Playing golf is usually a relaxing way to spend a few hours in the open air, especially if you are with friends or even at your local club on Saturday. Being out in the open and walking is good exercise, but how long does it take to play 18 holes?
The amount of time needed to play a round of golf will depend on a few factors. How many people are playing, the format of the round or the competition, and the skill levels of the players involved. The weather will also have a role to play in the time taken to complete a round.
Let’s determine in a bit more detail how long it should take you to complete a round as an individual, a two-ball, a three-ball, and a four-ball. We’ll also look at the formats that offer the quickest completion times.
What’s The Average Time For A Round Of Golf?
According to the R&A and PGA, an average round for an individual should take around 2hours and 30 minutes, while a round of golf for four people would be around 4 -5 hours.
A two-ball should finish a round in about three hours, while a three-ball would take around 3,5 hours.
Many courses keep the field moving by getting players to speed up play, as there is nothing more frustrating than being held up by a slow field. It ruins your rhythm and focus.
Playing through a round fluidly and moving from hole to hole and tee off without having to wait is the ideal speed of play, but several factors influence the speed of play.
While this is only a guide to the time frames involved in a round of golf, we need to examine some of the elements that can make a round longer than it needs to be.
Slow Play Affects Player Focus And Rhythm
Golf is already frustrating enough without being held up on every hole you walk to. Golf has a rhythm and a pace that works when moving quickly, and this rhythm is a comfortable pace that allows for good speed of play and avoids congestions on the course.
Suppose you’ve ever played a round and had to wait before teeing off o every hole or waiting for the group ahead to play because they are waiting for a group ahead to play. In that case, it is a very frustrating and irritating experience.
It affects player focus, which may often result in wayward shots and further delays in the timeous completion of the round.
Golf clubs understand and acknowledge this and, if they are consistent, will have marshals around the course encouraging a good pace of play. Some courses are not that bothered about it, and this lack of attention will lead to slow fields and a lot of frustration.
11 Factors That Affect Completing A Golf Round On Time
For this discussion, we will assume a four-ball is playing for all scenarios. Now let’s look at the ten factors that influence the time taken to complete a round of golf.
1. The skill and ability of the players
Player skill is one of the primary considerations that will make a round longer or shorter. If you have four golfers that average around 90 shots per round, they will take longer than four golfers that average 80 shots per round.
Conversely, if all players are bogey players or worse, taking 100 shots or more on a round, your 18 holes could easily be 6 hours or longer. This is because these players will often not find fairways and greens, and time will be taken to find balls in the rough or hit off-line.
Lost balls, poor shots that don’t advance the ball far, multiple shots from around the green, bunker to bunker, and three putts on the greens all add up to extra bits of time and apply this to 18 holes, it all adds up to a long day in the sun.
2. The Time Taken To Play The Stroke Or Shot
If a player (and we have seen some of these on tour) takes a long time to go through a pre-shot routine, re-grip the club 17 times (like Sergio Garcia does) before swinging, take 5 or 6 practice swings and re-align shots, this will add to the time taken to complete a hole and consequently, the round.
To this end, make your setup and pre-shot process ( if you have one) fall within the 40-second time frame allocated under the rules of golf so that you don’t slow downplay.
The difficulty may come when you are playing with someone that takes an excessive amount of time to play every shot, and that may need intervention from the marshals or club management to resolve.
The lesser the average skill level of the players, the longer the round will take.
3. Course Obstacles
The more hazards the course has, like water, bunkers, rough OB areas, trees, bushes, and the occasional alligator, will affect the length of time it takes to complete the round. If you add all of this to a group of lesser skilled players, you have a recipe for a lot of lost balls and a long afternoon.
The other consideration here is how difficult it is to recover or get out of these hazards will also influence the time take on the hole and consequently the round.
The more difficult hazards there are on the course, the more likely the round will take longer to complete.
4. The Weather
This goes without saying. A calm, clear day on your round will expedite the completion, while winds, rain, and storm conditions will all delay the rounds’ completion, not to mention make the playing conditions quite unpleasant.
For the average golfer, playing in the rain or howling wind is really not fun, and trying to judge distance in high winds or rain is a challenge and often would result in the game being abandoned, especially if there is lightning.
5. The Conditions Of The Green
Putting on very fast greens, or greens that have severe slopes and undulations, or they are bumpy and uneven due to hollow tining or other surface treatments will add time to a round as it becomes difficult to be consistent and sink putts to complete the hole.
Consider that if most players in the group are struggling to sink putts and ending up far past the hole and then putting it back, it will add time to the game.
6. The Distances From Green To Tee
Most courses have the tee to the next hole and the greens of the previous hole in reasonable proximity to each other. But when these distances become longer, this will certainly add time to the round.
Another element is where players are unfamiliar with where the next tee is, or the direction to the next tee is not clearly marked, and this may result in players getting lost and taking more time to move from the green to the next tee.
