The aim of every golf course, whether it’s a daily fee or private, is to provide the best player experience possible.
There are many components that make up that experience, but pace and flow of play consistently ranks among the most important.
A study carried out recently by the NGCOA and USGA found that 84% of course owners and 74% of players identified pace of play as “critical to the player experience.”
Bill Yates, the pace of play guru who sadly passed away in 2018, transformed the game of golf in many aspects and spearheaded the way in which golf course operators view pace management today.
Advances in technology, like the increased use of GPS golf cart tracking, now allow courses to approach the issue of pace slightly differently and more effectively, with a wealth of data at their disposal.
Yates identified 5 factors that influence pace of play and offered advice on how best to manage them. Below, we’ll draw on his expertise and outline how Tagmarshal’s golf cart tracking technology assists in these areas.
Course operators are responsible for determining a number of factors that impact on pace of play. One of the most important of these is tee sheet management, and deciding what the maximum tee sheet capacity is without jeopardizing the player experience.
Determining the gap intervals between groups is a key flow regulator. Tagmarshal’s golf cart tracking system gathers extensive data sets that allow course operators to determine their ideal gap interval at various periods throughout the day.
As Yates points out in his 2008 ‘Pace of Play’ document, compiled for the NGCOA, “There’s a difference between a full course and an oversaturated course. A full course generates optimum revenue and can maintain a good flow of play and satisfied players, but an oversaturated course defies any attempt at smooth play and results in very unhappy customers who probably won’t come back.”
When a course gathers more golf cart tracking data, periods that play quicker can be identified and gap intervals adjusted accordingly. For example, intervals can be shortened on midweek mornings and the round goal time adjusted downwards so players know what is expected of them.
Tagmarshal’s industry-leading golf cart tracking technology uses automation and powerful algorithms to proactively manage pace and flow of play, ensuring that pace-based on-course interventions can take place before bottlenecks occur and flow is negatively affected.
“The data has allowed us to optimize tee sheet capacity and improve flow – enhancing the guest experience and increasing golf revenue by 25%.”
Chip Hierlihy, PGA, General Manager, Fieldstone Golf Club
Managing the pace and flow
Players will complain about a slow round, but it’s often the waiting on every hole that is the major pain point, which comes down to managing course flow.
Using golf cart tracking technology to understand where bottlenecks regularly occur, and proactively intervening before groups that are falling out of position adversely impact the rest of the field, are key components to ensuring groups are evenly spaced out on the course.
“Having Tagmarshal help us with our pace program and enhancing the experience for all of our members has been a key part of our success. We’re always aware of what’s going on entirely, with a great macro view of the course.”
Danny Mulhearn, PGA, Head Golf Professional, Glen Oak Country Club
Communicate with your players
Whether a player is paying $30 for a round or has spent a sizeable amount of money on a membership, they have the right to expect that the course they’re playing will do everything in its power to ensure an enjoyable on-course flow.
The rise of technology and GPS golf cart tracking capabilities means that it’s easier than ever to communicate with players while they’re on the course. Tagmarshal’s 2Way devices enable messaging between courses and players, and vice versa, benefiting both parties.
Using the Live Map to track the movements of groups in real-time, player assistants can go directly to the playing group, rather than aimlessly patrolling the field.
In addition, instead of relying on crude pen-and-paper calculations to inform these discussions, player assistants now have a wealth of data at their disposal.
Data has given us insight and allowed us to have a fact-based pace discussion with golfers, improving their experience.”
Tyler Teynor, PGA, Head Golf Professional, Metedeconk National Golf Club
Effective communication goes beyond these interactions, though. According to Yates, leading courses “help with yardage information, their expectations for round times are clearly stated… course marshals actually help players, and clear signs direct players smoothly around the course.”
Tagmarshal partner courses often have the Live Map screen displayed in the clubhouse or pro shop. This increases the visibility around which groups are on pace or out of position and helps to maintain players’ awareness of this.
Player assistant training and tools
Player assistants are a key part of on-course pace management. However, there’s little they can do to speed up play if a course is overcrowded.
Yates compares it to a logjammed highway, where “all the honking, prodding and yelling won’t do a thing to make the traffic move faster. Course management teams must first find the optimum loading for their course and then train the marshals as well as the entire management team…to effectively manage a smooth pace of play throughout the entire day.”
Implementing a pace of play management system like Tagmarshal, which uses golf cart tracking technology to gather a wide range of data to inform better decision-making, has a huge impact on how player assistants and other team members are able to perform.
