Rancho Park Golf Course is a jewel of American golf. Owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles, the facility has hosted prestigious events and some of the biggest names in the game have made history there.
Three years after the city bought the course, which was originally a private club, Rancho Park hosted the 1949 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Over the ensuing decades, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Nancy Lopez and JoAnne Gunderson Carner won there. Jack Nicklaus earned his first check as a professional golfer, earning $33.33 in the 1962 Los Angeles Open.
But in a city known for celebrities, Rancho Park’s character and personality are not defined by Hollywood stars. Rather, its identity is shaped by the city’s everyday golfers, who log more than 100,000 rounds a year on the layout. Every day, the course is a gathering place for Angelenos looking for a respite from the pressures and stresses of the second-biggest city in the country. These regulars, who have come from all over the world, tee off in multilingual foursomes – and sometimes fivesomes and even sixsomes – bound by the common language of golf.
They start arriving well before dawn, changing their shoes in the near blackness of the parking lot lit by a single lamp. They hoist their bags on push carts and hit their first shots half an hour before sunrise. These West Coast counterparts to Bethpage’s overnight campers exude hope, perseverance and resilience, and their passion for the game lights up the first tee.
The Downside of Popularity
The problem with all these rounds at Rancho Park is its impact on golfer experience. Golfers consistently cite pace of play as one most important factors in the enjoyment of a round. At the very crowded Rancho, a round can take a long time – up to six hours at peak times.
At a busy facility like Rancho Park, poor pace of play is difficult to solve due to player volume – it is as if the course perpetually resembles the traffic jams on nearby Santa Monica Freeway during rush hour. But the city exacerbated the problem with a policy that created delays even before golfers teed off.
In 2015, the tee-time interval was six minutes between groups, with two starter’s times every hour, which made the effective interval 7½ minutes. But six minutes did not allow enough time for a group to tee off and clear the landing area before the next group was supposed to tee off. This pattern caused a backup on the first tee. Even with the starter’s times, pre-round delays started mounting; a group with a 10:30 a.m. tee time would find themselves teeing off well after 11.
When it comes to customer satisfaction in any industry – restaurants, amusement parks and airlines, for example – setting and meeting expectations is a key factor. Diners who make reservations expect to be seated within 10-15 minutes of arrival. Amusement parks publish wait times that are longer than actual waits in order to exceed patrons’ expectations. Similarly, airlines have pushed back scheduled arrival times in order to accommodate increasingly common delays due to congestion. Although the actual flight times – takeoff to touchdown – have not changed over the decades, passengers today are pleasantly surprised when a flight arrives “early” and the airline’s on-time performance improves.
In golf, time is no less important. There is a reason clocks are nearly ubiquitous next to first tees: When you have a tee time, you expect to start playing at that time.
But not at Rancho Park. As described above, the course was booking tee times beyond the capacity of the course. As a result, golfers were not happy with their time spent on the course – both before and during the round. A common refrain walking off the 18th green would be: “The round took five hours. Plus, we teed off 40 minutes late!”
The USGA began a study to help the city of Los Angeles improve the golfer experience at Rancho Park. The first step was to figure out the root of the problem.