Glenn D. Nager was elected to a second one-year term as president of the USGA at the organization’s annual meeting in Coronado, CA last week, and took the opportunity to announce a major commitment to combatting the problem of slow play in golf and reaffirm the USGA’s opposition to any bifurcation of the Rules of Golf. Nager, a Washington, D.C. attorney who argues cases before the Supreme Court, headed the Rules of Golf Committee prior to being elected president.
In his speech at the meeting, Nager emphasized that the USGA “must join with others to do much more to promote a more enjoyable, a more affordable, and a more welcoming experience for golfers, without fundamentally changing the game itself.” He noted that the USGA has taken a number of steps over the past year in furtherance of those objectives, such as initiating a comprehensive rules education campaign for recreational golfers, working with other organizations to promote youth and girls golf, and developing better practices in agronomy and water use to make the game more affordable.
Nager announced that the USGA is implementing a number of pace of play initiatives to identify the sources of slow play and develop solutions. “Pace of play has been an issue for decades,” said Nager, “but it has now become one of the most significant threats to the game’s health. Five-hour plus rounds of golf are incompatible with life in modern society, where there are many alternative forms of entertainment and sport that fit more comfortably into the compressed time that we have available.” He noted that slow play is a problem at all levels of golf. “Poor pace of play saps the fun from the game, frustrates players, and discourages future play,” said Nager.
Nager emphasized that solutions to pace of play must be “dynamic and adaptable,” and must take into account the following four key factors: (1) course design; (2) course management and set-up; (3) player management; and (4) player education. He revealed that the USGA’s Research and Test Center has launched an ambitious project to create a “dynamic model of pace of play” based on real world data. Nager explained that, when complete, the model should identify the specific influences that those four factors have on pace of play and allow the USGA to advise all of the various participants in the golf industry about how to promote a faster pace of play.
Nager announced that the USGA also intends to use various communications channels to educate golfers on how to play faster. This will include better education about the benefits of equitable stroke control, so that golfers will understand that their Handicap Index will not be adversely affected by picking up when appropriate.
Turning to the issue of bifurcation of the rules, which has surfaced as a major issue in connection with the proposed ban on anchoring, Nager emphatically disputed the proposition that “easier is better” — that more people would enjoy and play the game if equipment standards and playing rules were relaxed. “The underlying logic of ‘easier is better’ is inexorably contrary to the game’s very nature,” Nager contended. “Golf is a unique game of skill and challenge. … The game tests us, vexes us, humbles us, and thrills us – so that, when our rounds are finished, we can’t wait to tell our tales of triumph and woe; so that we search endlessly for the skills that will allow us to improve.”
Nager cited a study of the National Golf Foundation that found that the challenge of the game is one of the top reasons recreational golfers are so passionate about golf. The study further found that the major barriers to participation are not related to the game’s difficulty, but rather to expense, time, and the perception that the game is exclusionary. “Golfers and potential golfers are in fact attracted to the challenge of the game, and calls for making the playing and equipment rules easier paradoxically would compromise and possibly destroy the game for them,” argued Nager.
Nager contended that the argument for bifurcation (different rules for professionals and top-tier amateurs and recreational golfers) is refuted by golf’s history, which demonstrates a movement towards unification of equipment and playing rules throughout the world. Multiple teeing grounds and the Handicap and Course Rating Systems allow golfers to play within their own physical abilities, yet also compete across ability levels while playing each shot by the same set of rules. “Creating multiple sets of rules would undermine both these great traditions and the needs of modern golfing populations, as well as threaten the value and integrity of the Handicap System,” explained Nager.
In summary, Nager argued that “easier for the sake of easier is plainly not better” when it comes to golf playing and equipment rules. “To compromise [the challenges of the game] in a misconceived quest for ‘fun’ would simply destroy the game that we love. Or task as rule makers is not to make the game easier or to make it harder, but rather to preserve and enhance the game’s special and eternal qualities.”