Al Melini climbed into his golf cart with the "Player Assistance" sign on the windshield and headed out to chat with some foursomes at Avalon Golf Club in Cape May Court House.
The course was packed. More than 200 players had decided to take advantage of the sunny weather. The crowd presented a challenge for Melini, a 65-year-old retired teacher who was working as a ranger.
Mainly, the Dennis Township resident wanted to try to prevent backups and delays.
"My goal is to keep play running as best as possible," Melini said during a brief water break last week. "I don't think people realize how easy it is to turn a four-hour round into a five-hour round. If you waste an extra minute, minute and a half or two minutes a hole, it adds up."
Sometimes it can't be helped, especially on Atlantic and Cape May County courses.
Summer visitors to resort areas such as Atlantic City, Avalon, Cape May, Margate and Wildwood are typically accompanied by families and/or friends. A round of golf is merely part of a busy vacation itinerary that includes trips to the beach, strolls on a boardwalk, dinner at a restaurant and maybe a few tugs on a slot machine.
"We're in a resort area, so I have to keep that in mind when I'm out there," Melini said. "The folks we get here this time a year are not on golf vacations. They are on vacation and just happen to be playing golf. This might be their second or third time playing this year.
"If they aren't avid golfers, they may not realize they're playing slow, so I try to just ask them to pick up the pace as nicely as possible. I remember telling some people years ago that a golf course is not a bowling alley. The people aren't to the left and right of you, they are in front and behind you. But I try not to jump on them. I just ask for their help and most of the time, people are very nice about it."
Some courses make it tougher on rangers to maintain the pace of play because of their design.
At Twisted Dune Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, Somers Point resident Ron Goodman has to deal with golfers searching for wayward drives in the thick, knee-high fescue that lines some of the holes.
"I try to get people through nine holes in two hours, 15 minutes, but on a weekend it's so crowded that it's very tough to keep to that pace," said Goodman, a 64-year-old Verizon retiree who had a "Marshall" flag atop his cart. "I just try to make sure nobody's waiting for too long.
"Once in a while, I'll get complaints. Usually, it's people who say they paid a lot of money to play and have the right to take their time. I tell them, 'Everybody else paid the same amount you did and they didn't pay to wait.'
"A few years ago, I had a group that was so slow I stopped them after nine and let three groups go ahead of them. They got mad, but I told them, 'You made everybody wait on the front nine, so now it's your turn.' "
At Stockton Seaview Resort and Hotel in Galloway Township, the rangers have to handle two courses. Most of the golf traffic is on the Bay Course, a scenic, links-style layout that is home to the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Like Twisted Dune, the Bay Course features rough and waste areas that are known to swallow dozens of Titleists and Pinnacles per day. The Pines layout is loaded with trees.
"A lot of people want to play the Bay Course because of the ShopRite Classic, even though it's harder to find your ball in the grass than in the trees (on the Pines Course)," said Galloway Township resident Warren Gold, a 32-year-old ranger at Seaview. "We try to get everyone around in 4 hours, 30 minutes, but it's usually closer to 4:45 on Fridays and Saturdays because we're so busy.
"Our objective is to keep up the pace of play as best we can while also making sure the groups are having a good time at the same time. It's not easy. I don't think rangers get enough praise. People think it's a 'cake' job, but it's not. It's hard."
At Avalon, rangers try to apply a baseball rule - three strikes and you're out - to the course. One visit to a group usually results in a warning. If golfers are still slow, they may be asked to skip a hole to catch up to the players in front of them. A third warning and they could be ejected from the course.
Melini, who has worked at Avalon for 20 years, has rarely had to visit a group three times, but it has happened.
"My record is 12 guys at once," Avalon head PGA professional Ted Wenner said. "They were just being unbelievably slow and I finally said they had to leave. One guy said, 'But it's my birthday and I've got 11 other guys with me.' I said, 'Happy Birthday, now everyone come with me.' "
Goodman, who has worked at Twisted Dunes for nine years, said he has never had to eject anyone for slow play. The only time he's ejected someone was because the golfers were too drunk to continue.
That was also the case for Gold, who has been at Seaview for 15 years and has been a ranger for five.
"We get a lot of bachelor parties and things here," said Gold, who also works part-time as a poker dealer at Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah's Atlantic City in the winter. "Whenever we've had to ask people to leave, those silver-can beverages (beer) are usually the problem."
The rangers all said they encounter far more friendly and cooperative golfers, however.
Melini tries to introduce himself to every golfer at some point during a round. Gold will ask how their day is going and if they need the beverage cart. Goodman loaded an orange cooler full of water and passed it out to thirsty duffers when the temperature climbed toward 100 degrees on a hot July day.
"I try to have a good time with people," Goodman said. "I really enjoy the job. It keeps me off the street and out of trouble, plus I get to play golf for free and that makes it worth it."
Contact David Weinberg:
Some tips for avoiding slow play
1. Play ready golf - having honors on the tee box shouldn't hold up everyone else.
2. Take no more than one practice swing before a shot.
3. If riding in a cart, take off all club covers at the start and store them in the basket.
4. If riding in a cart, drive to the first ball and drop off the first player with his/her choice of clubs, then proceed to the next ball.
5. If you've reached double par, pick up your ball unless you're in a tournament.
6. Unless you're on tour, there's no need to read a putt from every angle.
7. Limit looking for a lost ball to a minute.
8. Invoke gimmes on the green if at all possible. There's no need to make the other player putt out if his ball is inside the leather if there's already a foursome waiting behind you.