By Ron Driscoll, USGA
The new Rules of Golf debuted on Jan. 1, and for most of the field in the fifth Latin America Amateur Championship, it was the first time playing under them in competition. Through a combination of foresight and other factors, the LAAC debut was a resounding success in terms of pace of play.
“When we played here at Casa de Campo in 2016, we had only one group all week complete its round in less than 4 hours, 40 minutes,” said Tommy Tangtiphaiboontana, director of international championships for the USGA. “This year, the average pace of play for the field was under 4:40.”
As an example, the Round 2 pace of play average in 2016 was 4 hours, 52 minutes. The 108-player field shaved 19 minutes off that pace in 2019, with an average time of 4:33 for the groups of three for Friday’s Round 2. The fastest group completed its round in 4:16 on Friday.
The championship, which offers the biggest prize in Latin America amateur golf, has been conducted in a cooperative effort by The R&A, the USGA, and the Masters Tournament Foundation since its inception in 2015. Grant Moir, the director of Rules for The R&A, cited a Rules seminar for players and officials that was hosted on the eve of the championship as one factor that led to the improvement in pace of play.
“Hopefully, the Rules meeting was a reinforcement of a lot of things,” said Moir, who led the seminar with Thomas Pagel of the USGA. “It also gave us the opportunity to talk a little bit about this golf course and their specific options on this course. And if they’re aware of those, then they don’t have to call for rulings because they can proceed themselves.”
Moir and Tangtiphaiboontana were heartened by the data, and they observed some good signs as they traversed the course monitoring play throughout the week.
“I would say that the players have embraced our pace-of-play guidelines, they’ve embraced ready golf, which obviously is now featuring in the new Rules,” said Moir. “The daily course setup was excellent, and the weather was also slightly more kind, in terms of wind and the like, compared to 2016.”
The new Rules include whittling the time allowed to search for a lost ball from 5 minutes to 3, and Moir sees other benefits.
“The new flagstick rule is helping and the new dropping procedure is quicker,” said Moir. “I think we as a committee have also managed the course a bit better, in terms of understanding where our problem areas would be. We’ve been able to minimize those problems quickly and effectively.”
Despite the dramatic improvement over 2016, there is still room for improvement.
“Pace of play has been good this week,” said Moir. “That doesn’t mean that every golfer in the field is playing as quickly as they should. Our referees and rovers have had to encourage some groups in order to achieve these pace-of-play times. But what’s particularly encouraging is that when groups have dropped out of position, the vast majority of them have gotten themselves back into position on the golf course within two or three holes. They’ve worked with us to resolve the issue, and that’s really all you can ask.”
Rules officials try to temper their enforcement with the understanding that players are seeking a life-changing victory.
“We realize that because they’re playing for a big prize, they’re going to be grinding,” said Moir. “There are going to be shots that they’ll need to take their time over. But, as long as their group is in a good position, we can afford them that time with those shots.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.