Once a team is up and running and well-versed in using the system, hours will be saved, as one person can fulfill multiple roles, and pace management can be done on the go. Importantly, staff who feel they have the tools needed to do their jobs well will feel inspired to deliver their best.
“It’s not only the staff hours saved, but Tagmarshal is a tool in their hands to make their employment experience better. Do they have the tools to be successful at their jobs? Now the answer is yes.”
Mike O’Reilly, PGA, Head Golf Professional, Whistling Straits
Players on the right tees
That being said, courses should still find ways to encourage players to choose the tee that best suits their skill level.
Yates said it is the responsibility of the course designer to “locate tees and obstacles that scratch and bogey golfers will find challenging to their games, beautiful to their eyes and elevating to their spirit.”
Some Tagmarshal partner courses, such as Pinehurst (right), use tee sheet assignment and golf cart tracking to compile information that helps guide players to use appropriate tee boxes based on their skill levels.
“Not all have the ability or desire to play in 3.5 hrs but with Tagmarshal we can fully understand what is achievable and set goals. Our pace has never been better and our NPS is at 82.”
Philip Tobias, PGA, Golf Professional, Keystone, Vail Resorts
Setup and rough
Having data for how long each hole takes, and even how long groups spend on the tee box, fairway, and green, will help identify potential problem areas.
Tagmarshal’s golf cart tracking technology provides course management with these statistics, so that hole setups can be tweaked during periods that play busier.
Courses may not be able to easily change having a long par three early in the round, for example, which can result in bottlenecks, but they can minimize this risk by adjusting pin positions.
“With Tagmarshal’s data, we can correlate hole times to specific pin placements and adjust accordingly ahead of busier days.”
Derek Guzman, PGA, Head Golf Professional, Sand Valley Golf Resort
Yates points out that the length and positioning of the rough also has an impact. “If you directly observe play on selected difficult, slow-playing holes on your course, you may be able to easily determine the need for mowing adjustments. You may even add rough in some cases – for example where the fairway is mowed tightly all the way to the edge of a creek or lake. These changes are inexpensive to implement and easy to reverse.”
Identifying which areas of the course require additional conditioning is also beneficial to superintendents and maintenance teams, which can be more efficient in areas like watering and fertilizer. With rising inflationary costs, those savings, coupled with reduced labor hours, add up.
Tagmarshal’s Heatmap Visualization feature uses golf cart tracking data to overlay heatmaps on top of each other at the end of a day or week, so that areas that are receiving high traffic become clearly visible.
Sequence of holes
Every course designer wants to create a tough, yet fair challenge for players, regardless of which tee they play from.
At the same time, they also need to factor in how players will move and how this is going to affect pace of play around the course.
This is an often undervalued factor in a course’s pace and flow, notes Yates. “When players have to travel between holes and find themselves crossing streets, winding their way through canyons and across bridges and ducking through tunnels under roads and highways, the pace rating and the expected time to play such courses will naturally be longer.”
The extensive data that is collected via golf cart tracking will be used to inform a fair pace of play policy, setting realistic expectations that golfers can work towards. Courses will also be able to identify where the gap between a green and the next tee box is excessive, and can consider ways to minimize this to speed things up.
Despite its reputation as a traditional sport that is hesitant to change, golf has embraced technology to an extent that would have been implausible just a few years ago.
Even taking this shift into consideration, Yates’ findings regarding factors that impact a course’s pace of play are as pertinent today as they were back in 2008.
Course managers looking to implement and manage a program to improve their pace and flow would do well to bear these factors in mind, while also considering how technological advancements have increased their ability to refine this process.
We think Yates would approve.
Tagmarshal, the market leader in on-course optimization technology, provides courses with full, real-time operational oversight and reporting, giving golf operators the tools to manage pace and flow of play effectively, resulting in enhanced player experiences, increased efficiency through automation, and additional revenue generation.
Tagmarshal’s technology has collected over 1 billion data points from more than 30 million rounds of golf and has relationships with in excess of 500 partners, including Hazeltine, Whistling Straits, Baltusrol, Fieldstone, Bandon Dunes, Serenoa and Erin Hills.
Tagmarshal partners with several golf management groups, private, daily fee, public and resort courses, including 35 of the Top 100 US courses, as well as many $30-$50 green fee courses, which are seeing excellent results using the system.