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Opinion & Analysis

Slow play is all about the numbers



If you gather round, children, I’ll let you in on a secret: slow play is all about the numbers. Which numbers? The competitive ones. If you compete at golf, no matter the level, you care about the numbers you post for a hole, a round, or an entire tournament. Those numbers cause you to care about the prize at the end of the competition, be it a handshake, $$$$, a trophy, or some other bauble. Multiply the amount that you care, times the number of golfers in your group, your flight, the tournament, and the slowness of golf increases by that exponent.

That’s it. You don’t have to read any farther to understand the premise of this opinion piece. If you continue, though, I promise to share a nice anecdotal story about a round of golf I played recently—a round of golf on a packed golf course, that took a twosome exactly three hours and 10 minutes to complete, holing all putts.

I teach and coach at a Buffalo-area high school. One of my former golfers, in town for a few August days, asked if we could play the Grover Cleveland Golf Course while he was about. Grover is a special place for me: I grew up sneaking on during the 1970s. It hosted the 1912 U.S. Open when it was the Country Club of Buffalo. I returned to play it with Tom Coyne this spring, becoming a member of #CitizensOfACCA in the process.

Since my former golfer’s name is Alex, we’ll call him Alex, to avoid confusion. Alex and I teed off at 1:30 on a busy, sunny Wednesday afternoon in August. Ahead of us were a few foursomes; behind us, a few more. There may have been money games in either place, or Directors’ Cup matches, but to us, it was no matter. We teed it high and let it fly. I caught up on Alex’ four years in college, and his plans for the upcoming year. I shared with him the comings and goings of life at school, which teachers had left since his graduation, and how many classrooms had new occupants. It was barroom stuff, picnic-table conversation, water-cooler gossip. Nothing of dense matter nor substance, but pertinent and enjoyable, all the same.

To the golf. Neither one of us looked at the other for permission to hit. Whoever was away, at any given moment, mattered not a bit. He hit and I hit, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes within an instant of the other. We reached the putting surface and we putted. Same pattern, same patter. Since my high school golfers will need to choose flagstick in or out this year, we putted with it in. Only once did it impact our roll: a pounded putt’s pace was slowed by the metal shaft. Score one for Bryson and the flagstick-in premise!

Grover tips out around 5,600 yards. After the U.S. Open and the US Public Links were contested there, a healthy portion of land was given away to the Veteran’s Administration, and sorely-needed hospital was constructed at the confluence of Bailey, Lebrun, and Winspear Avenues. It’s an interesting track, as it now and forever is the only course to have hosted both the Open and the Publinx; since the latter no longer exists, this fact won’t change. It remains the only course to have played a par-6 hole in U.S. Open competition. 480 of those 620 yards still remain, the eighth hole along Bailey Avenue. It’s not a long course, it doesn’t have unmanageable water hazards (unless it rains a lot, and the blocked aquifer backs up) and the bunkering is not, in the least, intimidating.

Here’s the rub: Alex and I both shot 75 or better. We’re not certain what we shot, because we weren’t concerned with score. We were out for a day of reminiscence, camaraderie, and recreation. We golfed our balls, as they say in some environs, for the sheer delight of golfing our balls. Alex is tall, and hits this beautiful, high draw that scrapes the belly of the clouds. I hit what my golfing buddies call a power push. It gets out there a surprising distance, but in no way mimics Alex’ trace. We have the entire course covered, from left to right and back again.

On the 14th tee, I checked my phone and it was 3:40. I commented, “Holy smokes, we are at two hours for 13 holes.” We neither quickened nor slowed our pace. We tapped in on 18, right around 4:40, and shook hands. I know what he’s been up to. He understands why I still have a day job, and 18 holes of golf were played—because we both cared and didn’t care.

There you have it, children. Off with you, now. To the golf course. Play like you don’t care.

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Ronald Montesano writes for from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.



  1. Jeff Kinney

    Aug 19, 2019 at 9:55 am

    After reading this, I’m not sure what numbers you’re referring to. I doubt you would have finished in 3:10 if the course was 7,000 yards. It’s pretty simple arithmetic to me, but you didn’t really spell it out, only that you and your buddy kept moving.
    My take, play the proper tees. For me, 6800 yards is plenty, and 6400 yards is probably better. If only one foursome plays the wrong tees, it throws the pace of play off for the entire course.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:24 am

      Even if we jump it up to 4 hours from 7K yards, that’s the point you’ve made for me. It’s all about moving. Your other points are salient as well, but we can’t have golf police enforcing where people play from. That’s apocalyptic. As long as humans have pride that develops into hubris, we will have slow play.

  2. Roger S

    Aug 18, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Another commenter had it right – unless the group in front of them did their job, this wasn’t possible. Either that, or they had a five hole head start on your twosome.
    My experience is that slow play is rarely about our pace (I think we intuitively know to keep up with the group ahead of us), it’s more about those in front of us.
    It’s usually very apparent when you get a view of the 2 or 3 holes ahead of you, and one (or more) are vacant that your goal of a 4 hour round is in jeopardy. Now it’s time for the Ranger to get the train back on the track.

  3. Bruce

    Aug 18, 2019 at 9:59 am

    A mid 70’s golfer is a great player, better than 95+ percent of golfers, and ready to play fast. Unfortunately, the rest of us need to think about shots, club selection, and our swing which takes time. A 4 hour round is fine, but pushing for time ALWAYS COSTS ME POOR SHOTS AND MORE TIME. Everyone is a beginner at some time: pushing fast play frustrates the less skilled players and will push people away from the game. Even extreme speed golfers need the slower players to fund the courses and equipment companies. Pushing speed is hurting the game.

