Golf is a game that can require a lot of time to play. When including travel to and from the golf course, warming up on the driving range, traveling from hole-to-hole, and stopping at the 19th hole, a round of golf can take up most of the day.
So, how long does it take to play a round of golf?
A round of golf can take anywhere from less than two hours to more than five hours depending on the number of golfers and holes played. Golfers usually play 9 or 18 holes per outing. An optimal time for 18 holes is 4 hours and 30 minutes or less and 2 hours and 15 minutes or less for 9 holes.
Several factors determine the length of a round of golf including the number of holes played, the number of people in the group, the skill level of the golfers, and the mode of transportation.
To learn about these factors and ways to shorten your next round of golf, we encourage you to keep reading.
How Long Does 18 Holes of Golf Take to Play?
If playing golf unimpeded, a single golfer can easily play 18 holes of golf in 3 hours or less. The amount of time to play 18 holes will increase as you add in more players.
For a foursome of golfers, 18 holes should be played in 4 hours and 30 minutes or less.
How Long Does 9 Holes of Golf Take to Play?
A single golfer can complete nine holes in 2 hours or less, if playing unimpeded or on an empty golf course. Just as before, the more golfers in the group the longer it takes to complete the round.
For a foursome to complete nine holes, it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours and 15 minutes.
What Is Slow Play in Golf?
Slow play is when a group of golfers takes longer than the recommended time to play their round of golf. It can really inhibit the enjoyment of other golfers positioned behind the slow group.
To prevent excessive slow play, golf courses will strictly limit groups to four golfers or less, and golfers are expected to follow the course’s recommended pace of play policy.
To help mitigate the onset of slow play, golf courses will employ Starters and Rangers that have the specific duty of setting, monitoring, and maintaining the recommended pace of play.
Starters are positioned on or near the driving range or starting hole. Their job is to account for every golfer and shepherd groups to the starting hole at their designated tee time.
A good practice is to locate the Starter once you arrive at the driving range to ‘check-in’. Groups should be on the starting hole ready to play at least five minutes before their tee time.
The Starter should review the following with each group:
- The recommended pace of play: This varies from course to course but a good rule to follow is to keep your round of golf under 4 hours and 30 minutes.
- The location of bathrooms on the golf course.
- The cart restrictions for the day (cart path only, 90-degree rule or carts scatter): Golf carts SHOULD always remain on the cart path on all Par 3 holes and near all tee boxes and putting greens.
- Cart path only: Golf carts are strictly limited to the cart path for the entire duration of the round.
- 90-degree rule: Here golf carts are permitted off the cart path but only at 90-degree angles from the path to the ball. The golfer may drive to their ball and hit then promptly return to the path.
- Carts scatter: Golf carts are permitted off the cart path at or near the start of the fairway and may drive through the fairway and rough until they are within 30-50 yards of the putting green.
- The day’s hole location: Golf courses change the location of the hole on the putting green daily. Some golf courses provide putting green hole location charts to give golfers an indication of where the hole is located. The green depth is listed to help the golfer determine the approximate distance to the hole. Most golf courses have yardage markers in the fairway that indicate the distance to the center of the green. They can be found as colored plates or poles or as exact yardages noted on top of sprinkler heads. A blue plate or pole symbolizes 200 yards to the center of the green. A white plate or pole means 150 yards while a red plate or pole means 100 yards to the center of the green.
A Ranger’s sole responsibility is to drive the golf course in reverse order and monitor the pace of play of the groups on the course. The Ranger’s duty is to notify a group that may be playing slow that they need to quicken their pace of play.
A warning is typically given first before any further action is taken. If no progress is made, the Ranger may ask the group to skip holes to catch up or ask them to let faster groups behind them play through.
The Ranger’s job is thankless so be courteous and work hard to comply with their requests.
As Rangers circle the golf course, they will carry a tee sheet with the names and exact starting times of every group. Additionally, they use a time chart to help them calculate whether a group is on pace, ahead of pace, or falling behind.
