• Alistair Tait

European Tour needs to keep hammer down on golf snails

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

So far so good for the European Tour’s effort to stamp slow play out of golf, but the world’s second biggest professional circuit needs to keep the hammer down and follow through on what it’s promised.

The Tour has failed to do this in the past. Hopefully it’s second time lucky.

Last week’s $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship saw the Tour’s new pace of play guidelines come into effect. Play improved as a result, according to European Senior Tour referee Andy McFee.

"The players who have traditionally been tardy looked to me like they were getting on with it. The first round was actually 10 minutes quicker this year. And the second round was about six minutes quicker, so both rounds were quicker."

The faster rounds delighted Thomas Bjorn. He said:

“This is the way forward. It's been brilliant.”

Isn't it a sad indictment of the game when improvements of 10 and six minutes are cause for celebration? Too bad it wasn't 20-30 minutes. Still, I suppose it's a step in the right direction, albeit a baby step.

The 2018 Ryder Cup captain has been banging on about speeding up the snails for years. Bjorn campaigned hard in his 10 years as chairman of the European Tour’s influential tournament committee. The Dane still sits on the committee, so he’s in a good position to make sure the Tour pushes through with its intentions. However, he has his worries.

"I hope it doesn't go like it goes in other sports when you have rules changes and it seems like the first three or four weeks everybody is up for it, but then you kind of forget about it.

"I hope it is pushed forward and we send a good signal to the world that we are taking this seriously, that we want to finish rounds on time and we want to be in control of everything we do."

I share Bjorn’s concerns. We’ve been here before. The Tour promised to get tough on slow play four years ago. Chief executive Keith Pelley made a huge song and dance about speeding up the snails before the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. He said:

“Our aspirational goal is to cut 15 minutes off a round on a daily basis. We feel that is significant.

“It’s a positive first step. We will continue to work closely with our players, closely with the R&A in other ways of making our game quicker.”

We know how long that lasted. Not very. Oh, Jordan Spieth was warned for slow play that week in Abu Dhabi, but it didn’t take long for the game to resume its glacial pace.

Things reached a head last year when Edoardo Molinari, also a member of the tournament committee, complained about five and a half hour rounds in the Trophée Hassan II.

No doubt this week’s $3.25 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic will see quicker rounds because the spotlight is still on the Tour. It’s what happens when the spotlight is turned off that worries me.

This is a positive second step. There better not be a third, because slow play is killing golf.

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