How Long Does It Take To Play A Round of Golf?

golf 101 smallHow Long Does It Take To Play A Round Of Golf?

“How long does it take to play a round of golf?” and “How long should it take” are two separate questions.

The standard answer is four and a half hours. That’s based on the assumption of fifteen minutes per hole.

I think that’s an hour longer than the ideal. The Scots would be appalled at the typical American four hour round.

During off-peak hours at some of my favorite local courses, I can complete a solo walking round in well under three hours. With a foursome, all walking, I’ve completed rounds in just over three. Cart golf takes longer. But then I’ve also suffered through five hour rounds, waiting on every shot on every hole for the guys in front of me.

Most of the literature I’ve read says that the pace of play should average somewhere between 9 and 18 minutes per hole. On the low end would be perhaps nine minutes for a par 3, and the high end, 18 for a par 5.  That’s assuming that players hit the ball, find the ball and then hit it again. But there are so many things that can—and will—test that calculus. A strict interpretation of the rules, for example, says that a player has five minutes to look for a lost ball. If a ball is lost every two or three holes (a very common occurrence, given the skills sets of weekend hackers), you can add at least another half hour just in looking for balls.

That’s not good news, and I think that the time involved is a major detriment to the expansion of the game. During way too many moments spent sitting on benches waiting for the group ahead to clear out, I’ve thought quite a bit about why rounds of golf take so long.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest factor is that players are using the wrong tees. For too many, it’s considered unmanly to hit from anything but the blue tees. But that just lengthens the course. To have a decent second shot, players have to swing from the heels off the tee, making it more likely that their balls will be off line, in the rough, into hazards, or just lost completely. That adds time. Playing from the wrong tees also means that the second shot will be longer than necessary, making it less likely the player will hit the green, requiring additional shots and additional time. And even if the player hits the green, it’s unlikely to be near the pin, requiring extra putts—and extra time.

Course owners and designers also haven’t done anyone any favors. Perhaps catering to players who expect a serious challenge for their mediocre skills, owners and architects seem to revel in offering “championship courses,” with a design fit for the next USGA championship. No new course or renovation I’ve seen has offered “player friendly design.” Championship course to me just means slow play from average players in above their heads on the blue tees.

Fixing the problem doesn’t require genius. In the short term, courses should surreptitiously push the tees up during peak play hours. Set the blue closer to the whites, and the whites more near the reds. In the long run, courses need to add additional tees, and identify the areas where players are most likely to lose their balls—then soften it up.

A course I played this week apparently has just done that. In years past, there were several areas that were madly overgrown with prairie grasses and weeds, precisely positioned to swallow up balls. I was pleasantly surprised this year to find that those areas had been mowed and seeded. I’m certain that it was done with an eye to speeding up play. That track has had a reputation in years past for slow play. And in my estimation, the holes affected by the newly widened fairways were a major part of the problem.

Our foursome played that course in just over four hours.


Liked it? Take a second to support The Original Golf Blogger on Patreon!

3 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take To Play A Round of Golf?”

  1. Great article … makes total sense. and in a way it’s not completly incompatible with making a championship course.

    take your last example, was the area of wild grass in the way of 0 hcp players? maybe not … it’s possible to make a course challenging for better golfers and easy for the week-end golfers.

  2. No one I know or with whom I have played golf has ever told me they are a slow player.  Everyone thinks they play at an adequate pace and it is someone else who is holding up the show.  Slow players are universally unaware that they are the obstacle to maintaining a proper pace.  Educational efforts fall on deaf ears since our golfing tortises assume the message is for someone else.

    We faster players need to mentor the slowpokes one on one.  When I play with a group that includes a sloth, he or she gets my special attention.  Typically they start to pick up the pace after a few kind words of advice (“What’s that chip for?  An 8?  Hey, let’s call it good.  ESC will only let you take a maximum of 8 on this hole anyway”).

    It is often the same way with players who fail to recognize that they are incapable of playing from the tips.  Look at the research; the average drive of a male golfer goes 200 yards but the average golfer thinks they hit it 250 yards.

    I join up with a lot of twosomes and threesomes over the course of a golf season.  When I sense they are about to make a big mistake with the selection of which tee to play, I say in a loud voice, “I think I want to try to break 80 today, I am going to play from the whites.”  I can often convert the wavering into joining me.  If their friend wants to be manly and shoot 109, well, I hope he enjoys making a fool of himself.

    In the end, golf in the USA is going to be 4 1/2 to 5 hours on busy weekends.  That is why I try to play midweek, at unpopular courses, or at odd hours (i.e. 2pm).  You will never catch me at “The Majestic” or “Moose Ridge” on Saturday morning.  I have a life to live.

  3. RE:  slow play

    One thing that you forget about is that a golfer that tskes 100+ swings is goint to take a lot more time than one that takes 75.  25 extra swings, even at 30 seconds more equals 12-13 minutes.  Add up a foursome and you have nearly one hour.
    Most of the slow play I see is on greens.  Either there is big(?) money riding on the putt or they are not ready.  Last week, we watched a golfer lining up his putt, lining up the line on his ball, looking at it from 4 angles and then sinkinh it from 6 INCHES.
    Too many golfers think the course was built just for them and there are no other golfers out there.
    Put everyone on the clock on busy days and POST their times the following week.  Watch things pick up.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: