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Pace of Play (Penalty Stroke)

Not many people would guess that, during a competition, the portion of my job that occupies the greatest percentage of my time is dealing with pace of play.  Pace of play is always a hot topic when it comes to professional golf.  A lot of times, the general public doesn’t understand all of the intricacies of pace of play at this level and how things like the size of the field, layout of the course and difficulty of the course can affect how fast a round can reasonably be played.


While slow play violators on Tour are more likely to receive fines as a result of their pace, there are the rare occurrences where poor pace of play can result in a penalty stroke be assessed to a player.  Such was the case last week at the final stage of the Tour Qualifying Tournament when I was forced to assess a player a penalty stroke for violating the Tour’s pace of play policy. I’ll talk about that more a little later in this article.  In the meantime, let me give you a general overview of how pace of play is handled on Tour.


When it comes to administrating pace of play, PGA TOUR rules officials are tasked to follow an official pace of play policy set forth by the PGA TOUR Board of Directors.  This policy is laid out in detail in the Player Regulations Book that is given to each member of the PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR Champions and Tour.  This policy, along with the official hole-by hole “time par” that has been set by the rules staff for that particular golf course, is posted in the locker room at the start of each tournament week.


This “time par” establishes an allotted time for the completion of each hole on the course. The lead group in a wave of tee times is required to play on or under the cumulative allotted “time par.”  All other groups behind the lead group must be EITHER playing on or under the established “time par” OR be “in position” in relation to the group ahead of them.  By policy, other than the lead group, a group is defined as “out of position” if they are over their “time par” AND:


  1. reach a par-3 hole that is open and free of play,
  2. reach a par-4 hole and have not played a stroke from the teeing ground before the hole is open and free of play, or
  3. reach a par-5 hole and all players have not played a stroke from the teeing ground before the hole is open and free of play.


When a group is “out of position,” the individuals within the group are subject to having their shots timed.  When a group is “put on the clock,” each player has 40 seconds to hit a shot – apart from when they are the first player to play in a given situation – in which case they are given an additional 10 seconds.  Contrary to popular belief, the timing of groups is a very common occurrence at any PGA TOUR co-sanctioned event.


The pace of play policy on each tour spells out very clearly the possible fines and penalty strokes that can result from either receiving “bad times” (over the allotted 40 or 50 seconds) or being in a group that is being timed 10 or more times during a season.  There are plenty of fines that are handed out for pace of play that the general public never hears about.


While the timing of groups (and the resulting bad times and fines) are fairly regular occurrences at any PGA TOUR co-sponsored event, because of the way the pace of play policy is written, the assessment of penalty stokes for pace of play violations are very uncommon.  However, as I mentioned earlier, I had to assess a one-stroke penalty to a player this year at the Tour Qualifying Tournament.


Here’s exactly how it happened.  During the second round, because this player’s group was over the time par and out of position, I informed the players as they were walking off the 12th tee that I would be timing their group until they were back in position.  On the 14th hole, the player in question received a “bad time” for taking 1 minute and 8 seconds for a stroke when he was required to play it in 50 seconds or less.  Per the policy, I informed him of this fact and reminded him that another bad time during that round would result in a one stroke penalty.


Two hole later, that same player took 1 minute and 10 seconds to play a stroke.  I was then forced to inform him of that fact and, as a result, would incur a one stroke penalty for the 16th hole.  Had this been a regular season event, a 2nd bad time for a player, not only during the same round, but over the course of the remainder of the season would have also resulted in a fine.


Because a player must receive two bad times during the same round for a penalty stroke to occur, it is a very rare situation.  Generally, once a player gets one bad time, he does everything in his power to ensure he doesn’t receive another one during that same round to avoid a penalty stroke.  Unfortunately, that was not the case in this instance.


However, luckily for this player, he was able to shake off this unfortunate event and go on to post solid scores the last two rounds which left him with a high enough priority ranking to all but guarantee he will have access to as many events Tour events as he wants in 2017.  Hopefully he learned from this experience and will do his part in the future to avoid reoccurrences of this event.

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