Golf is not a timed sport like many others, and so you may be wondering exactly how long a round of golf should be taking you, and what is an acceptable pace of play?
Whether you are a complete amateur, or a club regular there are a lot of factors that can affect the length of time you are out on the course. In this post, we will take a look at why the actual time it takes to play can vary so much.
What The Officials Say
The R&A state in their “Pace of Play Manual” that as a general rule of thumb the following times are reasonable for a group of four players:
- 10 minutes to play an average par-3
- 13 minutes to play an average par-4
- 16 minutes to play an average par-5
They calculate that an acceptable time for a four-ball to complete a full 18 hole round is four hours. This equates to an average of 13 minutes per hole.
Based on these times we can also assume the following :
- An 18 hole round for three players should take 3.5 hours
- A full round for two players should take 3 hours
- And if you are playing by yourself, it should take 2 to 2.5 hours
Factors Affecting The Time Of Your Round
Let’s take look in more detail at the varying factors that will play a part in how long it takes you to complete your round:
Golf courses vary widely in length (Anywhere from 5000 – 8500 yards). The total length of the course, the distance from green to tee, and the overall terrain and layout of the course can affect the time of your round.
No two courses are built the same. Some may have longer rough, more bunkers, hazards, and obstacles. Other courses may have blind tee-shots, narrower fairways, a lot of elevation throughout the course and faster greens.
Yes, we would all love to play golf in the perfect conditions, warm with a gentle breeze, but sadly that just doesn’t happen. If you play most of your golf in an area of the world that experiences all four seasons, then at some point throughout the year you will be contending with the wind, the rain and everything that comes with it, such as plugged/lost balls, and less distance.
Player Skill Level
If the golf course is filled with low handicap players then, in theory, everyone on the course should work their way around the course in a good time. This is rarely the case, and at any given time there is a wide range of golfers on the course.
Lower handicap players are not going to hit as many balls offline. They will generally hit it further, straighter, and they won’t be spending as much time looking for lost balls.
Beginner and higher handicap golfers will tend to lose more balls, hit more errant tee-shots, and will end up taking more shots overall because they can’t hit the ball as far. It all adds up.
I have seen groups of elderly gentlemen working their way around the course at a fantastic pace of play. They may not hit the ball as far, but it’s always straight down the middle, and they know they course like the back of their hand.
How Many People Are Playing
As mentioned above, a three-ball is going to be faster than a four-ball, a two-ball faster than three, and if you are playing by yourself you should be able to get around in a very reasonable time.
Then there is the case of how many people are playing on the whole course at any given time. If you are playing on the weekend, an extremely famous course maybe, or have got caught in the middle of a society day then the general pace of play is going to be much slower.
The Game You Choose To Play
Stroke play for example, where every golfer needs to complete every hole to record a valid score is going to be much slower than if you choose to play matchplay whereby you will receive “gimmes” for shorter putts, or foursomes, where partners take alternate shots all of which save time on your round.
How The Rules Are Helping Speed Things Up
In January of 2019, there were some specific rule changes designed to help make play quicker for both the professionals and amateurs:
- The time a player can search for their ball was reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes
- Golfers are now allowed to putt with the flagstick in the hole
- When you drop a ball, it can now be dropped from knee-height instead of shoulder height. This should minimize the need for further drops or placements
- If a ball is plugged you can now take relief from the rough as well as the fairway
- And finally, there is ‘ready golf’ which suggests that you should play your shot when you are ready, and not have to wait for the golfer furthest from the hole or the golfer who may be looking for their ball
How You Can Speed Up Your Round
There are a few things that you can do to help speed up your round. The most important thing is to play with common sense:
- Recording your score on the next tee and not the green you’ve just putted out on
- Allowing groups behind you to play through when appropriate
- Enforce the ‘ready to play’ rule
- If you are playing a relaxed game with friends, ensure you give each other a ‘gimmie’ to save some time putting
- Always play a provisional ball if you think you may have lost yours from the tee. Nothing slows down play like that lonely walk back to the tee box to take another shot.
- Take your time with your shots, but don’t waste too much time on the walk between them
The honest answer to “How long does a round of golf take?” is: “It just depends”. Yes, the governing bodies of the sport have worked out an ‘average’ time but as any golfer will know, there are just too many factors that can affect the amount of time you end up spending on the golf course.
What is important is that newcomers, all the way up to the professionals on tour maintain a good pace of play. If we can all reduce the time it takes to play a round of golf, it will bring with it a huge increase in player satisfaction and more so than that, it will help increase participation in our wonderful sport.
Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.