-play fairness across the tournament field.
While the USGA monitors pace of play at all of its national championships, the most notable improvement has been in the U.S. Women’s Open. The average playing time in the 2012 championship at Blackwolf Run was more than 5 hours, 40 minutes for the first two rounds. In comparison, the average time at Pinehurst No. 2 for the first two rounds of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open was nearly 30 minutes less.
Bill Yates, who conducted a study on pace-of-play gender differences between the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, applauded the USGA’s and LPGA’s efforts.
“First off, the USGA deserves full marks for doing something about the issue. I also give full marks to the LPGA for understanding the issue, for involving the USGA, and for the development of this policy for the betterment of their players,” Yates said after presenting on Wednesday.
Yates, who has helped some 150 courses improve their pace of play, believes the LPGA’s policy will ultimately set the standard for competitive golf.
“Everybody playing for their livelihood in a championship deserves the same consistent, quality opportunity to play,” said Yates, “and the USGA and LPGA are trying to set an example for the rest of the game.”
Dan Scofield is a communications intern for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.