ANECDOTAL evidence that work and family commitments are the two biggest factors preventing people from getting out on the course with their golf clubs has been backed up by a worldwide pace of play survey carried out by the R&A.
Involving more than 56,000 golfers around the globe, it has also confirmed a desire for rounds to take less time, as well as showing that there is a growing hunger among younger people to play nine holes rather than the traditional 18.
Our survey was to see how much of an issue slow play is for golfersDuncan Weir
The second detailed document to be released by the St Andrews-based organisation in recent weeks after a global study entitled “Golf around the world 2015”, the pace of play survey is the R&A’s first step towards addressing participation issues.
It attracted responses from 122 countries, with around 3,250 Scottish golfers offering their views among more than 19,000 in Great Britain & Ireland, the majority of whom were club members, in the 55 to 64-year-old age bracket who had played the game for more than 20 years.
The survey found that the two biggest factors preventing people from playing golf are work commitments (34 per cent) and family commitments (29 per cent) with the time taken to play (16 per cent) ranked third. Other factors mentioned were alternative hobbies (12 per cent), cost of play (seven per cent), difficulty of play (one per cent) and cost of equipment (one per cent), although there were some regional variations.
The survey also revealed that while 70 per cent of golfers are “largely happy” with the duration of their rounds, 60 per cent expressed the view that they would “enjoy golf more” if they played in less time.
Of the 25-44 year-olds who said that they were “never happy with pace of play”, 21 per cent said that golf would need to take as much as one-and-a-half hours less for them to play more often. Of the 8,468 golfers in this age range who responded, 19 per cent said they would welcome the opportunity to play nine holes more often as an alternative format.
“This survey is the first step for us in examining, in detail, the wide range of issues currently affecting participation in golf,” said Duncan Weir, executive director of Working for Golf, the R&A’s initiative for developing the game worldwide.
“There is plenty of anecdotal evidence available, but we conducted the survey to obtain accurate data on how much of an issue pace of play is for golfers and to give us an insight into what they see as the main factors contributing to slow rounds.”
According to the respondents, there are three main causes – poor etiquette, player pre-shot routines and bad play. They also offered possible solutions and claimed the problem needed to be tackled from the top downwards. Highlighting comments about professional golf as “probably the most prevalent” in the survey, calls were made for the game’s top players to “lead by example”, more penalties to be handed out and high-profile players to be punished rather than low-profile ones.
Not all respondents believed, however, that pace of play is something that needs to be tackled. “Leave us alone,” said one while others, including those physically unable to move faster, said they didn’t want to see golf turned into a “race” around the course.
The findings will be discussed at a forum in St Andrews later this year and, even more so now, it will be interesting to see what action follows that after Peter Dawson, the R&A’s outgoing chief executive, vowed that the the game’s ruling body would use some of the cash being generated by the Open Championship moving to Sky Sports after the 2016 event at Royal Troon to get to grips with participation issues.
“We feel that the next step in this process is to engage with our partners throughout the golf industry to look at these findings and invite them to contribute their views to these important discussions,” added Weir. “Our forum later this year will provide the opportunity for these discussions to take place.”
Of the 28 questions asked, the replies to “are you generally happy with the time it takes you to play?” will undoubtedly merit discussion. After all, for only 4.3 per cent to say they are “always happy” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for pace of play around the world. At the same time, the fact 64.6 per cent replied by saying they were happy “most of the time” indicates the game isn’t about to lose a plethora of players if nothing can be done to tackle the current pace of play.
Based on the findings, that also isn’t as bad in Great Britain & Ireland as it is in the seven other geographic regions used for this survey – Africa, Asia, Australasia, Continental Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America. Whereas it was between four and four-and-a-half hours in all the others, respondents reckoned rounds in GB&I took between three-and-a-half to four hours. A weighted average for GB&I was worked out as three hours and 44 minutes – ten minutes less than Continental Europe and 25 minutes less than Australia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
In a survey that mainly involved golfers who play once or twice per week, other findings included the majority of rounds being played in either groups of three players and more than 50 per cent of club golfers are now using distance measuring devices. It also revealed that, whereas competition play is the main form of play in Australasia – 80.8 per cent – it is as low as 16.9 per cent in North America with GB&I in the middle at 43.7 per cent.
Stableford, at 63.3 per cent, is also big in Australasia, but in Asia the main type of format is stroke-play at 81 per cent. In GB&I, a third of the respondents said they played a “mixture” when it came to teeing up.
One thing for sure is that none of the findings was lost in translation. The R&A distributed the survey through its affiliated bodies around the world and it was offered in six languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.