Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wave Size and Intervals: Pace of Play at The Goodwin

            One of the hottest topics in golf and golf administration alike is pace of play.  In collegiate golf, pace of play has become a huge issue as rounds have become increasingly lengthy.  Some have said college golf has a pace of play problem.  If The Goodwin this past week is any indicator, college golf does not have a pace of play problem, it has a tournament set up problem.
            Don’t get me wrong, there are slow players that end up hurting the entire field as a result of their slow play.  If you’re one of them and you’re reading this…we already know who you are.  To anyone with enough experience running collegiate events, the slow players are quite obvious.  But there are pace of play policies that penalize those players, so why can’t tournaments run more quickly?  The answer is simple: wave size and intervals.
            After the 2014 Goodwin, Stanford Coach Conrad Ray reviewed the pace of play with me at the event and wanted to discuss what could be done and the potential for increasing the field size.  In 2014, with 96 players in a single wave, the average round was over 5 hours, even using the NCAA/USGA four check-point system and having walking officials with each group.  The blame didn’t rest on the policy, the course or the players: it was the setup.  96 players in groups of 3 is simply too many to get around the golf course.  So what could be done?  We came to an interesting idea – use a double-wave.
            The idea was out of the box considering the event is run in March when daylight is at a premium still.  Though the comments didn’t come to me directly, I heard several coaches thought the idea was crazy and even led to us adding the Committee’s right to institute a cut if necessary to complete the final round.  The key was in the setup.
            With a double-wave the first key was to keep each wave size reasonable for the course.  The absolute max that should be in the wave was 78.  We started with 63 and then added some individuals to make 66 in each wave for 132 players total - a huge event by collegiate standards (24 teams plus 12 individuals).  The next key was to make sure the starting intervals were large enough ensure a smooth start and room for error.  I recommended and we went with 11-minute intervals.  Once that wave size and interval was set, the tournament was set up for success, the last part was to execute the four check-point pace of play policy.  If a pace policy is not enforced, it won’t work.
            We set a relatively aggressive pace for the golf course and event of 4 hours and 34 minutes (additional turn time was given to groups turning from 18 to 1).  I know that doesn’t sound like NASCAR speed, but given that the average pace had been well over 4 hours and 55 minutes for the past few years using one single giant wave, and that a pace set any slower would result in absolutely no wiggle room with daylight, the pace was just right to allow for hiccups but keep everyone moving.
            The statistics below confirm that the tournament setup was a success. Because the front and back nine pace was set differently, I’ve averaged the over/under to give more comparable data. There are several times to look at when judging pace of play: 1) What was the average turn time? 2) What was the average finish time? 3) What was the finish time of the final groups?

Round 1:
During the first round our morning wave did not get off to the quickest start.  Regardless of how an event is setup, hiccups can slow a group down, but the intervals allowed the group to catch up.  The morning wave turned 2 minutes under pace and finished an average of 7 minutes under pace (4:27).  The afternoon wave turned and finished an average of 6 minutes under pace. The final groups finished on average 2 minutes under the established pace. This means that the very last groups to come in on day one averaged a pace of 4:32. 

For the day as a whole, the turn averaged 4 minutes under and finished 6.5 minutes under pace. There were 9 checkpoints missed in the morning and only 1 in the afternoon.  Only one group missed two checkpoints, and only one missed their final checkpoint having made the first three and had to go to appeal.  The appeals were upheld and the groups were not penalized as their misses was due to circumstances that warrant not issuing the penalty under the policy.

Round 2:
After day one, we were just hopefully the same kind of pace would continue and it did. The morning wave turned 1 minute under pace and finished 8 minutes under pace (4:26).  The afternoon wave turned 10 minutes under pace and finished a whopping 16 minutes under pace (4:18). The final groups finished an average of 7.5 minutes under pace (4:27)

For the day as a whole, the turn averaged 6 minutes under pace and finished 12 minutes under pace.  There were 9 checkpoints missed in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.  No groups missed a second checkpoint and only one group missed their final checkpoint having made the first three.  Their appeal was upheld due to circumstances that warrant not issuing the penalty.

Round 3:
At this point, it was too good to be true.  Could round 3 go just as smoothly?  The answer was a resounding YES! The morning wave turned an average of 9 minutes under pace and finished 17 minutes under pace (4:17).  The afternoon wave consisting of the leading teams and players turned 4 minutes under pace and finished 9 minutes under.  The final groups in the morning were both 15 minutes under pace, and the afternoon final groups finished right at the 4:34 mark.

For the day as a whole, the turn averaged 6 minutes under pace and finished 13 minutes under.  There were3 checkpoints missed in the morning and 6 in the afternoon.  No groups missed a second checkpoint and only one group had to appeal after missing their final checkpoint having made the first three.  Their appeal was upheld due to circumstances warranting not issuing the penalty.

The Whole Picture:
The days were longer for tournament officials and administrators but they were much, much shorter for players and coaches. As a whole, the final groups in the tournament averaged a finish time of 6 minutes under the established pace of play (4:28).  The total average finishing time was 10 minutes under pace, or 4:24.  Some interesting details surfaced:
-       Turn times were always slower than the finish times. Two reasons lead to this stat: 1) Groups that are playing quickly constantly gain time throughout the round and therefore have more time to play under pace after 18 than 9 and; 2) warnings dramatically speed up a group’s pace and it takes time for the field as a whole to catch up.
-       On the first two days when the pairings were set in advance, the afternoon wave was quicker than the morning wave on both days.

In the end, it is clear that the tournament setup led to success.  There was never a thought that we would have to suspend play for darkness. We didn’t have to issue a penalty (believe me, if a group deserved one, they would have received it). Players really enjoyed being able to play without delay, coaches really enjoyed having their whole teams done in less than 5 hours from first group start to last group finish and officials really enjoyed being able to spend more time discussing the Rules rather than pace of play.
            I want to congratulate Maverick McNealy on his fourth individual victory of the season and UAB on their team victory.  We did use NCAA tie-break procedures rather than a play-off in both instances due to the initial probability that there would not be enough time to conduct a play-off.  Even though in the end daylight was left, you never deviate from your published tie-breaking procedures.  A huge internet round of applause to Stanford Assistant Coach Graham Brockington for running a great event in his first go-around and thanks to the Stanford Golf Course staff for their usual great work. 
The biggest thanks should go to all the volunteers.  The Stanford volunteer crew work as spotters and live scoring stations and greatly assist us as officials in keeping play moving by not losing golf balls or contacting us when a ruling is needed on a hole where we don't have an official stationed.
My gratitude of course goes to our own NCGA officials who did a fantastic job communicating throughout the tournament making sure that our rulings were confirmed, timely and known to the Committee.  The officials that worked as checkpoint officials did a great job communicating with me and the Committee, following the script with players and timing consistently and accurately.  The rovers were able to follow problem groups after an initial breach so that we could gather data on a group to find out whether there was a slow player involved. We implemented the checkpoint policy by the textbook and the results showed. Thank you and look to the following post regarding the Rules situations from The Goodwin! 

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