    • Fast Player

      Aug 18, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      So What? So that’s your excuse to play slowly? Didn’t your parents teach you morals, such as it’s impolite and selfish to impose on others? Sounds to me like you had poor parents.

    • Rascal

      Aug 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      If you are at least a 100s shooter or better, or in other words you are familiar with being on a golf course, there is no excuse for taking excessive time due to the things you’ve mentioned.
      The time to work those things out is at the practice tee where you can take as much time as you’d like.
      On the course, you reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the game you’ve brought that day. That’s golf.
      Remember that you can always pick up and move on if a hole becomes unsalvageable.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:28 am

      I think you’re incorrect, Bruce. It’s the thinking about things that slows you down. I will say that the great players do not understand the average and bad players who have no desire to consciously improve. A 120-shooter can improve 20 strokes within 2 weeks, by learning about the short game (2 lessons) and practicing diligently (6 trips to short-game green for practice.) The 150-shooter can do something similar with a 5-lesson series over 3 weeks, and 5 practice sessions. People are busy, and don’t have time/money/desire/both/all three to effect these changes. As a result, they try to make adjustments on course, not having any sense on whether they are warranted or helpful. Their continued frustration pains me.

  4. Charlie

    Aug 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

    I am Starter at my local GC 7-11AM. Every Saturday 3 brothers are 1st off the tee at 7AM. They always play a mulligan off #1 and they always finish 18 holes in 2 1/2 – 2:45. By 11AM rounds of 18 holes are taking 4 1/2 hours+ despite the best efforts of our marshal. Scramble golf tournaments go 5 hours+. If I did not play for free I would not play at all.

  5. Greg V

    Aug 18, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Tom Coyne – name dropper! Actually, I enjoyed both the Ireland and Scotland books, so well done.

    What a lovely way to play. And CCB West is also one of my favorites for fun round on an historic course.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Ha ha! I’ve not heard it called that before, Greg. And you know me, and you know that dropping names is something I rarely do … but when I do it, I go all in!!

  6. JP

    Aug 17, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    Bryson is still a twit. He should read this stuff and change his ways.

  7. Brandon Bolt

    Aug 17, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Ready golf is the key. The who is away bs really slows the game down. Leave that to the pros. Just finished a 5 hour round that was so painful. Pace of play is the biggest negative force impacting the game today.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:33 am

      Brandon, you’ve got it. We are not the entertainers. If golfers say “I have my best conversations of the week on the course. I don’t want it to end,” well, hang out on the terrace for an hour and some apps, after you finish. The conversation doesn’t have to end. 4 hours plus 1 hour is still the same 5 hours. I didn’t want to use the cliched term “Ready Golf,” but that is precisely what we did. And we re-hit many a putt, or chip, for practice or understanding. We just kept hitting.

      The point about preoccupation with numbers has been totally lost here. Why does bad golfer take so many swings? Trying to post a score! Why does great golfer read putts from 20 angles? Trying to post a score. Why does average golfer check the wind/alignment/topography 6 times? Trying to post a score. Not every round needs to be recorded for posterity.

  8. Roy

    Aug 17, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    You played fast and based it on your not caring attitude, but the on.y reason you finished in 3:10 was because the group in front of you played at about that pace. What was their attitude – were they playing for $$ or nothing, caring or not caring. Good read, but does not support your thesis.

    • Greg V

      Aug 18, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      got a good feeling that Ron and Alex went through a couple of groups – as they should have. They were playing fast. At Grover, slower groups usually let a fast 2-some through. Everyone knows the score. Or, at least most, in my experience.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:37 am

      Roy…reread what you posted. IF the group in front plays quickly, all it does is afford us the opportunity to play quickly. It was our responsibility to accept that mantle and do it justice … and we did. I don’t know what their attitude was, but I predict it had nothing to do with money nor score.

      If golfers get juiced by playing for cash, and their play slows down as a result, they are selfish. Can you disagree? They are not thinking about the greater good. They are thinking about taking money from their friends. That is such an odd point of satisfaction. I’m going to wreck a friendship, or have one wrecked, AND I’m going to hold other people up, exponentially. By doing so, I’m going to ruin their rounds as well.

  9. BobbyC777

    Aug 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    I’d give those 4somes in front of you a lot of credit for doing their part!

  10. Lawrence Rogan

    Aug 17, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Good read. I have just a few golf buds and we enjoy our rounds the same way.
    Play when your ready. If someone else is taking an extra few seconds let them take their time. Leaving the flag stick in has helped speed things. Putt when ready. When 3 or 4 of us play we always finish under 4 hrs. As a twosome around 3 hrs. No anger, no splitting of hairs whose away. Just enjoy your friends and the day outside.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:40 am


      Then you read what some of the other comments reveal, and all you can do is smile. You know those guys, you’ve watched them hang their reputations, their interpersonal relations for the next 48 hours, their budgets, on the outcome of their golf game. In order for them to win money, they need to be on, and their opponent(s), off. What a small chance at victory.

      I did pass through the score-matters stage, so I understand where they are in the arc of golf development. Hopefully, they will have the same epiphany as I, and will not concern themselves any longer with scores that will be forgotten by sundown.

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Flatstick Focus

Flatstick Focus: Putter makers to check out (Part 1)



In Episode 16, we discuss some putter makers we think you should check out before ordering your first (or next) custom wand.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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The Gear Dive: Discussing the drivers of 2020 with Bryan LaRoche



In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with his good buddy Bryan LaRoche. They chat on life and do a deep dive into the drivers of 2020.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play



I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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