Golfing with giddyup: How not to putter a round


“The Art of Fast Play: Solving Golf’s Maddening Problem of Slow Play” by Sam Dunn, soft cover, 123 pages. $14.95. June 2013 from Vineyard Stories, Edgartown. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and at Edgartown Books.

Timing is everything in a golf swing, the savants tell us. Turns out it works for books on golf too.

Sam Dunn, a part-time Martha’s Vineyard resident and Farm Neck Golf Club habitué, has written “The Art of Fast Play” at the same time that the Professional Golf Association (PGA) has also had it with dawdling duffers. The PGA has just launched a TV promotional campaign that features octogenarian golf legend Arnold Palmer beseeching a comatose golfer to tee off “while we’re young?”

Slow play is golf’s biggest problem, 93 percent of respondents told GOLF magazine. A cross-section of golf luminaries recommend “The Art of Fast Play” as an antidote to the malady.

A word to readers here: even if you glaze over at the word ‘golf,’ read on awhile. Mr. Dunn provides some behavioral context that is relevant in the workaday world.

Mr. Dunn was moved to write the book (“…his first, and likely last”) because slow-playing golfers make him nutty, as they do most of us who enjoy the game.

If he pures his long irons as well as he hits the sweet spot of golf’s biggest problems — four-hour golf rounds that become five or six hours — the man’s got game. In a mostly gentle acerbic style, Mr. Dunn outlines the problem and provides solutions to slow play, which has the golf industry worried because play equals slow growth for their businesses.

Lack of training and self-absorption are the culprits. Most slow players are unaware of their behavior, Mr. Dunn says.

How does the golf problem relate to life as we know it? Okay, why is it that you are the person who always makes sure to leave enough toilet paper for the next guy but ALWAYS seems to be the one to replace the naked cardboard cylinder?

Or you’ve waited for 10 minutes at the supermarket checkout line, next to pay up, when the ditz in front of you remembers he or she forgot to get olive oil and rushes off to get it — usually five aisles away — while you and your line-mates simmer.

Self-absorption and lack of training, babe, and the socially comatose summer crowd is just arriving. In fairness, summer visitors are on vacation. They checked their “situational awareness” at the Sagamore Bridge or at Westchester Airport. They are on vacation, doing dumb things they’d never do back home.

Situational awareness is a mantra Mr. Dunn espouses throughout his handy guide to playing fast, steady golf. Golf, like being on vacation, is a self-absorbing pastime. It is one of the few games in which mind, body, and spirit must be in synch for success. Trust me on this; I did much better at sports where people were trying to tackle me than I do at golf, a sport in which the ball just lies there waiting for me to attack it.

As Mr. Dunn explains, golf’s growth explosion over the last generation is the result of democratization of the sport. Tiger Woods and hard-knocks guys like Lee Trevino made the game accessible. Mr. Dunn points out that most players today never learned about proper behavior on the course. In the old days, golf was the province of rich, white country-clubbers who understood how to keep the game moving, and they taught the next generation.

Then, too, the example of pro golfers is not necessarily helpful. But they are working, and we are playing. Tiger and Phil may take two minutes to assess a putt because a shot can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Messing around on the green, leaving clubs, leaving our golf cart a five-iron away, no awareness of a seething foursome behind us, are dubious rewards for recreational golfers, Mr. Dunn points out.

It seems counter-intuitive to think that 72 players (18 foursomes at a time) on a 200-acre piece of land would get into each other’s way, but, boy, do we.

Mr. Dunn is an architect and builder from Washington, D.C., who owns the Tisbury Marketplace. He brings the precision and clarity of his work to assessment of good golf management with articulate summaries of the problem and the solutions divided into 11 chapters. Time management is the key to helping your foursome keep up the pace.

His normal foursome completes a round in just under four hours, with no delays in front of them, and is not rushed when playing. That’s because they take 20 seconds for a shot, bring the right club for the ball position and situation, and work as a team, he says.

Noting the average golfer takes about 90 shots a round, a foursome that takes 30 seconds a shot will consume an additional hour to complete a round. Stuff like that is helpful and his strategies, from golf cart management to realistic rule adherence, are entirely workable.

Mr. Dunn gives high marks to Farm Neck in Oak Bluffs for its decision to enforce a four-hour play rule and course rangers Tim Sweet and Glen Field get kudos in the book. Course rangers are the people tasked with telling paying customers to pick up the pace, no easy job given the egos that show up on the Island.

This is a book that all golfers should have. And if it does well, maybe Mr. Dunn would consider writing a guide to more efficient grocery shopping?