Time is money, even on the links, where slow play means less play, not to mention the cost in lost tempers.

Slow play is the most frequent complaint about Utah's public courses, where a nine-hole round of golf often takes as long as three hours. Ideally, according to most golfers and course managers, it shouldn't take much longer than two.If every golfer shaved just a half-hour off the game, some of the major courses could squeeze in as many as 10,000 extra rounds per season, which equals $60,000 per course in green fees alone. But the trend locally seems to be toward longer, not shorter, play.

"It is reaching a point where the play is too slow for enjoyment and too slow for the financial benefit of the courses," said Utah Golf Association Executive Director Joe Watts. "If there is anyplace we can improve the game of golf in Utah, it is in the speed of play."

Salt Lake City Recreation Director Scott Gardner, who must consider both the golfer's time and the bottom line, agrees, saying, "It's our worst problem."

Much of the slow play is attributed to beginning players. Course design is also factor. Bonneville's challenging #9, for example, slows even the best golfers and becomes a bottleneck.

And even Jack Nicklaus deserves some blame for the slow play, said Gardner, explaining that the Golden Bear's habit of studying a putt to death sets a bad example for notoriously impressionable golfers.

Watts said slow play drives some people out of the game entirely and thinks it's time to get tough. "If someone is playing a six-hour game, maybe they ought not be out there. There is no reason why someone can't play it in four hours."

Faced with a growing number of complaints and increasing bonded indebtedness, many course managers are taking a hard look at so-called "go-golf" policies that tell players: Play it or leave it.

At Denver's six municipal courses, where speed rules have been in place since 1985, an 18-hole game now usually takes no more than 4.5 hours.

"Before the program, we had two high-demand courses that were approaching six hours to play," said Dennis Wong, Denver's director of golf operations. "We had to do something to alleviate that problem."

Under Denver's system, players are clocked in at the start of play and at the halfway point. Signs warn them to finish #4 or #13 in one hour or "be removed from the course." Wong said slowpokes are usually just nudged along rather than ejected.

"Our intent is not to chase people away but to inform them. What it has done is raise everyone's consciousness of where they should be on the course," Wong said.

Most public courses in Utah rely on "golf etiquette," and an occasional prodding from the pro or golf marshal to keep players moving along.

Gardner said Salt Lake City has looked at the possibility of imposing "go-golf" at some locations, especially Bonneville, but has held off to assess the impact of Wing-pointe and the Mt. Dell expansion on play overall.

However, the city this year will initiate "ready-golf," a compromise between "slow-golf" and "go-golf." Gardner said every golfer will be given a card explaining the program, which stresses 10 rules that - if obeyed - should speed up the game considerably.

"Our goal is to make the game more enjoyable, not to herd people around the course," Gardner said. It may also have an indirect side benefit.

Golf "can be very good exercise if the course is walked," says Pat Eisenman, University of Utah exercise physiologist. "If you use a cart, the exercise value is nil."

A golfer can walk up to five miles while playing an 18-hole course in Utah, which makes the game a good aerobic activity, she said. Eisenman, who last week ran the Boston Marathon, recommends it. Heeding the "ready golf" philosophy should increase aerobic activity as golfers move around the course more quickly.

Unfortunately, many courses discourage walkers in order to speed up play and increase revenues from cart rentals.


(Additional information)

Ready-golf says

- Player who is ready should hit.

- Short shot hitters should hit first.

- Take appropriate clubs when approaching ball.

- Be ready to hit when it's your turn.

- Continue putting until holed out.

- Don't wave up on par 3's.

- Mark score card on way to next tee.

- Drop partner from cart at his ball and go on to yours.

- Be conscious of 5-minute lost-ball rule.

- Keep up with the group ahead.