There were three constants in Bill Yates’ life: family, golf and stopwatches. The founder of Pace Manager Systems, Yates could often be found on the golf course, observing the movement of players with enough timepieces to confound an octopus.
Yates made a science of the flow of golfers around the course and crusaded for the improvement of pace and golfer experience at facilities around the country. Although he consulted with hundreds of courses, he is best known for his work at world-renowned Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, site of the 2018 U.S. Amateur and 2019 U.S. Open championships.
The resort’s management team – as well as the golfers playing their bucket-list rounds on the famed layout – benefited greatly from the knowledge imparted by Yates, who died in June at the age of 73.
“Pebble always had a special place in Bill’s heart,” said his wife, Olivia. “He felt like it was his home course.”
From his house just minutes from Stillwater Cove, Yates traveled around the world to help facility managers better understand pace of play on their courses, including the “Home of Golf,” St. Andrews in Scotland. Through his work, Yates also helped to reduce the onus of poor pace from golfers’ shoulders, changing the conversation in a way that impacted the USGA and its work to advance the game.
“Bill helped us fundamentally redefine the causes of poor pace of play,” said Rand Jerris, the USGA’s senior managing director of Public Services. “That very fact places him among a very small, skilled group of people who have had this type of influence on the game.”
Yates had a long relationship with the USGA. He became interested in applying his expertise as a process and efficiency consultant after the introduction of the Pace Rating System in 1993. After meeting with Dean Knuth, who was the head of the USGA Handicap System at the time, Yates formed his company. His first task was to do what he had always done as an industrial engineer: Observe what was really happening on the course.
“[Bill] had adopted my Pace Rating formula and was able to use that to get a better predictor of the time that it should be taking to play a golf hole,” Knuth recalled.
At the time, the prevailing thought was that pace of play was the sole responsibility of the players. For decades, countless articles and campaigns implored golfers to pick up the pace.
The readings from his stopwatches told Yates that one of the biggest causes of poor pace was tee-time intervals. At the time, intervals of six to eight minutes were common, which were too short to provide a smooth flow of golfers around the course.
Facilities utilize shorter intervals to get more golfers onto the course in the hopes of increasing revenue. But this inevitably causes bottlenecks and a gradual increase in waits and round times as more and more groups enter the course – resulting in increased customer complaints and reduced satisfaction.
For more than 20 years, Yates advised facility managers on the financial benefits of providing a consistent experience throughout the day, guided by his analysis of the five factors that he believed most influenced pace of play: management practices and policies, player behavior, player ability, course maintenance and setup, and course design.
“What drove Bill forward,” said Olivia Yates, “was the absolute conviction that every course has the ability and obligation to deliver a good experience so that every golfer, every day can enjoy a smooth, flowing round, making every tee time equally valuable.”
Yates’ populist bent certainly would have met with the approval of his boyhood idol, Arnold Palmer. As an 11-year-old in Pittsburgh, Yates was inspired to take up golf by the young pro he watched winning tournaments on television.
“He was absolutely stunned that everything he had seen in black and white on TV was in color, with emerald greens and fairways,” said Olivia.