Nothing ruins a game of golf quite like slow play. No one wants to wait forever for their turn at the tee box or take an entire day to play.
An average round of golf, 18-holes, should take about 4 hours and 30 minutes. While many factors may affect the pace of play, a good rule of thumb is to consider that nine holes should take half the time of 18 holes, or about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
If you’re halfway through the course and it’s already been three hours, you may want to consider finding ways to speed up your pace of play. Of course, that may not be your or your team’s fault, depending on the business of the course, the course difficulty, and the time of day you’re playing.
How long does a round of golf take? This article will help you understand how your pace of play could be affected and how you might be able to improve it the next time you play.
How Long Should Each Type of Hole Take?
The United States Golf Association (USGA) says there are specific time indications based on the par of the hole being played. Generally speaking, a par-3 hole should take about 13 minutes, a par-4 hole should take about 15 minutes, and a par-5 about 17 minutes.
A standard course has about 12 par-4 holes, four par-3s, and four par-5 holes. If you add up the numbers, an average of 15 minutes times 12, 13 minutes times 4, and 17 minutes times four, you get about 270 minutes or an average time of 4 hours and 30 minutes of gameplay.
Things Out of the Golfer’s Control
Even if you or your group are more skilled players, some things on the golf course are just out of your control. You cannot account for the skill level or behavior of other players, which will most certainly affect the pace of play.
What Makes a Round Shorter or Longer?
Many will argue that what causes a round of golf takes longer or shorter is a player’s skill level, how long they take for a single shot or the golf course difficulty.
The play length’s real culprit is the groups ahead or behind you. Whether playing with a group or alone, if the group ahead of you takes a long time to play, you’re not likely to finish the course in less than four hours.
Golf courses can become very busy, so depending when you choose to go will affect whether you play faster or not.
If multiple groups are walking ahead of you, then five-hour rounds of golf are much more likely, even if you’re playing alone and have rented a golf cart for yourself.
If you’re playing on an empty golf course, you can also set your own pace.
Does Time of Day Matter?
The time of day you play a round of golf certainly affects the pace of play. Mid-afternoon tee times often come with the expectation of longer playing time. Rather, if you’re the first of the day, you set the pace and can keep things moving at a three and half-hour pace instead.
Often, weekends and afternoons are the busiest, so if you’re looking for a quick game of golf, consider other times and days of the week to play.
How Much Time Do Golf Courses Leave Between Tee Times?
Many golf courses offer tee times of between eight to twelve minutes apart. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the pace of play tends to be quick, with 12-minute instead of 8-minute tee time intervals.
When tee times are more spaced out, there is more time for forgiveness of bad shots, lost balls, and other unexpected delays.
Teeing off 8 minutes after the four amateur golfers in front of you means you can count on regularly waiting if you’re a more skilled player. A quicker tee time can lead to bottle-necking on a shorter course stretch with more difficult holes.
Of course, from a golf course management perspective, shorter tee times mean more players on the course and more money. Ideally, most golf courses will try to pack in the number of players.
How Long Does It Take to Play 18 Holes of Golf Alone?
Three hours is a great pace for playing alone and using a golf cart to get around. If you’re alone and walking, three and a half hours is ideal, and anything over four hours is considered slow (if there are no groups ahead of you holding you back).
How Long Does It Take to Play 18 Holes of Golf in a Group?
When you’re playing in a group, it’s easy to assume that the average golf time will be the time it takes to play alone, multiplied by the number in your party. This is not correct, as everyone plays slightly differently.
The best way to play in a group and have faster rounds is to pay attention to how the other players take their shots. If you pay attention to the distance and select a club as someone plays their shot, you’ll be ready to hit the ball by the time the other one has landed.
This is also helpful on the greens; you can observe your partners’ shots and read the green to make your next shot. This results in fewer putts and less time on the green.
If everyone in your party does this, it should take about 20 seconds between shots, resulting in an extra two minutes on each hole.
Being the Group Causing Slow Play
Keep in mind that you, or your group, are not the only people interested in playing golf that day. Part of being a responsible golfer is keeping things moving for everyone else and trying to move at a reasonable pace.
If you’re keeping others in mind, you’ll be more conscious of maintaining your pace and won’t be ruining the game for others that may come after you.
How to Affect the Pace of Play (Aka Speed Things Up)
How Should I Pick the Tees I Play?
