Speed Golf: An honest verdict

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Speed Golf: What happened when our digital editor tried one of the latest forms of golf

Thanks to Golf Sixes, the Zurich Classic and Super Sixes events on the European and PGA Tours this year, it’s clear there’s been a considerable shift away from golf’s originally purposed form in a bid to increase participation.

Speedgolf is the latest version of golf to be taking hold and growing in popularity in the UK, and while it’s really just another way of getting your ball from tee to green, it undoubtedly also reinvents the phrase ‘a quick nine holes’.

I’ve got to admit I was intrigued when they told me I could complete nine holes of golf in under 40 minutes, but then was instantly horrified when I was introduced to George, a British speedgolfer who had ‘tested’ the course for us and completed it in 19 minutes.

Quick maths lesson for you. Say that your average nine holes is roughly 2 miles (providing you walk in a straight line), and George completed it in 19 minutes, what was his average pace-wise?

This is no fabrication. George played nine holes of golf while averaging less than 8 minute miles… and was only four over par for a combined score of 59. I nearly packed up my clubs in to my car there and then. If you take my average mile (around 10 minutes) I’d predictably finish in 20 minutes if you didn’t take in any of the actual playing, walking in zig zags, or factoring in golf at all, which in my 26 years of experience has always been a very deliberate and calculating game that uses as much mental power as it does exert physical energy. 

Not this time. But before I tell you what I actually finished in, let’s get one thing out of the way first; speed golf was the most difficult nine holes of golf I’ve ever played. And yet, I’d go as far to say it was one of the best work-outs I’ve had in a long while.

Speed Golf: The Key Facts

- You can play with 7 clubs
- You don't need to use a bag if you don't want to, but pencil bag recommended
- The flagstick is left in while putting
- Players have individual tee times at 5/6 minute intervals.
- Score is calculated by adding time to score 
- Lost balls are dropped on the line of flight of the previous shot with just a one-shot penalty (I forgot about this rule!)
- Standard R&A golf rules apply alongside any local amendments operated on a particular golf course.
- Headcovers will slow you down, but keep them on if you like your golf clubs and don't want them to get bashed (learnt this the hard way!)

Below - a closer look at what happened when we played Speed Golf

Standing in the pouring rain at Trent Park Golf Club in North London, I’d swapped my stand bag for a pencil bag and narrowed my club selection down to the maximum 7: Driver, 5iron, 7iron, 9iron, PW, 58 degree, Putter. And while there was a strong part of me that wanted to resist running and golfing continuously in torrid conditions for nine holes, there I was with four other competitors, ready for my name to be called and the stopwatch to start.

“Don’t go off too fast,” George probably told us, but as a first time speed-golfer, I had turned up full selective hearing by this point. I’m much more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner, and given the man setting off immediately in front of me told me he does 50k ‘fun’ runs, I knew needed a fast start.   

I’d be lying if I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief that I bombed a drive down that first hole, knowing that if I wasn’t going to win in time, I could at least attempt to post a score. I tore off chasing that ball in a fashion so quickly you'd have thought I was trying to catch it. It was probably most closely reminiscent of the old caddie tradition when a newly appointed R&A Captain is sworn in with a drive on the first of the Old Course in St Andrews and they race to be the first to get it.

When I approached my ball I suddenly realised there were no 150 yardage markers, and I didn’t have my trusty GPS to tell me just how far I had to the hole. I was so conscious of it being a race I barely let myself think, and instead grabbed my pitching wedge and judged it to be about a three-quarter shot. Miraculously, it landed around 10 feet away, but the smugness I felt was quick to dissipate.

I threw my clubs down next to the green (sorry clubs, particularly you now slightly bashed driver) and rushed with my putter to my mud-caked ball. Before Jordan Spieth would have even put his marker down behind the ball I’d sent my birdie putt sailing four feet past the hole. 

Lesson #1: Listen to George and take your time over putts

I took a little longer over that second putt, and thankfully jogged off with a par – but not before realising I'd left my bag in completely the wrong place, adding needless seconds to my round. Having just sprinted down the first and with adrenaline pumping, the usually calm Camilla had abandoned her regular disposition and in her place stood an already short-of-breath golfer wishing I’d jogged a little more slowly on that first hole.

For the majority of those nine holes the wildly over-competitive part of my brain was in a continuous up-hill battle with my underwhelming slow legs and rising heartbeat which resisted more and more with every steady incline (of which there were a lot). And while I struggled to stop my arms from swinging 10 times faster than usual, I was also determined not to lose the man in front. Unfortunately for me, Mr. 50k Fun Run saw that I was catching up and he took off at pace.  

And there ended my chase. By this stage I had made it to a par-five with around 200 yards to the green for my second when I pulled out a five-iron and hit it straight out of the middle. My five iron goes around 180, and the way I struck this shot, there was no feasible reason that it could have travelled to any other place but straight at the target. So as I jogged up the hill towards the green, I expected to see my ball anywhere lying neatly on the 80 yard wide fairway short of the green. Where was it? No idea.

