The curse of slow play will not be a blight on Lytham, according to the Open organisers. The players set forth today impelled to get a move on, and for those who don't, disqualification is the ultimate sanction.
Four and a half hours is the limit for three-balls over the opening two days, and three hours and 45 minutes for pairings over the weekend. It is a case of six strikes and out for those dragging feet. The first player is expected to take no more than 50 seconds to play, the second and third 40 seconds each. But if a player persistently goes over his time, a strict sliding scale of punishments begins with an instruction to catch up, followed by (ii) on the clock, where the above times are rigidly enforced, (iii) formal warning, (iv) one penalty stroke, (v) two further penalty strokes, (vi) disqualification.
"The R&A championship committee are putting slow play as priority," said championship committee chairman Jim McArthur. "We are intent on doing what we can to improve the pace of play in golf. I think we feel that slow play is, if not killing the game, is killing club membership because of the time it takes to play. And whatever we can do in our events, we will. But it needs to be a concerted effort, not just the R&A, not just the Tours, but the golf unions and other golf organisations, too, to come to a co-ordinated effort to improve the speed."
Andrew Willey was the last to be collared for the offence at the Open, copping a one-shot penalty at Troon eight years ago. Two months ago at the Wales Open, Ross Fisher was hit with a one-shot penalty on the final day when fighting for the title. The initiative will meet with the approval of the majority. Rickie Fowler, one of the sprinters on the PGA Tour, led the applause.
He said: "There's no reason to have waits on tees when you're playing twosomes. Never see it at home when we're playing twosomes. We're not waiting. I definitely think things can be sped up a little bit, and some guys end up playing a little better when they end up on the clock and have to move through the process a little quicker and maybe not think as much."
The R&A dealt a blow to golf in Ireland by declaring that the Open's return to Royal Portrush is unlikely. It was felt that the success of a sell-out Irish Open at the venue last month pointed to an imminent return. But that idea was dismissed by R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, who said: "It's a favourite of mine, a wonderful golf course, wonderful challenge. And it's great to see how successful the Irish Open was, particularly the enthusiasm from the spectators in that part of the world. But if you compare it with what we're doing here, we're talking 20,000 grandstand seats, and I doubt they had 2,000 at the Irish Open.
"You're talking about a tented village here I would estimate 10 or more times the size it was at the Irish Open. And the crowd at the Irish Open, whilst it was very good, was only as good as perhaps the lowest crowd we expect at an Open venue. Where would you have the 72nd hole? Where would you put the big grandstand complex? The practice ground would need a lot of work at Portrush in my own estimation. There would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush."
There was positive news out of Brazil, where Dawson declared that the course construction ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where golf makes its Olympic debut, is on course.
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