The parishioners rush through their prayers; their voices echo off the stain glass as each faithful servant finishes the “Our Father” at a different time. The priest’s sermon doesn’t drone on and on to the point of death inducing boredom, he seems more interested in setting the world record for transforming wine and bread into the body and blood of Christ. It would make Usain Bolt blush.
This is church in Ireland, held at breakneck speed. In and out in 35 minutes. The experience was a joy for a young boy used to hour long church services in America. My family would often joke about the mismatched church experiences. Ireland, a slow paced, “no bother” kind of place shouldn’t be rushing through Mass. It’s the home of St. Patrick, it’s a Catholic stronghold, a beacon of spirituality for the rest of the world. The religious spoken word sprint belongs in America, home of the micro-machine man. American’s are always in a rush, until they get to church, then everything slows to a screeching halt.
This same conundrum exists on the golf courses of both countries. The Irish play fast golf. Hit it, find it, hit it again. No frills and no bother. Maybe it’s the constant threat of rain that puts fire in the heels of Irish golfers. 18 holes and church on a Sunday morning in Ireland might take you 3.5 hours total. You’re lucky if you’re making the turn in that amount of time in the United States.
Golf is growing.
It’s growing slower. Most course rangers drive their carts around too nervous to ruffle any feathers and tell people to hurry up. The combination of hard seltzers and an “I paid to be here” attitude is quite combustable. Starters stand on first tees, shoulders slumped in defeat, telling a 1:30pm tee time that finishing before a 6:30 sundown might be a challenge because “it’s all backed up.” Many golfers are spending more time watching golf on the golf course than actually playing the game.
The challenge with pace of play in golf, especially weekend public golf, is tricky. On the one hand, people should be learning to golf. It’s an outdoor, active, lifelong sport. It’s a social sport, allowing for connection, and this CoVID summer has proven that golf is the perfect combination of being social, active, and outdoors. Otherwise, we’d be reading about crowded hiking trails and streams of people taking selfies on mountain summits. On the other hand, it should be played far more efficiently than it is. A day of golf is turning into a day of golf. A 30 minute drive to the course, a 4.5-5 hour and a 30 minute drive home is basically the entire day. Tear yourself out of bed early to beat the crowd? Sure, that’s sometimes a thing, but the early bird doesn’t always catch the fast-round worm. A Thursday morning round at 7:41 last week, as a twosome, took four hours.
The solutions are all available to us, there’s just no conviction to make it work. Rangers need to “Range” if you will. Push groups ahead if they fall behind, give groups a 9-hole check-in. If you’re behind after 9-holes, you don’t get to play the 10th hole (or the 11th if you’re way behind). Obviously, the fear of this mentality is that it might turn people off to the game. It’s too intimidating, too stuffy, unwelcoming to the newbie. All valid arguments. Not everyone has a friend in their lives that can usher them around a course and give them the tricks of faster play. Some people just suck and it takes them a really long time to play. If you really suck, you shouldn’t be keeping a sharp tally of your score and you shouldn’t be too worried about the tee shot you blew into the woods. Let it go, drop a ball, and continue on.
The biggest issue is just a simple awareness that we are all sharing this massive field with pins stuck in random spots. We all chose to chase a ball around and whack it with a stick. No one is more or less worthy to be there and play golf. However, this is where golf courses could really help themselves out in the long run if they did hold everyone accountable to some pace of play expectations.
Irish golfers don’t worry about their handicap and rarely play stroke play. On No Laying Up’s excellent Tourist Sauce episode about Bandon Dunes, David Mclay Kidd says that most golfers in the British Isles play stroke play once a one to keep their handicaps up to date, aside from that, they don’t care. They’re playing match play, and all they care about is winning that day’s match. When the hole is won, the hole is done. Americans are obsessed with the optics of the golf experience and their handicaps are a big part of that (I can be part of that epidemic myself) . Church, in some ways, is the same. The Irish don’t feel the need to spend longer than they need in church or on the golf course. They have no desire to prove anything to anyone about their religion or their other religion.
There are plenty of other possible explanations for the different golf and church experiences in these two countries.
Maybe the pace of play, and the pace of church, in Ireland is fast because they have other things they’d like to be doing, too. They value their time and want to spend it in different ways. Maybe they’re more aware of the people they are sharing the course with. Maybe they choose the proper tees to play from. Maybe they’re treating 18 holes more like a hike, not worrying about score all the time, and getting on with it. Maybe the rhythm of their prayers in church has found its way into their golf. Maybe, church and golf are so spiritually aligned that they’re the same thing to the Irish. Play fast and pray fast, I wonder if there’s a Saint for that.