It was a typical Saturday morning at a heavily populated Los Angeles City golf course.
Like the others in his foursome, Joe had waited more than an hour for a call from the starter, who, by 11 a.m., was far behind schedule in sending players to the first tee.
But Joe didn't mind. He had hit a bucket of balls on the driving range and had stroked a few dozen putts on the practice green. Now, as he approached the tee, he felt loose and ready.
Whack! It was perfect, 230 yards maybe, down the middle. On the green in regulation, he lined up a six-foot putt for birdie. Plunk--into the heart of the cup!
After also birdieing the second hole and almost dropping a 50-foot putt on No. 3 for another bird, Joe was in the clouds. A weekend duffer who plays in the 90s, he was off to his greatest start ever.
Benched--for 15 Minutes
Then came No. 4. By now, the course was backing up. The foursome in front hadn't teed off yet, and Joe took a spot on the crowded bench.
Fifteen minutes later, he stood over his ball, a bit stiffly, it seemed--his adrenaline no longer gushing, his smile long gone.
Swish! Almost predictably, the ball sailed right, bending like a broken arm.
For Joe, it was no surprise. He had been thinking about that shot for 15 minutes, wondering how he was going to avoid the slice that has marred his game for years.
Shrugging unhappily, he headed toward the adjacent fairway, near where a maintenance worker was cutting grass.
By the time Joe arrived at his ball, behind a cluster of thick trees, the power mower had come and gone . . . leaving in its wake a nearly new Titleist that now resembled a sliced onion.
Joe was furious. But, after all, he told himself, it's only a game.
Seven strokes later he recorded his score on the hole--an eight! And the downhill trend continued.
Almost dark when he arrived home, Joe was greeted by his wife, who had expected him hours earlier.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"It was a little slow," he grumbled. "Let's not talk about it."
During the past few weeks, however, there's been a lot of talk.
Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky got the ball rolling, so to speak, with his controversial--but clearly popular--plan to speed up play on the city's 13 public courses, which, on weekends, can prove as frustrating as a jammed freeway.
Most L.A. County courses are no less crowded, and private courses have occasional "greenlock," too. But it's the city-run links--where more than 30,000 golfers played a record 1,172,671 rounds last year--that concern Yaroslavsky.
"Oh, there's been a lot of comment," the councilman said, regarding the possible implementation of his program, patterned after one established last year in Denver.
"It's funny. We do things around here we think are important (City Council legislation), and you get no comment. But this. . . . "
TV editorial newsman Bill Stout, for example, recently nominated Yaroslavsky as one of the "turkeys of the month" for his proposal, pointing out, among other things, that elderly players may have difficulty keeping up.
"Nonsense," the councilman countered. "They're the best. They hit the ball straight and know how to play the game. And they're good putters."
Clearly, Yaroslavsky has tapped into a gusher.
Up to Six Hours for a Round
Merely getting a weekend starting time on a city course often requires great perseverance, but once on the links, many complain that the frustration of slow play--six-hour rounds are not uncommon--takes the enjoyment out of the game.
Of the dozens of golfers and officials interviewed for this story, most favored any action that will accelerate play. Of course, those guilty of creating the bottlenecks--usually described as "the foursome in front of us"--simply could not be found. Some adamantly objected to being rushed under any conditions.
In Denver, players are removed from the city's seven public courses after nine holes if they fail to complete play in two hours, 20 minutes. No refunds, no rain checks. Time limits for 18 holes average four hours, 15 minutes.
It's all very official--time clocks, warning signs posted around the course and patrolling marshals who check progress at various holes and, if necessary, hustle players along.
"If you have a rule, you enforce it," said Charles (Babe) Lind, who has been Denver's director of golf for 29 years. "We don't give an inch. If they're playing our courses, they'd better move."
Lind said "99% support the program, which has been the most successful we've ever had."
Based on Denver's format, a four-week Go-Golf pilot program is expected to be launched by the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks on Nov. 10 at Rancho Park, Wilson and Encino courses.
If adopted, other L.A. City courses will follow suit. They are Balboa, Hansen Dam, Woodley Lakes, Harding, Roosevelt, Penmar, Harbor Park, Los Feliz, Armand Hammer and Rancho Park's nine-hole, three-par course.