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On Your Mark, Ready, Set ... Golf!

Oct 21, 2012
Originally published on October 22, 2012 8:03 am

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.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So, it may not be as quick as descending the Alps on a bike, but there is a high-speed version of golf that you may not know about. And today is the final round of the inaugural World Speed Golf Championship. It's being held on the southern Oregon coast. Speed golf is the antidote to the plodding five-hour round. Eighteen holes in less than an hour. And exciting news for amateurs - it may be the key to lower scores. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Speed golf - I figure: cut down your practice swings from three to two maybe, pick up the pace as you walk the course. My first clue that it was something much more was when I showed up to watch Christopher Smith play a few holes and scanned his outfit. Golf shirt? Check. Golf shorts? Check. Running shoes? Uh-oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF BALL BEING HIT)

CHRISTOPHER SMITH: All right, off we go. Pulled that a little bit. Left side. Should be all right.

GOLDMAN: Even before his tee shot lands, Smith grabs his lightweight golf bag with six clubs, instead of the normal 14, and takes off, running at what he calls a leisurely pace - about an eight-minute mile. Smith is a teaching pro at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course outside of Portland, Oregon. It's a rainy, late afternoon and the course is empty - perfect for speed golf, because at this pace, you can't have anyone in front of you. Smith discovered speed golf - oh, hold on. We're already at his ball.

SMITH: And I'm going to switch clubs here, go to my fairway wood. Sorry, no practice swings.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF BALL BEING HIT)

SMITH: And off we go.

GOLDMAN: OK. So, Smith discovered speed golf about 15 years ago. He was a golf pro and a recreational runner, and speed golf was a way to play, get a workout and have most of your day left when you finish. When he found he played better 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 44 minutes. Golfers might want me to repeat that: 65 in 44 minutes. How is it possible to shoot a score so low when you're running up to the ball and hitting it? Flashing a Buddha-like smile, Smith says that's the whole point.

SMITH: We tend to get in our own way when we play golf - overanalyzing. And 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 towards, is being more present. As I'm coming up to the green here, already kind of reading the putt. I, like many people, actually read my putt best from over the ball. So, this one to me looks like it's going to go just a shade to the right.

GOLDMAN: No walking around the green reading every undulation. Just a quick read, step up, putt and miss. No one's perfect, even in speed golf. He makes the second.

SMITH: OK. Easy par. Bad first putt. Off to the next hole.

GOLDMAN: Smith realizes speed golf may not appeal to all those who love walking 18 holes. But Smith promises playing speedier, regular golf...

SMITH: Not taking practices swings, walking a little bit faster, not spending quite so much time reading putts, ball parking your yardage...

GOLDMAN: All that can pay off if golfers are willing to buck the traditional ways most play the game. Sixty non-traditionalists, including Smith, are playing in this weekend's World Speed Golf Championships in southern Oregon. A televised special of the event will air next April during a golf tournament steeped in tradition unlike any other - The Masters. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.