LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Officials of the Royal & Ancient announced a concerted effort at the British Open to crack down on the slow-play tortoises who have blighted the game.
“We have a pace of play policy, which we intend to apply stringently,” said Jim McArthur, the chairman of the championship committee. “This year the R&A championship committee are putting slow play as priority.”
In a strikingly refreshing take on a critical subject that the PGA Tour has proven loathe to tackle, the R&A has warned players in the Open Championship that it will not hesitate to enforce slow play with penalty strokes if necessary.
The tournament has set the bar at 4 hours, 30 minutes for the threesomes in the first two rounds and 3 hours, 45 minutes when twosomes play on the weekend. Weather conditions, however, will be considered in adjusting those target times.
Warnings will start with “words of encouragement” to pick up the pace, to be followed by groups getting put “on the clock” and penalties assessed for violators if necessary.
McArthur could not remember the last time a player was assessed a penalty in the Open for slow play.
“We’ve obviously got to take into account the weather conditions and other mitigating circumstances,” McArthur said. “But we would have no hesitation if we felt the players were over time to take the appropriate action and to tell not only a group of players, but as we have allowed for in the policy to time individual players if we felt that was appropriate.”
Should the group times in the first round grossly exceed the target time, McArthur said “groups that we felt were perhaps not as quick as we would like” would get at least a lecture before the second round.
During both the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open this year, first- and second-round times significantly exceeded five hours and pushed the last groups to finishing near nightfall.
14-CLUB POLICE: The last time the British Open was played at Lytham, Ian Woosnam’s birdie 2 quickly turned into a bogey 4 after the par-3 opening hole when he discovered he had 15 clubs in his bag.
That probably won’t happen now. The R&A has a walking rules official with each group, and he has been asked to check with caddies on the first tee to make sure they have no more than the 14 clubs allowed in the bag.
NO SEVE TRIBUTE: R&A chief executive Peter Dawson says there are no plans to honor Seve Ballesteros, a two-time winner at Lytham who died in May 2011.
“Although we remember him with great fondness and especially here at Royal Lytham, we think we did the remembrance last year.”