Pace of Play & the Impact of Course Set-Up

Watching the US Open at Pinehurst #2, I was struck by the challenge of the hole placements and course set-up and wondered how much time is spent hitting extra shots under those severe conditions even among the greatest players in the world.

In order to get a better insight into course set-up and how it affects speed of our everyday play at our courses I visited with Tim Vondra of Tucson Country Club to get his perspective on his role as a Course Superintendents on the pace of play.

When asked about course set-up conditions that affect speed of play Tim outlined three areas he feels are key. “No doubt height of (grass) cut, not only on greens but throughout the golf course affects speed of play. Planning the height of the first and second cut of rough is important.” Tim elaborated that at Tucson CC he is able to control rough height and fairway contour to help accommodate the less accomplished and shorter players to keep play moving while still creating a challenging landing area for the clubs best big hitters.

Tim and I discussed an often overlooked factor in pace of play which he describes as “the firmness of the playing surface”. Again not just on the greens but throughout the course. Tim will plan weeks ahead and adjust his watering schedule to firm up the course for qualifiers and club majors. Tim feels that firm conditions are a key factor in testing the tournament golfer along with rough height and green speeds but also recognizes how those most challenging conditions impact the daily pace of play.

Hole locations are most commonly discussed when it comes to pace of play. At Tucson CC Tim said there are “No go areas” on many of the greens for hole placements but more importantly “no go” placements depending on who is playing the course on any given day. He has settings for players who may run the ball up and hit the ball lower and also settings that are best for those in his membership that hit the ball higher or have the ability to execute pitch shots.

When asked about the greatest challenge he faces when it comes to pace of play in his position Tim responded quickly by saying “changing conditions”. Conditions he described that may cause cart use restrictions include, minor construction projects, or any situation that cause golfers to change their route around the course or that changes their normal routine. Our summer heat is one of the big contributors to changing conditions that require path only restrictions for cart traffic that may vary from one day to the next. Tim’s insight into the psyche of a golfer made me laugh when he told me “golfers want to know how to behave on the course and changing conditions impact their behavior”. He elaborated on the importance of communicating with the golfer and the pro shop staff as much as possible to minimize the impact of carts restricted areas and route changes.

I came away from my time with Tim very impressed with his knowledge of his members, his course, and who is playing each day. Tim described one of his key responsibilities as “knowing your golfers” and after just a few minutes with Tim Vondra I’m sure he does.

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