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Speed Golf Good for Busy Players

June 24, 1998

VISTA, Calif. (AP) _ It’s just after 6 a.m. and the morning quiet is pierced by the distinct sound of a 5-iron connecting squarely against the dimpled surface of a golf ball _ ``clock.″

The tiny white sphere soars into the air and down a fairway that looks like soft, green velvet. In shorts, T-shirt and a baseball cap, Tom Siekman sprints after it, droplets of water flying with each step of his running shoes.

Running? On a golf course?

Quietly and stealthily, the sport of speed golf is gaining popularity with runners who have a liking for the links. Most who play are short on time and long on legs _ meaning they think nothing of pumping out five miles before most folks have downed their first latte or neighborhood dogs have barked greetings of the day.

In 54 minutes and 8 seconds, Siekman knocks out 18 holes _ shooting 106. Total time is added to strokes, so he scored 161.

``In speed golf, the straighter you shoot the ball, the less you have to run,″ said Siekman, 43, who manages a luxury spa.

Speed golf, also called extreme golf, is generally credited to San Diego runner Steve Scott, who holds the American mile record of 3:47.69. Scott decided in 1979 that his golf game could use a little adrenaline, so he ran his entire round. Speed golf was born.

News of the sport grew in Southern California, sprouting converts like Siekman, who talked golf course managers into letting them hit the green before regular golfers arrived.

And, now it’s going pro. Golfer and triathlete Jay Larson, who can shoot a 75 in 39 minutes, founded the International Speed Golf Association in January. He is one of the top contenders Sunday in the Taylor Made Speed Golf Open at Rancho Bernardo Inn Resort.

During tournaments, golfers usually have caddies who motor ahead of them to point out the ball, carry their clubs and hand them the right one for the shot.

But purists like Siekman and Randy Twombly prefer the solitude of packing their own clubs for their morning exercise.

``It’s fun, but it gives you a heck of a workout,″ said Twombly, a 48-year-old real estate agent. ``I’m not much of a golfer, but it’s a nice change. Instead of another run down the Coast Highway, you get this.″

This is the Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, about 50 miles northeast of San Diego. On a recent morning, Siekman, Twombly and four others arrived at the empty parking lot, hats pulled low and eyes a bit bleary.

The course was peaceful, the only noise coming from chirping birds and sprinklers spraying a rainbow of water against the green.

The speed golfers paired off, teed off quickly and headed out with just a few minutes between each group.

Most carried three or four clubs. ``Clack, clack, clack, clack″ the metals went as the golfers loped across the rolling hills like ponyless polo players.

For magazine publisher Bob Babbitt of Solana Beach, part of the allure is doing what many frown upon: ``You can’t talk in the library and you don’t run on a golf course,″ the 47-year-old said.

It’s also the only way he and the others can fit a game that typically takes half a day to play into less than two hours, leaving more time for family and work.

``Golf is the type of game that people have been told for years that to play it well, you have to play it slow,″ Babbitt said. ``But sometimes when you take your mind out of it, you play better golf.″

The speed golfers send the ball on its way, pick up the clubs they’ve dropped and take off again, their footsteps muffled now by the whirring sound of mowers grooming the course.

They splash through puddles, weave past trees, and make their way through tunnels, sneakers echoing on the asphalt.

Siekman played with only a 5-iron. He liked the minimalist approach: one man, one club and a pair of soggy sneakers.

As he finished and headed for the clubhouse showers, the first ``real″ golfers of the day were motoring their carts onto the course.

Siekman smiled.

``I lose a little on strokes but I save a lot on time,″ he said.

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