A wireless flagstick that silently measures pace of play and allows course operators to identify plodding groups is the latest weapon in the war against slow play.
That forward-thinking gadget was a part of the conversation when golf industry leaders met at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., this week for the two-day Pace of Play Symposium. They discussed various campaigns to speed up the game, whether it's a round on the PGA Tour or a friendly Saturday foursome.
Rangers can't be everywhere, so the flagstick designed by Spectrum Technologies is intended to give courses a better idea of what, and who, causes slow rounds.
“For those golf courses that don’t have a sophisticated GPS system or where you don’t take carts and walk, this is going to give them a cost-effective way to get the measurement they need to have control,” Matt Pringle, USGA Technical Director, said in a Q&A earlier this week.
Once the flagstick is pulled from the hole and returned, the timing information is sent to a central source monitored by the golf club, allowing it to manage the pace throughout each round. It will also show which groups are not playing quickly enough.
The new flagstick is battery-powered and is turned on and off via a magnet. The battery is charged wirelessly and should hold a charge for around 28 days.
“It’s the type of thing you hope to turn on and never have to turn off again, kind of like your cellphone,” Adam Rusciolelli of Spectrum Technologies said.
How much will it cost? That's still to be determined, though they will be "affordable." It was the first question asked at the meeting and received a non-answer. The USGA hopes to roll out the flags in atournament setting in early 2015 and make them available to golf courses soon after.
Pringle also revealed the average round length on the LPGA Tour decreased by 14 minutes during the 2014 season. The drastic improvement was the result of a few simple changes.
First, the LPGA adjusted its tee time intervals from 10 minutes to 11 minutes to reduce the possibility of a bottleneck when groups get stacked behind one another. This decreased round time by 5 minutes.
Additionally, the LPGA adjusted its time-par system to include a requirement that only the first group of the day would have to meet. All subsequent groups must remain within position behind the group ahead of them. If a group does not stay within range -- the typical range is seeing the group ahead -- that group would be warned and consequently timed and penalized if it continued.
“At last year’s Pace of Play Symposium, we discussed the importance of starting-time intervals as well as setting aggressive requirements for the pace of the lead group,” Pringle said. “We were happy that the LPGA focused on these areas to improve flow during their tournaments, and set a policy that can serve as a model for the industry.”
The biggest improvement may have come at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, where, although the rounds were lengthy, the first two rounds at Pinehurst No. 2 were nearly 30 minutes shorter than the same rounds at the 2012 Open at Blackwolf Run.