Nicklaus’ dire warning on evil of slow play

HE JOKED about being “an old man” and gave the impression he knew more about tennis than golf these days by recapping last year’s events at Wimbledon ahead of a visit to the All England Championships today and tomorrow. But, during a visit to Gleneagles yesterday to inspect changes ahead of the 2014 Ryder Cup, Jack Nicklaus showed his marbles are still all there at 72 and his opinions on golf are as incisive as ever.

In between giving his seal of approval to the major makeover that has been given to the PGA Centenary Course, the 18-times major winner discussed a whole host of topics, including the modern-day golf ball, the distance it goes and belly putters.

He also claimed Scotland is doing a better job than America at encouraging youngsters into the sport through the clubgolf junior initiative that was rolled out on the back of the Ryder Cup being awarded to Gleneagles. However, it was when he turned to the effect slow play is having on the game that Nicklaus delivered a message that struck a chord with most in the room, as the golfing authorities are finally starting to take action.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Tour professionals Morgan Pressel and Ross Fisher have both been hit with slow play penalties recently, as was English teenager Nathan Kimsey during last week’s Amateur Championship at Royal Troon.

Nicklaus said: “I’m 72 and may kid that I’m out of touch, but I watch what’s going on and I am very concerned about the game of golf and its future because people will not take five or six hours at a time for a game of golf. This is a computer age and everyone wants instant satisfaction. If you are going to play in the computer age then you are going to have to learn how to play in computer time.

“All other sports are played in less than three hours, apart from the odd five-set tennis match. Golf needs to do something if wants to follow suit.

“In amateur golf, they use strokes to penalise [slow] players and they need to start using strokes on the Tour as well because fines mean nothing to these guys. They penalised Morgan Pressel and basically cost her the matchplay tournament she was playing in. That was devastating to her and I know how she feels. I got penalised twice when I was young and didn’t like it at all. I wouldn’t have minded a fine. But that [a penalty] gets your attention real quick and it got me moving along. I don’t think if I was ever a jet after that, but I learned how to play within the time limits.

“We all have to learn how to do that. Even when I was playing the Tour we were allowed four hours and 15 minutes. They couldn’t possibly play in four hours and 15 minutes today. The showcase of the game is taking too long and I don’t know where we are going to end up.

“It needs to be faster as tournament golf is the showcase. It’s where the kids get their role models. How do you think golf grew in Spain? Seve [Ballesteros]. How do you think it grew in Germany? Bernhard [Langer].”

Nicklaus hailed clubgolf for getting the game into schools in Scotland, something he said the First Tee programme was now starting to achieve in the United States as well, while he also predicted that the R&A and USGA will eventually stop long putters being anchored in a player’s body.

On the ball, he accused the authorities of forcing golf club owners to waste money by having to lengthen courses to combat modern-day distances and claimed businesses would grow if layouts were shortened significantly.

He even suggested that the use of bigger holes might be an answer to increasing the game’s popularity. “We’ve run a couple of events [in the States] over 12 holes with 8in cups,” he said. “The ladies loved it and so did the novices while the seniors said they’d not enjoyed as much success on the greens in years.”

The man who originally designed the PGA Centenary Course (the Monarch’s when it first opened), Nicklaus had been “disengaged” by Gleneagles bosses for a spell but is delighted to be back on board again.

He revealed that some of the “options” he proposed for the final batch of changes ahead of the Ryder Cup had not been followed through but praised Scott Fenwick, the course superintendent, over his decision-making.

“Rather than trying to protect it [from the big-hitters] I’d say our aim was to make it a better golf course and I think we have achieved that,” said Nicklaus.