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Orange County Focus is dedicated on Monday to analysis of community news, a look atwhat's ahead and the voices of local people. : PERSPECTIVE : Anaheim's Message to Slow Golfers: Stop Puttering Around

August 21, 1995|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Time is money, even on the golf course.

For the cities that operate Orange County's municipal courses, the more players, the more revenue generated, a factor that has become increasingly important in the tight-budget era since the county's December bankruptcy filing.

Golf is not a game known for its breakneck pace, however. Most baseball games are over in less than the four hours that the typical golfer takes to play the regulation 18 holes. So Anaheim and San Clemente, both of which operate public golf courses, are speeding up the game.

"If you've got someone on the course who is keeping down the number of customers out there, they are hurting the city," said Tom Byrd, a member of San Clemente's Golf Committee, which advises the City Council how to manage the course.

"Some people take forever out there," he said, which causes frustrated fellow golfers and costs the city thousands of dollars in lost revenue. "They think they are playing the U.S. Open or something."

Slow games were even more of a problem at the Anaheim Hills Golf Course, with some players taking as long as six hours to play the rolling fairways. To expedite the game, improve customer satisfaction and make the course more profitable, city officials in February implemented a program called "Keep Pace."

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The course, which along with one other Anaheim course serves 20,000 players a month, now goes far beyond the friendly reminders of the past. Instead, golf marshals record the actual time elapsed as players reach the fifth, ninth and 18th holes, which are near each other.

If a group of four players averages more than 15 minutes per hole along the way, officials first warn the golfers to pick up the pace. Next, marshals are authorized to instruct stragglers to skip a hole. They can even order them off the course, though they have not yet asked anyone to leave.

The program has been a rousing success, said Jack Kudron, Anaheim's parks superintendent. The time-awareness program shaved about 45 minutes off the average playing time for a group of four at Anaheim Hills, he said.

Most golfers, too, are enthusiastic about the trial program. "It's about time," said Bob Dean, 66, a retired financial adviser who plays the course more than 50 times a year. "Slow players are always a problem."

Ted Petersen, a 29-year-old mechanic who also plays at Anaheim Hills regularly, said, "I've noticed a real difference." In the past, the Anaheim resident said, "sometimes you'd get stuck behind someone, and the waiting was too much."

The layout of San Clemente's city-owned course, which serves about 15,000 players a month, doesn't lend itself to the timed approach adopted in Anaheim. But the city has taken its own approach to speeding up the game by deploying course marshals who begin at the 18th hole and work backward, looking for slow players.

"You can see more quickly where the gap is and who is holding up play instead of just following them," Byrd said.

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San Clemente has posted signs along the course in hopes of encouraging players to comply voluntarily with a 15-minute-per-hole guideline for a group of four. For instance, at the fifth hole, Byrd said, a sign tells golfers, "If it took you more than an hour to get here, you are playing too slowly."

In both Anaheim and San Clemente, the faster-play programs grew out of City Council discussions last year to privatize both golf courses.

After much debate, the Anaheim council rejected six bids from private companies to take over the city's two public golf courses, which together netted the city about $1.6 million last year. The council decided that the projected $85,000 in additional revenue that privatization would bring wasn't worth the risk of losing control over its own facilities.

"Since the city's decision to continue to self-operate, we've wanted to improve customer satisfaction," said Kudron, who introduced the Keep Pace program at Anaheim's H.G. Dad Miller golf course in June. "We want to deliver quality golf and provide a reasonable profit."

Anaheim and San Clemente officials have received very few complaints about their fast-play policies, which have not only boosted revenue but also solved what Byrd describes as "a perennial problem."

It only takes one slow group or person to back up an entire golf course, he said. "Every golf course always has trouble with an individual who has decided, since he's paid his money, he can disregard the other golfers and take 10 hours to play."

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