One of the most singular rounds of golf I’ve had in the past few years was at the Blackstone course—the top-rated championship layout at the Mission Hills Resort in Haikou. Located on the idyllic island of Hainan in South China sea, and constructed on a bed of volcanic rock, this golf course is the pick of the lot amongst the 10 courses at this resort, and used to be the venue for a much publicised exhibition match-up between Rory Mc Ilroy and Tiger Woods, which is what I’d gone to witness on this particular occasion.
After the event was over (the details of which I won’t get into here, but interested readers can look up that column in the archives of this column online), I inquired if it would be possible to get an interview with the CEO of Mission Hills. Dr Ken Chu conveyed that he would be happy to tee it up with me for nine holes the next morning as long as ‘I didn’t mind wrapping up in under an hour.’
I was a bit nonplussed, but assumed that the busy man probably used some kind of special high-speed cart to get around, and agreed. The purpose was the interview, and I’d got that, or so I thought.
To cut a long story short, the next morning, Dr Chu—who at the time looked more like an elite athlete than a corporate bigwig—hit his ball off the first tee and, pleasantries done, proceeded to sprint down the fairway at full pep. Given the fact that there was a gallery looking on, I did what seemed to be expected of me: sprint behind him, as if my life depended on it while the carts followed with the golf bags. And so it went: Chu would spend literally seconds on the golf ball, hit his shot and run off, with me following close behind. Eventually though, I held up the white flag and chose to retire to the cart. Needless to say, there was no interview. And that—six holes in 30 minutes—was my introduction to Speed Golf.
This quirky variant of the game has been around for a long time—speed golf tournaments are held across the world—but it is widely regarded by most weekend golfers as an anomaly. Most players, when I recount this experience, are bemused and tend to dismiss it as a mutation of their favourite pastime. “Just run if you want to run, why play golf like that?” chips in Parakram Rautela, a fellow hack and playing partner. Now Rautela, like a number of other players, is very deliberate about his golf game. A man of process, as it were: with an unchanging pre-shot routine. He lines up to the target, shuffles the hips, checks the clubface alignment, takes three looks to the target and then pulls the trigger—a joy to watch, really.
Inexplicably, when he’s around, or on the green, some gremlins creep into Rautela’s mind, and freeze him over the golf ball.
Time stands still in these moments, and eventually Rautela’s playing partners start shooting furtive glances towards the group behind them, which is waiting back in the fairway. A few holes of this, and patience starts running thin. Now, Rautela manages to hit some spectacular chips and hole a fair number of these putts, which makes it hard to fault him for his interminable routine, but it’s a fine line. Thankfully, the man is working on it.
Slow play has emerged as the biggest challenge in pro and amateur golf alike. It affects the players because rounds take longer to finish; it affects television viewership—only serious aficionados sit through hours of coverage. In my mind, it also affects the game’s growth—it’s hard to attract young people who find the sport too slow and boring.
But forget all that. I’m the first to admit that I’d continue to take my time if it really helped my game. None of these arguments are compelling enough reasons to speed up your play; here’s one that works for me, and I’d just like to put it out there for readers to consider.
One of the biggest obstacles in becoming better at golf is the stationary ball. Unlike any other sport, the fact that the ball isn’t moving means you’re not moving into position to hit it. Try picking up, say, a racquet (any sport will do) and visualise hitting a shot to the other side of the court.
Ideally a top spin, but it doesn’t matter as long as you’re hitting a definite shot to a definite point on the other side of the court. Your body moves naturally into the position it needs to for you to hit that particular shot. Your hands do what’s required to execute that shot. You don’t ‘think’ about what your body is doing and you certainly have no time to keep track of minute movements.
I know it sounds simplistic, but it is, in fact, quite hard. Simply because trusting your body to that degree is difficult when you’ve trained yourself to think about your golf swing.
Speed golf is a great way to break out of that mould. You don’t have to run like Dr Chu, but try giving yourself, say, only five seconds to see the shot and hit it. That’s not enough time to focus on the minutiae. All you’ll end up doing is allowing the body and natural sporting instincts to take over. Focus comes naturally when you know you have just a few seconds to hit a shot. Time is of the essence.
(A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game)