Ensuring you pick the right tees will not only save you time playing but also help you lower your score.
To help pick your set of tees, multiply the distance you hit your 5-iron by 36. For example, if you hit a 5-iron 175 yards, then you’ll want a set to tees at 6300 yards to succeed.
This formula can be misleading as it is sometimes assumed that skill and distance are directly related, which is untrue. The average golfer hits about 219 yards, but this distance can vary greatly from one golfer to the next.
A golfer with a longer distance may also have a higher handicap; the length of the shot does not necessarily determine accuracy.
The “Ladies” Tees
These types of tees have nothing to do with gender. An outdated term brings a false belief that these are tees with the lowest yardage, though the connotation of the name implies that unskilled, female golfers use them.
The reality is that these forward tees are reserved for the players who score the highest, which has nothing to do with gender.
Lost Ball Protocol
Even professional golfers lose balls. Knowing how to proceed when this happens will expedite the process of locating it or scoring and moving on with the game.
As we’ve mentioned, part of being a responsible golfer is to keep other groups in mind and to keep things moving. Don’t be the slow players on the green constantly looking for lost balls or spending too much time looking for a rogue shot.
Still, when you lose a ball, there are rules to follow. If the area has stakes, it’s clear, but if the ball has gone out of bounds or the golf ball has been lost completely, it’s a bit of a different story.
After you get to the area that you expect your ball to be, you have three minutes to search for it. Your ball is lost if you’ve not found it within those three minutes. At this point, you can play a provisional ball if you choose, with the potential penalty of stroke and distance.
A provisional ball allows you to ‘restart’ your game under penalty of distance and stoke. Once you openly state that you’ll be playing a provisional, you are allowed to make your shot and search for your lost ball.
If you find the lost golf ball, you must play from that location, even if your provisional shot was better. If you do not find the ball you lost, or you’ve lost it within water hazards, you will continue playing with your provisional one and incur those penalties.
The penalty for losing a ball is two strokes, but you can obtain a new ball and continue playing. Here’s how you move forward after you’ve recovered your lost golf ball and are not playing a provisional:
- First, you must decide where your ball was lost or entered an out-of-bounds area.
- Find a direct line to the hole from this spot.
- Walk to the edge of the fairway but no closer to the hole. Find the line directly to the hole once again.
- You may drop the ball from knee height between these two spots or within two club lengths closer to the fairway and play on.
This set of steps is often more time-consuming, so you’ll want to be mindful of other groups on the course, but when you have the opportunity to continue, that option is available.
An important distinction for this rule is that it does not apply when a ball is hit into a penalty area. You must follow the designated rules for whatever type of hazard if your ball lands somewhere marked by stakes.
You are also not allowed to use this rule if you hit a choice to play a provisional.
If you find that you or your group are lagging or are not playing at a good pace, you can choose to play Ready Golf. This goes against the rules of traditional golf and is exactly what it sounds like.
Instead of the player closest to the hole or farthest away shooting first, the player that is ready shoots. If you are at your ball and ready before anyone else is, it is your turn to hit!
Playing ready golf speeds up the pace of play exponentially and can catch you up with the group ahead of your quickly. Consider playing like this any time your group falls a full hole behind the people ahead of you.
When Do I Write My Groups Scores?
A good scorekeeper is an invaluable team member but can also distinctly hurt the pace of play.
Best practices for keeping score are as follows:
- Do not write your group’s scores down while still standing on the previous hole’s green
- Likewise, don’t ask your playing partners their scores and have them be standing on the green recounting their shots one by one.
- Ask the players in your group their scores at the next tee box, moving through each player as others tee off.
Following these steps allows the group behind you to begin playing and also allows your group to maintain a reasonable pace of play.
So, How Long Does 18 Holes of Golf Take?
Now you know that no significant factor causes a long waiting time or makes your game of golf take longer. Hopefully, this article has taught me some golf course etiquette.
Some would argue that a player’s skill level is the biggest effect. After all, fewer shots lead to a quicker game, while more shots cause a longer round.
While this is true, the skill levels make a difference; when playing your next round of golf, pay attention to the time it takes you or your group to move through a course. Remember, it should take roughly 4 hours and 30 minutes, but are you quicker or slower?
With this knowledge in mind, see where you or your group needs improvement! Be mindful of other players, and most importantly, enjoy the game!