Tick, tock

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:45 PM ET

You know why snails never golf on the weekends?

All the standing around and waiting between shots drives them crazy.

Speed of play, one of the most frustrating issues in golf, came to a head on the PGA Tour last Sunday when temperamental South African Rory Sabbatini got so fed up with playing partner Ben Crane's sloth-like pace he simply took off on him. Sabbatini putted out on 17 while Crane, who has moss growing on his shoes at the end of each round, was 150 yards back in the fairway. While Crane was triple-checking his line on the 17th green, Sabbatini had already teed off on 18.

TV analyst Paul Azinger was beside himself, but every golfer on every tour, along with every recreational player who's fed up with five-hour marathons, was loving every minute of it.

"What Sabbatini did was conduct unbecoming a professional,'' said Dunc Mills of the Alberta Golf Association. "There's probably a better way to handle the situation, but I can guarantee you that if he was fined for that, there were 100 players willing to chip in and help him pay it.''

GOLFING HOT SPOT

It's a safe bet that Edmontonians would kick in a few bucks, too. We're one of the busiest golf cities, per capita, in North America, and also one of the slowest.

"Weekends on the public courses are getting really, really bad,'' said Davis Poscente, who tied for fifth at the Alberta Open.

"Unless you're off at 7 or 8 a.m., when you get more of the better players, it's just brutal. If you tee off at 2 or 3 you're not done until 7 or 8. It's like that everywhere; even in the Alberta Open we were waiting on every shot.''

At this year's Alberta Open, rounds were five hours plus, which was actually faster than last year. It's also pretty embarrassing because half the field was club professionals, the same guys who are constantly harping about maintaining the pace of play.

"They're good golfers, they're playing in threesomes, I feel they should be able to play in four hours,'' said RedTail head pro Chad Rumpel. "But the very first group out on Tuesday, a threesome with nobody ahead of them, played in 4 1/2 hours. I think that's unacceptable.''

GROWING SLOWER

But it's the way the game is going. Longer, slower, more infuriating. Throw in travel time and the inevitable delay in teeing off, and you're looking at an eight-hour investment. It's to the point now where a lot of golfers simply don't play on weekends anymore.

"It's a huge problem for the person who wants to play in four hours,'' said Rumpel, adding it only takes a few weak players, or players who don't care how slow they are, to ruin an entire day. "You get that person who thinks 4:45 is fine and it backlogs everything.''

And sends people to the boiling point. Anyone who likes to get a rhythm going, or has someplace to be later, has dreamed of hitting into a group of dorks who've sent a whole course into gridlock because they're lining up two-footers like it's Augusta.

"TV is a big influence,'' said Mills. "People see professional golfers playing for $5 million a week stalking putts from both sides of the green and checking their yardage books for the exact distance. So now you get 20 handicappers who couldn't tell you how far they hit their eight irons anyway, and they're trying to pace off precise yardages. They're mimicking what they see on TV for no reason.''

The courses have also contributed to the slowdown. RedTail has 10-minute intervals, as do most of the better tracks, but some are still operating at seven-minute intervals, which is ridiculous. Restricting carts to paths only adds 40 minutes to every round.

"Courses are partly to blame, definitely,'' said Mills. "But a lot of it is just attitude; it became common to have 4 1/2-hour rounds, so then it's not that big a stretch to play 4:45 or five hours.

"But it doesn't have to be that way. In Scotland, if you're on the course more than 3 1/2, they pull you off. Go to Muirfield. They play threesomes, everybody walks and if you're out there longer than 3 1/2 hours you're gone.''


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