I am all for speeding up the pace of play, but don’t touch me on my halfway house.
When two or more golfers are gathered together it is inevitable they will begin to discuss the evils of slow play. It’s more than likely these discussions predate the formalisation of the rules of golf. I can imagine some 15th-century Scot exclaiming, ‘Hamish, it took them thirrrty minutes to play nine howles. Thirrrty …’
Recently I have heard it said that one sure way to avoid golfing inertia is to do away with the pause at halfway. This cuts to the
very core of the game and I am appalled by the growing instances of ‘grab ’n’ go’, where golfers are encouraged not to stop after nine holes, but to scoop up a cling-wrapped submarine and a cooldrink and to carry on as if nothing had happened. I am all for speeding up the pace of play, but don’t touch me on my halfway house.
The idea that food and drink should be an integral part of sport reminds us that most ball games were formalised in Victorian England. There is a tale of a cricket match at Lord’s in the mid-19th century where the players retired to the pavilion at lunch, consumed a five-course meal and decided, very wisely, not to return to the field until the following day.
At the same venue a century later, the great cowboy movie star Roy Rogers was a guest of the MCC. He seemed to enjoy the cricket, but grew restless during lunch and tea. When pressed, he explained, ‘If we were doing this in America, I’d get the players together at the start of the day and say, “Listen guys, no food till we’re through.”’
When it comes to golf, however, even the Americans understand that a fourball marches on its stomach.
Many years ago in Houston, Texas, I was piloting one of the first GPS-linked golf carts. On the 9th tee box, in addition to telling me how long the hole was, where the hazards were and the position of the flag, a menu popped into view. I ordered a chilli burger (as is my wont) and as I walked off the green it was waiting for me at my table.
In Thailand, I once played on a course that eschewed the halfway house in favour of a pit stop between the 6th and 7th and another between the 12th and 13th. They were beautifully discreet watering holes designed to cope with Thailand’s 110% humidity. You could put an iced towel around your shoulders, sip a soft drink, stock up with second-hand balls and even eat something, if you liked.
And therein lies the charm of the halfway house (or one-third and two-third houses, as the Thais have it): choice. No one is forcing you to consume anything and there are days when a glass of iced water is all that is required. But equally, there are days when the front nine has chewed you up and spat you out, when a meat pie, gravy, chips and a quart of beer are an absolute godsend before you resume the unequal battle with Old Man Par.
Remember that, the next time you are tempted to discuss the evils of slow play.