On Your Mark, Ready, Set ... Golf!
We are deep into fall, but in the sports world there's actually competitive golf still going on — in fast motion.
Sunday is the final round of the inaugural World Speed Golf Championship, being held on the southern Oregon coast. Speed golf is the antidote to the plodding 5-hour round, instead hitting 18 holes in sometimes less than an hour.
On a recent afternoon, Christopher Smith, a teaching pro at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in Portland, Ore., headed out for a quick round on the links. Speed golf is about more than just cutting down on your practice swings or picking up your walking pace on the course. For a speed round, Smith dons running shoes.
Even before his shots off the tee box land, Smith grabs his lightweight golf bag — containing six clubs instead of the normal 14 — and takes off, running at what he calls a leisurely pace of about an 8-minute mile. In speed golf, it helps if the course is empty, as it was on this rainy afternoon. At this pace, you can't have anyone in front of you.
Smith discovered speed golf about 15 years ago. He was a golf pro and a recreational runner; speed golf was a way to play, get a workout and have most of your day left when you finished. When he found that he played better when playing faster, it led to conversations with human-performance experts, and writing a book.
In 2005, Smith set the world record by shooting a 5-under par 65 in just 44 minutes. A typical 18 holes takes most people 4-5 hours. So how is it possible to shoot a score so low when you're running up to the ball and hitting it?
That's the whole point, Smith says.
"We tend to get in our own way when we play golf over analyzing," he says. "Really what ... playing speed golf does is it forces you to play in more of a reactive, reactionary sort of way. You simply see the shot, and create it. That's what we're all trying to move toward, is being more present."
Quickly approaching a green, Smith is already reading the putt. There's no walking around the surface reading every undulation; just a quick read, step up and putt. On this particular hole, Smith missed his first putt. No one is perfect, even in speed golf.
He sinks his second putt for a par, however, and rushes off to the next hole.
Smith realizes that speed golf might not appeal to all those who love walking 18 holes. He says that playing speedier golf can pay off, however, if golfers are willing to buck the traditional ways most play the game by "not taking practices swings, walking a little bit faster [and] not spending so much time reading putts."
In southern Oregon over the weekend, 60 non-traditionalists, including Smith, played in the World Speed Golf Championship. A televised special of the event will air next April, during the Masters, a golf tournament steeped in tradition unlike any other.
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