If you golf you know what a course marshal is. The marshal in golf is just like the marshal in the old west. He roams around the golf course making sure people are obeying the rules. The rules that the marshal is empowered to enforce pertain to the operation of the golf course and not to the rules of golf. When some bozo decides to kick his ball out of a sand trap, or improve his lie, or not putt out, or drop a ball without a penalty the golf course marshal has no jurisdiction to punish the wayward golfer for his profligate ways. The marshal is responsible primarily for making sure golfers replace their divots, repair their green marks, obey the signs with regards to where the golf carts may be driven and, most importantly, maintain pace of play.
A slow pace of play, I have been told, is the number one peeve of golfers. I understand that. A golf course near my home, called Raccoon Creek, had a pace of play for 18 holes that was so slow I quit playing there. After finishing several rounds in a row at over five and a half hours, with no marshal in sight to speed things up, I decided my golf dollars could be better spent elsewhere. Having spent a few days out golfing during my life, I believe pace of play is the biggest item of contention for most golfers. It is a strange but true fact that the group of guys I randomly get assigned to play with are automatically good guys while, at the same time, the randomly assigned groups ahead and behind us are automatically bad guys. Many a round of golf is played while complaining about how slow the group ahead is playing or how much the group behind is "pushing" us to play faster than we want to. It is into this highly volatile mix of style of play, pace of play and far too much testosterone that the hapless marshal interjects himself. No wonder they are less popular than lawyers and politicians, unless they are speeding up the group ahead of me.
I have rarely seen a good marshal on a golf course. The mistakes they make are common and most all of them make the same mistakes, time and again. The biggest mistake is suddenly disappearing right when the pace of play has ground to a halt behind some group of ladies out for a stroll or some group of geriatrics who can't seem to get it through their heads that people are waiting behind them. I was playing a local course once and had the misfortune of getting behind a group of teenagers who had no clue how to play golf. Now I am a kind and generous soul, as all Welshmen are, and was happy to see the youth of my town out playing the noble game of golf. But these kids were jerks. They sauntered down the fairway, hacking their way along, and paid no attention to the group behind them, which happened to include me. I finally borrowed a cell phone from one of my playing partners and called the club house to request that a marshal be sent out to resolve the situation. I quickly discovered that I was not the first one to call and the kids were soon escorted off the course.
Not being there when they are needed is a big mistake on the part of course marshals but an even bigger mistake is being there in the wrong way. I am yet to meet a marshal that regulates the pace of play according to the stated time the course is supposed to be played in. All golf courses have a pace of play, expressed in hours and minutes, that will usually be somewhere between four and four and a half hours for 18 holes. If a person or group comes in over that pace of play they have been playing too slowly and should have been moved along by the marshal. On the other hand, if a group comes in faster than the posted pace of play they could have played more slowly and still finished on time. You would expect that a course marshal would have an estimate for how long it takes to play each hole and would know exactly when each group is on pace at any hole on the course, but that is not the case. Instead, marshals determine if a group is playing too slowly almost exclusively by looking at the gap that opens between each group of golfers. If a gap opens up on the course the group just behind the gap is going to be yelled at for playing too slowly.
I was playing a round of golf on a course in Mesquite last week when the marshal noticed a gap had opened between my group and the group ahead of us. In addition, the group behind us always seemed to be waiting on us while we worked our way down the fairway. The pace of play for this particular course was 4:30. Sure enough, after just two holes of play the marshal was waiting beside the green on the third hole with the unwanted information that we were playing too slowly and needed to pick up the pace. I flew into a rage, although he did not know it. Let me tell you about it.
The guys, and gals, I play golf with like to play from the tips. That means we play the course as long and as hard as we can. That means it takes us longer to play the course than people who play it shorter and easier. We would much rather shoot a 99 on a hard course than an 89 on an easy one. As you have probably surmised, most golfers are not like us. Most golfers play the course short and easy. They cheat along the way as well. Their goal is to play fast and get a low score. Indeed, I truly believe that some golfers do not care about their score at all and only play to see how fast they can get around the course. Inevitably those are the folks who are ahead and behind my group.
When the gap opened ahead of us it was because the group ahead of us was hitting from the forward tees, even though they were good enough to play from the back tees. The group behind us also should have been playing from the back tees. We were putting on one particular green when one of the big studs from the group behind us drove his ball all the way across our green, while we were still on it. It was over 320 yards long and uphill and he was hitting from the forward tees. Needless to say his ball ended up somewhere other than where he had hit it. When the marshal saw the gap ahead of us and the people waiting behind us he ordered us to play faster, even though it felt like we were running all the time just to catch up to the group ahead of us. It made the round far less enjoyable as the marshal hovered around us, just waiting to tell us to pick up the pace.
On the 18th fairway we were just finishing our round when the marshal drove up. I was sitting in my cart at the time and he came up to chit-chat with me. We were going to finish the round in 4:15, a full fifteen minutes ahead of pace of play. I expressed the opinion that I did not like being pushed to play faster when we were actually coming in ahead of pace. As usual my opinion fell on deaf ears. I think I will stay away from that course in the future. I don't appreciate being hassled for doing the right thing.