Lesson #2: Watch where your ball lands as you don’t have time to look

In what felt like the most redundant and frustrating 360 yard round trip I’ve ever done, I went back to hit another shot – and this time watched exactly where it landed. I ended up dropping a single-shot, and while it ruined my bogey-less run, I was still glad I hadn’t been overtaken. I should probably point out the two girls behind me had never picked up a club before, so I was pretty confident they wouldn’t catch me – even if I was running extra yards through pure stupidity.

Camilla-Run

But this was all before I got lost. Firstly, let me point out I’ve never played this golf course before, didn’t have a stroke saver, and given that I was soaked to the skin and just had a bogey, I couldn’t say I was exactly having ‘fun’.

You might be wondering how someone who has played hundreds of golf courses in their life could possibly have got lost, but in my pitiful defence, I was focusing so much on making my legs move quicker than they wanted to I’d forgotten we were playing the back-nine. It just so happened that the 5th tee and 14th hole were side by side, so when I finished up on the 13th green, I reasoned that I’d played four holes so the 5th was the natural choice.

Lesson #3: Mark your scorecard and you won’t get lost  

It took me an embarrassingly long time to notice. Having played the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, I teed up and went away up the 9th fairway, only to realise I was having to wait for two gentleman to clear the green. Had the two men playing speed golf in front of me done the same, I wondered. Had these men got confused? Or was there a reason I’d played three par-3s when the back-nine only had two? If you've ever played the wrong holes before, fess-up and tell me because I need to know I'm not the only one that's made such a ridiculous mistake. 

It was only when I took out the slightly damp scorecard that I’d not been marking (both because it was pouring and to save time) that I realised I had definitely NOT played the correct set-up. In hind-sight, the par-three’s should have been a giveaway. But then again, my mistake did mean I was able to miss the huge hill of the 18th hole, and I’m not sure my legs would have obliged.

The two men had finished when I finally reached them, but to my surprise, I was only five minutes behind them… even with all my faulty internal sat-nav. Three over par (37 on my make-shift course), and 45 minutes later I’d completed my first speed-golf with a score of 82, a cool 23 behind George. And if you’re wondering, yes I was obviously disqualified.

I could only laugh at the parallel. The only other time I’ve been disqualified was when I attempted to hit out of a sandy patch inside a pond on the 15th hole of the Eden Course in St.Andrews. It was almost like a bunker, except with wooden slats protecting its edges. I skulled my wedge in to the wood, only for it to rebound straight in to my thigh – causing me to lose my balance and end up calf-deep in water. To add insult to the bruising, because I was only 12 I hadn’t realised it was a two-shot penalty for hitting yourself, and a very unpleasant phone-call that evening informed me my fate. And 14 years later I found myself being disqualified for an equally unlikely situation I probably shouldn’t have thought I could come out of with a reasonable score. 

As the two man were raving about how much they enjoyed it, I was red-faced, exhausted, soaked through and just thankful it was over. And yet in those 15 minutes we waited for the other girls to join us, they’d somehow talked me around to saying I’d absolutely, definitely do it again. 

I was reminded of my friend Jane. She ran the London Marathon, proclaimed she would never do it again, and yet by the next day had already started planning her training for next year. It’s a bizarre human trait that lets us forget about the pain and instead think positively about what we’ve accomplished, leading us to want to do it again – not for the feeling of pain, but for that moment of happiness we feel after it.

Speed golf seemed to have that same impact on me. While doing it I couldn’t say I particularly enjoyed myself (understatement – it was HARD), but I certainly felt accomplished at the end. Part of it because I knew I could now play to and even under my handicap in tough conditions without relying on a GPS, but also because running for me was a challenge – and now with the knowledge I can do it, what was stopping me from doing it again?

Speed Golf: The Verdict

Now that I've dried off and the dust has settled a bit, I sat down to reflect how I really felt about Speed Golf. If anything, it taught me that I’m absolutely a pureist. I love nothing more than playing 18 holes in 3 and a half hours; it’s a lovely walk, it’s a game of strategy, and it’s brilliantly social. Speed golf is the opposite – it’s quick, it’s a game of A-to-B, and it’s very individual. It’s a game, to me, that’s different entirely from golf. 

Given the choice, the no-frills golf format of old is what I’d opt for. But would it be something I’d consider doing if I wanted to get fitter or only had an hour to spare? Absolutely. Although I’d definitely have preferred to have a partner to play with – even if it was only so that I had someone to watch my golf ball and to make sure I didn’t play a made-up nine holes.

Who do I think Speed Golf is for? Honestly, if you’re someone who likes a challenge, likes to work out and likes to golf – then I’d definitely recommend you give it a try. The only challenge is you've got to be an early riser and grab that first tee-time, because my thoughts are that most golf club members won't appreciate you shouting to let you through as you jog past them on the fourth hole on a Saturday afternoon.

Of the five of us that tried it, I'd say the two male runners that were irregular golfers were 100% converted, while the two girls admitted while they had a lot of fun they would definitely need lessons before the tried it again.

So what about me, will I be trying speed golf again any time soon? I'll let you know when I catch my breath... 

To find out more about British Speed Golf, how it works and how you can get involved, visit their websitehttp://britishspeedgolf.co.uk/