Ready Golf comes early to the R&A
Our research has shown that golfers would enjoy the sport more if it took less time to play and so we are introducing Ready Golf during the stroke play rounds at our amateur championships to help improve pace of play and the experience for the players and spectators.
Included in the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf for 2019, the R&A has decided to not wait and instead include "Ready Golf" in their amateur championships beginning immediately. Will it make any sort of significant difference in the pace of play? That's the big unknown.
Any efforts to bring sanity back to the pace of play for a typical round of golf is deserving of consideration. I just don't see "Ready Golf" as revolutionary since so many of us play by these rules already. The formality of determining who has the honor or who is away has its place, but not on a busy Saturday at the local club. If you aren't already playing "Ready Golf" during your casual rounds then you're doing it wrong.
Bringing "Ready Golf" to the competitive tournament environment may help to a degree. It certainly will serve as a good example to sweep up the last remaining folks that refuse to put "Ready Golf" into effect in their own games. It may also help with the other issue facing the big tours these days: Money.
The R&A hinted at it in their statement quoted above: "...help improve pace of play and the experience for the players and spectators." The money machine that drives professional golf is television. Companies sponsor events with millions of currency units in order to get their brand put in front of millions of viewers. Broadcasters add millions in revenue for the rights to bring the events into homes, bars, clubhouses, and the like. There is increasing concern that viewership will struggle and erode until the pace of play is improved. It doesn't just take too long to play 18 holes of golf these days. It takes too long to watch 18 holes of golf as well. People are either tuning in late or not at all and the folks that make money from these events are getting increasingly concerned.
In just a few days many of us will sit down to watch at least some of the U.S. Open. Fans know to expect the Thursday and Friday rounds to push the 6-hour mark. You must be a fairly passionate fan to sit through that much coverage. It's the casual fans that find spending 6-plus hours watching golf a ridiculous concept that has the marketing folks worried. Hours and hours of coverage is great. 6-hours of coverage just to get the leaders or a fan favorite around the course is a bit much.
Hopefully, the pace of play issues will continue to be worked on by all of us. It will take a complicated collection of new thinking and rules to achieve significant results. If "Ready Golf" helps without taking anything away from the quality of the competition and its presentation to the fans then I'm for it. Will it turn those marathon 6-hours rounds of golf back into a fun 4-hour game with friends? Not by itself. Not by a long shot.