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R&A issue new rules over slow play

They agonise over every shot, crouching on the green as they plan the putt that could win them that precious round of golf.

But now frustrated members of the game's governing body have called time on millions of dawdlers because the game has been hit by an epidemic of slow play.

Professionals have been blamed for taking too long over every shot, while amateurs are under fire for copying their routines, believing the time stars such as Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros take over shots is the secret to success.

Now up to four million golfers are to be issued with a new set of rules aimed at speeding up the pace of play.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, the game's governing body, has published its first new set of revised rules in 20 years.

And the new version, to be handed free to golfers worldwide, links etiquette with the strict rules of the game for the first time.

Golf clubs are recommended to take "disciplinary action" against offenders by banning them temporarily from their home courses or from competitions.

Julie Otto, assistant secretary (rules) of the R&A, which has had 3.7 million copies of the new rule book printed with the help of sponsors Rolex, said: "Everyone is affected by slow play which has become a major problem in the modern game.

"This is the first time that the R&A rule book has been written for the modern golfer and has such a prominent section on etiquette and how to improve the pace of play. If we can increase the speed of play then we can increase the pleasure of the game for everyone."

A round of golf for four on an 18-hole course should take between three and three-and-a-half hours.

But professional tournament rounds now routinely exceed five hours and amateur rounds are often nearing the four-hour mark.

Golf experts said a round used to take less than three hours. Malcolm Campbell, a Fife-based golf author and a member of the R&A, said: "There is no doubt that a round of golf is much slower than it used to be and a lot of it is down to the behaviour of the professionals.

"People see Tiger Woods spending ages over his shots and lining up putts from every angle and it creeps into every level of the game and becomes acceptable. A century ago, the professionals would play two rounds in the time it now takes to play one.

"Slow play has become the curse of the modern game and people should be told that if they can't get through 18 holes in three-and-a-half hours then they should make way for those who can. Not being able to play well enough is not an excuse. Improve, or get off the course."

Martin Dempster, editor of Bunkered, the Scottish golf magazine, agrees the professionals should take a large share of the blame. "A professional round of golf takes around five hours now and sometimes well in excess of that.

"It's okay for them, they do not have anything else to do, but it cascades down into club golf and affects everyone involved in the game."

Unlike the big tournaments, thousands of ordinary golf clubs are unable to fine slow players.

However, St Andrews Links Trust, which runs the famous Old Course and five other courses in the town, has introduced course marshals to encourage players to play faster.

The trust has also stamped "3.57" on each practice range ball to get the message across to golf tourists from around the world that this is the time that the Old Course should be played in. Score cards have average playing times printed alongside every hole.

It is also hosting a three-day seminar for club officials from around the world next month aimed at spreading the anti-slow play message.

"Every little thing helps just to keep the pace of play going," said Niall Flannigan, the trust's golf services manager.

"The trouble is when people come to St Andrews they are making a pilgrimage to the home of golf. They have spent quite a lot of money to play here and they don't want to be rushed around. That's why we are aiming at using encouragement and it appears to be working in getting the times of the average round down."

The Links Trust hosts more than 200,000 rounds of golf a year and is at the heart of a multimillion-pound golfing business.

Most Scottish golf clubs cannot afford to employ course marshals, so the R&A hopes to make improvements by making slow play a prominent issue. Its guidelines include being ready to play when an opponent has finished and waving through following golfers more quickly when balls have been lost.

"It is really all about education," Otto said. "If people follow the guidelines and just be more courteous to their fellow players then that will bring an improvement in itself."

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