Golf used to be a sport characterized by personal dignity, respect for fellow participants, respect for the rules of golf and a powerful sense of the proper etiquette that was to be followed to ensure an enjoyable experience for all players. Everyone who grew up in my generation learning how to play the game of golf was instructed on the importance of following golfing etiquette. Golfing etiquette consists of those unwritten rules that allow each player to show respect for the other players while, at the same time, allowing for a seamless round of golf unmarred by the indignities and profanities of daily life. My how things have changed.
I have posted to this blog previously about the problem with many golfers today. I believe that Tiger Woods has had a lot to do with the fact that today's golfers have more of a football mentality than a golf mentality and I wrote an entire blog post arguing that he has been bad for the game of golf. I have seen a massive degradation in the quality of the golfing experience since Tiger arrived on the scene. Allow me to give you some examples.
I was playing a Denver municipal golf course a couple of weeks ago. This particular course has a lot of tree lined fairways that parallel each other. Since most amateur golfers have a hard time hitting their drives straight it is often the case that one player's ball will end up in the fairway of another hole. Because of the way most courses are laid out it is also usually the case that when a player drives his ball into another fairway he finds himself confronting oncoming players on that hole. The proper etiquette in this matter is simple. If you have driven your ball into another fairway you wait until the players on that hole have finished their shots and moved on prior to entering the fairway and hitting your shot. Early in my round that day another player launched his ball into the fairway I was playing, as I was on the tee ready to hit my driver. Without even looking to see if anyone was on the tee he drove his cart into my fairway and proceeded to take way too much time lining up and hitting his shot. Later that day one of the fellows I was playing with did the same thing to another group of players coming the other way. He sauntered into their fairway and took his time hitting his ball. They made some snide comments about how rude he was behaving and I thought we might have a fight on our hands but the oblivious player did not notice he was being chastised.
As an interesting side note, a day or two after I played this course there was an altercation on one of the holes. Apparently some player hit into the group in front of him, thus incurring their wrath for doing so. The player who hit into the group was walking and one of the players who was hit into had a cart. An argument ensued and escalated to the point where the man driving the cart chased down and ran over the player who was walking. It is now a matter for the courts.
Each golf course has something called the "pace of play." The pace of play is how long you are permitted to take to play the course. It is an important number because it tells each player precisely how fast he has to play to avoid inconveniencing the other players. If a player falls behind the pace of play a course marshal used to come along and exhort him to play faster. Sometimes the marshal would require him to pick up his ball or skip a hole to catch up to the group ahead. Marshals are rarely seen on golf courses today and pace of play has become a very heated matter. Indeed, the thing I hear the most complaints about when playing a round of golf is how the group ahead of my group is a bunch of idiots because they are no good and play way too slowly.
It seems to me that many people play golf today simply to see how fast they can get around the course. I like to play the course from the tips. That means I am playing the course as long and as hard as it can be played. I do that not because I am any good but because I enjoy the challenge. The great majority of players play the course as short as they can. Sometimes that is to allow them to get a lower score but I believe most of the time they do it simply to play fast. They do other things to play fast like conceding putts to each other, even though the rules of golf do not permit those concessions if match play rules are not in effect (which they never are). I do not believe I have ever seen another player other than the fellows I routinely play with take a three putt. That is because all second putts are illegally conceded. Once again, this is primarily to make things go quickly.
All of this brings me to my problem with the pace of play. Since I play the course as long as possible I routinely bump up against the time allotted for pace of play. Since most everyone else plays the course as short as possible I find irritated and sometimes angry people stacked up behind me while I play. Let me be very clear. I do not go over the pace of play. I am not a slow player but I do take advantage of the full allotment of time to play my round. As far as I am concerned every player who pays his green fee for a round of golf should be willing to spend the entire allotted amount of time on the course without whining or complaining. If a player wants a faster golf experience let him go to an executive course where the pace of play is much faster. I once had a group complain to the marshal about how slow my group was playing despite the fact we were on pace. The marshal ordered us to pick up the pace. After the round I went to the clubhouse and asked to speak to the course pro. I informed him that we had finished under pace by a minute or two but were told to play faster while we were out on the course. I further informed him that I did not appreciate being scolded for doing something that was not wrong. He apologized and gave me a free round.
Golfing is supposed to be a quiet activity. An occasional hoot or holler is acceptable if a particularly good shot has been made but, for the most part, golfers should speak quietly to each other. I was playing a course in New Mexico last week that was populated with loud-mouthed Cretans who knew nothing about golf etiquette. To make matters worse, they were not simply loud, they were also profane. If I was the manager of that course I would have asked them to leave. As it was, I had to suffer the offense of listening to their loud profanity on many of the holes I was playing.
My final complaint also has to do with noise. I am amazed that golf courses still have a dress code. You are not permitted to play a round of golf dressed like you are going to the beach or the night club. Women are to dress modestly and men are to keep their shirts on. Most courses have a collared shirt requirement and denim is almost always not allowed. I appreciate the dress code because it adds a level of sophistication to the experience. You may be wondering what the dress code has to do with noise. Actually, it has nothing to do with noise. I only mention the dress code because it is an old rule that is generally enforced. What amazes me is that golf courses will enforce the dress code rule and then allow golfers to ride around in carts with music blaring from the personal boom-boxes they are carrying about with them as they play the course. I was shocked the first time I was assaulted by loud and raucous music on the golf course. Now it happens practically every round. Why is this tolerated? Why is this not banned? I can think of nothing that ruins the golf experience more quickly than walking along a nice course and hearing hip-hop music coming from the cart of some twenty-somethings on the next hole.
I don't expect things to improve as the culture of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika becomes more profane. There are too many factors weighing in against proper social proprieties to stem the tide of rudeness and selfishness, even on the golf course. I will still play because I love the game but I will also continue to fuss and fume, hoping that someday some course manager will have the courage to ban boom-boxes and eliminate music from the golf course.