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Auto-Annoyance on the Golf Course

By: Jeff Shelley


A Seattle newspaper columnist recently went on a rant about "lane campers" who clog up our interstates by adamantly staying in the inside - passing - lane and traveling at speeds below the posted limit. They don't move over when other cars come up behind them, effectively resulting in "personal rolling slowdowns" on Interstate 5 and other major highways.

The Seattle Times' Ron Judd wrote (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2013540043_restless28m.html) that these frozen-in-place drivers cause accidents by forcing faster motorists to pass on the right - where other cars aren't looking for them, and sparking road rage.

The latter offshoot created by these lane blockers is confirmed by Washington State Patrol Sgt. J.J. Gundermann, a 13-year trooper, who told Judd: "A lot of people do like to camp out in the left lane. It clearly frustrates other motorists and it causes a lot of problems. It's like sand going through an hourglass: It's that one car, in that one lane, that's holding everything up."

I've experienced this phenomenon many times. Though I now telecommute from my house and put maybe 10 miles on my vehicles a week, my wife and I take an occasional trip north or south on I-5, or east on Interstate 90, and, invariably, encounter "parkers" in the passing lane.

Just this past week, upon returning from Portland to Seattle following Thanksgiving at my sister's place, the laggards were out in force. I'd estimate that half the time I passed someone on their right-hand side. Indeed, anymore it seems that the outside - far-right - lane is the least occupied and therefore the best route to get by the passing-lane hogs.

As we were coming home one guy entered I-5 from an on-ramp near Tacoma and immediately drifted across four lanes to the far-inside lane. (You know the kind.) There were maybe three car-lengths between me and the car ahead. Undaunted, this fellow swerved in front of me and promptly camped. Accustomed to the situation, I didn't honk but sought the normal escape to the right to get around him. No go - too much traffic.

So when the high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lane opened up north of Tacoma, I went behind him and slid into it. As I passed Mr. Lane Camper, he flipped me off. I guess the traditional reason for road rage just wasn't enough for this guy.

Judd wrote that these left-lane campers, which he humorously dubs "Washington State's official vegetable," are violating the law. "RCW 46.61.100 forbids impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane of any roadway with two or more lanes. Drivers are required by law to move right if space is available. It doesn't matter how fast you're going. Impeding even a single car, at any speed, is illegal. You do not have the legal 'right' to drive in the left lane as long as you maintain the speed limit. Period."

The fine for breaking the law is $124, and Washington's esteemed troopers - from January through October of 2010 - pulled over 9,946 drivers for "left-lane" violations and issued 937 citations.

Judd has written about these miscreants before and gotten a lot of flak, and their responses are, to say the least, troubling. "Some of them, incredibly, wrote in and actually confessed to lane-camping on purpose, as some sort of passive-aggressive means of vigilante speed control," Judd says.

Sgt. Gundermann's reply to this reason? "I would say they should fill out an application to become a Washington State Patrol trooper."

So what does all this have to do about the Royal & Ancient Game? Well, the equivalent of passing-lane blockage on our roadways is unnecessarily slow play on our golf courses. Though not a life and death matter such as a serious automobile accident triggered by the sudden and unsafe passing of traffic-blocking cars, the problem exists on a golf course as there's only one lane at a time, the fairway you're playing, to negotiate.

At our club in Seattle we have several members who believe it is their sacred right to take as much time as they desire to make their appointed rounds ("By God, I pay my dues and can play as slow as I want" goes the logic). Some, particularly a few representatives of the older set, don't even bother to turn around and see if they're being pressed, opting instead to make groups behind them wait and stew (fairway rage?).

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the temperature was 40 degrees and the wind was howling, I played in my first match of our club's annual Winter Chapman tournament. In this event the pro shop assigns you a partner with an equivalent handicap, and you're pitted against two players of the same ilk. Unfortunately, our opponents in this match included one of the club's widely-known, top-two slowest players.

It was brutal since his partner wasn't exactly a jackrabbit. My partner and I would hit a shot and wait, wait, wait, wait until Mr. Lollygag would take his turn. He consumed as much time as the other three of us combined. For every single one of his 80 or so shots - from tee to green, it was like he had just rushed to the first tee from the parking lot and realized he needed to get collected before launching his initial drive of the day.

His tedious pre-shot routine is like witnessing someone masturbating, a self-indulgent act that's boring as hell for those not involved. His time-consuming, step-by-step procedure involves inserting the tee and ball in the ground, turning 90 degrees to the target and taking two or three practice swings, getting into his stance, and then waiting untold more seconds for some secret epiphany that starts his swing.

This went on for 16 holes - which took four hours to complete even though no one was in front of us and it was a Chapman format, which usually involves one of the two balls on a team in the fairway. Almost gratefully, we lost the match 3 and 2, emotionally and physically frozen by this player's deliberations. (I'd say that was his strategy all along, but, sadly, I'm afraid he always plays this way.)

Though the guy's a 14 handicap, he makes Ben Crane look like a speed golfer. (For other PGA Tour sluggards, visit http://www.golf.com/golf/gallery/article/0,28242,1811711-1,00.html.) Regardless of skill level, the reactions by fellow golfers to slow players may be unintended, but the results are still the same.

To me, ultra-slow golfers are narcissists, acting out some kind of "look-at-me" performance piece that, ultimately, is as vulgar as the above act of self-flagellation. It's irksome and rude, quite like the fast-lane campers that clog our freeways and ruin the schedules and moods of everyone stuck behind them.

Just as Judd concluded his piece - "For once, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season, do the rest of us a solid. Keep right except to pass. It's good for you, good for traffic, good for the economy, good for America," I'd say of the world's fairway-campers: "Hit the damn ball! Be courteous and always aware of your fellow players and competitors. Get on with it or let faster golfers play through!"