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Courses' handicap: pace of the players


Ben Cruz says his budget doesn't allow him to golf at the $100-a-round courses. But he says the more affordable municipal courses can present another problem.

"Five and a half hours to play a round of golf," he says, "is just way too slow."

Fed up after a long day at Rocky Point Golf Course in Essex, he called the officials who run Baltimore County's courses. It turns out they are studying that very issue.

Golfers who play the county courses are being encouraged to fill out online surveys. And some of these golfers, and groups that play the courses, have been invited to attend a two-day "Pace of Play Summit" next week.

The summit was scheduled in response to a growing number of complaints about slow play, said Lynnie Cook, the executive director of the golf division of the county revenue authority, which operates six public courses.

"We want to make golf enjoyable for everyone who plays on our courses," said Cook, who spent 20 years as executive director for the city's courses before joining the county last year. The National Golf Course Owners Association cites pace of play as one of the most pervasive problems facing its membership.

Golf course marshals monitor the pace of play. They may ask players to skip a hole, or leave and return when the course is not so busy.

A course in Pennsylvania is among those that offer incentives to speed up play.

Marada Golf Course in Clifton Park, Pa., uses "Marada Dollars" -- wooden nickels passed out by course rangers, marshals and the grounds crews to players who keep up the proper pace and otherwise exercise good golf etiquette. A token is worth a dollar off a round of golf.

"The nickels have helped our pace of play," said Deborah Evans Crawford, a part owner of the nine-hole course. "We also started a strict pace-of-play program, where we determine the time it should take to play our course, and we strictly enforce that. Between the two programs our pace of play has improved."

In Baltimore County, officials monitored the pace of play during the off-season. Several factors play a part in determining an appropriate pace of play. For example, the day of the week, time of day, length of the course, weather conditions and planned events all contribute to the time needed to finish a round, said Cook.

The officials plan to establish different standards for different circumstances.

Joe Rahnis, the pro at Woodlands Golf Course and Diamond Ridge Golf Course in Windsor Mill, said different golfers have different ideas of what makes for a good pace. "So we have to determine a reasonable time to complete a round of golf for the average golfer," he said.

In addition to input from the pros and county officials, members of the community are being asked to provide their opinions by answering an online survey at Questions include: "What is the average time of play at the Baltimore County Golf Course you play most frequently?" and "When is it reasonable to require a slow group to skip a hole?"

As of this week, about 700 surveys had been submitted. About 50 individuals who filled out the surveys were selected to attend day one of the summist, and several representatives of groups that play the courses were selected to attend the second day of the summit.

As one of those selected to attend the summit, Cruz, of Baltimore, said he plans to call for more aggressive enforcement of pace of play by the marshals. The 51-year-old entrepreneur and former product developer for Black & Decker said the marshals are often intimidated by players.

"I would like to see the marshals become totally empowered and supported by management," Cruz said. "I want to see management that is willing to throw people off the course if they don't pick up their pace of play."

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