7. The Condition and Length of The Rough
Every golf course has rough. It’s a hazard that’s part of the game. But when course rough is very long, much time will be spent looking for balls and if that ball is lost, replaying the shot adds a few minutes onto the completion of each hole.
If the rough is severe around the greens, for example, getting out may take a few chips, and even getting out may lead to shots over or beyond the gree due to the difficulty in successfully getting out.
8. How The Tees Are Setup Affects Speed Of Play
The way the tees are set up can also have an impact on the rate of play. If they are set in a way that makes it difficult for average players to reach fairways or play over water or other hazards, then play will be slower.
Courses need to consider the average player’s skill level to maintain a sufficiently acceptable pace of play. Unless it is club champs or similar competition, tee positions should be made as reasonable as possible.
9. The Format Of The Game
Some formats take much longer to complete than others. Strokeplay, for example, which is the most common format for the weekend players, will take longer to complete, as each player has to register a stroke score for every hole.
This means that there are no pick-ups, and if a player takes ten shots to finish a hole, then so be it.
As seen in the recent Ryder Cup, the foursomes format is far quicker as the alternate shots for players make the completion of a hole faster.
10. The Size Of The Playing Group
A single player of good skill will take less time than a single-player of average to poor skill. So a golfer that shoots in the ’80s will take less time than a golfer that shoots in the 90s and so on.
In the same way, a group of four players that average in the 90s or 100s will take longer than a four-ball that shoots in the 80s or 70s. However, it is often the mixing of groups with different skill levels that contributes to slow play.
While one or two players may be at a higher skill level, the lesser skilled players will inevitably slow down the play as they spend time looking for balls, getting into and out of hazards, or playing multiple shots with little advancement down the fairways.
To avoid this, club management should look at a more consistent skill level in the groups so that those with higher handicaps do not slow players with lower handicaps.
Conversely, lower handicap players do not rush higher handicap players. Being rushed does not translate into playing faster; it adds pressure to these players, which invariably ends up with more poor and off-line shots and further delays in the game.
11. The Times Between Tee Offs
Course and tee management play a key role in reducing or eliminating course congestion, probably the primary cause of slow game time in golf. If there is not enough time allocated between tee-off times, there will be groups of players gathered on the tee box waiting to play.
This is like traffic on the freeway or delays caused by faulty traffic lights. It’s a slow, arduous process as each group is REQUIRED to wait until the group ahead is safely out of range before they can play.
Where groups have higher handicap players hitting the rough off the tee or sending balls in every direction but the fairway, this will lead to spiralling congestion and a very slow pace of play.
Therefore, it is critical that club management are both aware and prepared to deal with this problem and have an effective tee-off management process to reduce and even eliminate this problem before it gets out of hand.
Golf Carts VS Walking Times
It goes without saying that a group of four similar skilled players in carts will take significantly less time to complete a round than those that are walking. Even with similar skill levels and the time taken for hazards and ball-finding, walking is slower.
The time saved with carts is usually the walks down the fairway and to get to areas to search for balls that may be wayward. While the time spent searching and playing won’t be any different, the time saved getting to the ball or ball location is faster on a cart.
Over the course of the round, the time allocated to walking from tee to fairway and from fairway to green and then to the next tee will add up.
On average, a walking round of golf could take up to 5 hours with average skill players, while that same round on a cart could be around an hour or more less.
However, the golf cart alone does not guarantee a faster speed of play unless the players are ready to hit when it’s their turn. If you are playing as a two-ball with a cart and your partner is waiting for you to play before he plays and vice versa, this will NOT speed up play.
Both players need to be ready to hit and not have to wait for the cart before playing. Managing your golf carts during the round is important, as having one does not automatically speed up the pace of play.
Quality Of Play VS Speed Of Play
You need to also look at the quality of play when riding against walking. Walking is good exercise, and walking a golf course of around 6000 yards will burn a lot more calories than riding a course of 6000 yards.
The health benefits include lower blood pressure, managing or even preventing cardiac conditions and other lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, and building and strengthening muscles and bones.
As discussed above, using an electric walking trolley or similar device allows you to get to your ball directly without waiting for the cart to fetch and take you, and this will also speed up play.
Walking also allows you to establish your rhythm of play, and this also makes the game faster. Again, the critical aspect of playing speed is to be ready to play when it’s your turn.
Plus, a good walk in the fresh air can do wonders for your mood, unless your golf game is not on par, in which case, nothing can help there. But, at least you got in your 10 000 steps!
In general, the speed of play is not significantly influenced by walking or riding; it is mainly influenced by the size of the groups, the skills of the players, course and weather conditions, and course management.
Regardless of how long your round takes, always be conscious of your speed of play as if every player is actively looking to play at a good pace, then the time you spend on the course will fly by, and at the end, you’ll wonder where the time went!