When the subject of pace of play in golf comes up, to some observers it may evoke an old saying about a different topic: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."
Well, the CGA is among those doing something about prolonged rounds of golf, specifically in its championships. And, so far it's yielding positive results.
In 2010, the CGA implemented a group pace of play policy for its championships -- specifically, those now known as the CGA Amateur, CGA Senior Amateur, CGA Mid-Amateur and later the CGA Super-Senior Stroke Play -- and has kept yearly records for each event.
And, of the seven seasons since, 2016 produced the best results regarding pace of play. In fact, the average round in the aforementioned four championships was 22 minutes faster last year than in 2015, with the norm for 2016 being 4 hours and 19 minutes in threesomes.
Over a longer term, last season's average round time was 13 minutes better than the norm for all the championships from 2010 through 2015.
"For us, it's incredible news," said Dustin Jensen, the CGA's managing director of operations. "You always hear that rounds in tournaments take five-plus hours. But this shows you can play high-end, quality golf in under 4:20. It proves this program works. It just needed a little tweaking."
Jensen attributes the significant improvement in pace of play to two things: expanding tee-time intervals to 10 or 11 minutes, and more stringest standards at the time checkpoints at the ninth and 18th holes.
Regarding tee-time intervals, the CGA in 2015 used nine minutes for all four of the stroke-play events mentioned. But in 2016, 10- or 11-minute intervals were utilized for the CGA Amateur at Boulder Country Club and the Mid-Amateur at Saddle Rock Golf Course. In the final round of those events -- after a 36-hole cut had been made -- the average round times were 4:11 and 4:07, respectively.
"A nine-minute interval tends to create an accordian effect," Jensen said. "Ten or 11 minutes is better (and is expected to be utilized again this year). You add a minute or two on the front end, but you get it back in droves at the back end."
In retrospect, Jensen said the CGA team learned a lesson from the 2014 CGA Amateur at Lakewood Country Club. The CGA typically did nine-minute tee-time intervals in 2014, but because the first hole at Lakewood is a driveable par-4, the CGA went to 10 minutes. The average round time for the championship that week was 4:04.
"There was no backup with a 10-minute interval," Jensen noted. "Minor tweaks like that can make a 20-minute difference (in round times)."
As for the second reason Jensen believes pace of play has improved, it's another adjustment the CGA made for these events. Competitors in the championships can avoid receiving a slow-play penalty by completing their rounds in no more than the designated time par matrix for a given venue. But even if they exceed that time, they can still avoid a penalty by completing designated holes (9 and 18 for CGA events) no more than 13 minutes after the previous group finished them. The change Jensen thinks made a difference was lowering that time in 2016 from the previously-used 15 minutes to 13 minutes.
"Those are the standards used nationally and by the USGA," he said. "That's pretty much the gold standard."
"Players want to play fast. It really comes down to holding people accountable. And people understand we're serious about (pace of play issues)."
How serious? The CGA does, on occasion, issue slow-play penalties. There were 10 given out in the four 2016 championships, including five in the Mid-Amateur on day 1 at Saddle Rock and four total on days 1 and 2 at the CGA Amateur at Boulder CC -- though some penalties were successfully appealed.
Of course, the average round length at championships can be affected by the venue being used. In 2016, besides the CGA Amateur at Boulder CC and the Mid-Amateur at Saddle Rock, the other stroke-play sites were Heritage Eagle Bend for the Super-Senior Stroke Play and the Club at Rolling Hills for the Senior Amateur.
For the record, here's the average annual round times at these four CGA championships over the last seven years: 4:32 in 2010; 4:34 in 2011; 4:31 in 2012; 4:32 in 2013; 4:21 in 2014; 4:41 in 2015; and 4:19 in 2016.
Given the significant improvement last year, the CGA will go with the same plan in 2017 championships. The association leaves the door open to other tweaks that might speed up rounds further, but officials like the way things are trending.
This year, the schedule for the four CGA championships will be: CGA Amateur Aug. 3-6 at Sonnenalp Golf Club in Edwards, CGA Super-Senior Stroke Play Aug. 22-23 at Buffalo Run Golf Course in Commerce City, CGA Mid-Amateur Sept. 8-10 at Keystone Ranch Golf Course, and the CGA Senior Amateur Sept. 19-21 at Meridian Golf Club in Englewood.