An example of an 18 hole time chart can be found here:
What Factors Affect the Length of a Round of Golf?
Many factors can affect the length of a round of golf.
- The Number of Golfers in the Group: A twosome will almost always play in less time than a foursome. However, golf courses do work to pair groups together to maximize the number of golfers on the course for the day.
- The Number of Golfers on the Course: Weather conditions, the time of the day, and the day of the week are factors that directly affect the number of golfers on the course. Sunny skies and moderate temperatures will always attract more golfers than windy, rainy, or hot days. Weekend mornings and Friday afternoons are typically a golf course’s busiest times. New and beginning golfers should contact golf courses to find their slowest times, so they can familiarize themselves with the game and avoid the scrutiny of faster, more experienced golfers.
- The Number of Holes Played: Golf courses only sell 9 or 18 hole rounds with one typically taking half as long as the other.
- The Difficulty of the Golf Course: Challenging golf courses that feature lots of water, thick rough, or dense forests will slow down even the best of golfers. The United States Golf Association (USGA) uses a rating system to determine the difficulty of a golf course. One key indicator to determine how tough or easy a course is to look at the golf course’s USGA “Course Rating”. A Course Rating is the expected score for a scratch player over 18 or nine holes for a particular golf course. Each course will be rated differently because no two golf courses are alike. For example, the White Tees at XYZ Golf Course have a rating of 68.9 and par of 72. It is reasonable to assume that a scratch golfer should score 3 strokes under par, indicating it is relatively easy. In contrast, the Blue Tees at ABC Golf Course have a rating of 74.6, meaning a scratch golfer will have a harder time shooting even par.
- The Skill Level of Golfers in the Group: While better golfing skills don’t directly correlate to faster rounds, it does however correlate to taking fewer shots. Taking fewer shots aids in shortening the length of a round of golf.
- The Mode of Transportation: Golfers have the option to walk or ride in a cart when they play a round of golf. However, golf courses are now expanding riding options beyond the typical two-person shared cart. The ‘GolfBoard’ is a single-rider vehicle that blends the surfboard with a cart and looks like a lot of fun.
Walking vs Riding for a Round of Golf
What’s faster, walking, or riding? This debate is heavily influenced by all the factors listed above including the golfer’s skill level, the number of golfers in a group, and the number of golfers on the course.
There are pros and cons to both modes of transportation but at the end of the day it comes down to two things: the golfer’s personal preference and what the golf course allows.
No matter how you get around the golf course, remember to always wear sunscreen.
Here is a review of each mode of transportation:
Walking the Golf Course
Walking is the original mode of transportation in the game, spanning back over 400 years ago when the game was first invented. Today it can be enjoyed several different ways including carrying your own clubs, utilizing a pushcart, or hiring a caddie to carry your golf clubs.
Walking provides the golfer with a true sense of connection to the environment, architecture, and landscape in and around the course but it also requires a bit of physical exertion.
Here are some pros and cons to golf’s original mode of transportation:
Pros of Walking the Golf Course
- It’s a great form of exercise and provides many health benefits.
- Walking is free! (You still have to pay a greens fee to use the course.)
- It provides a connection to nature and the surrounding environment.
- It can improve your game in several ways: it gives the golfer a few extra minutes in between shots to refocus, it gives a true sense of elevation and course undulation and it allows the golfer to feel and judge how any wind will affect the ball in flight.
- If you choose to, taking a caddie offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn about the golf course and get advice throughout the round.
- Using a pushcart can ease the exertion of carrying one’s clubs and provides additional storage space for snacks, umbrellas, golf balls, etc.
- Walking cuts down on one’s carbon footprint.
- It provides a feeling of independence and solitude even when playing in a foursome.
Cons of Walking the Golf Course
- Walking is no fun when inclement weather moves in.
- It can tire out even the best of golfers leading to a decrease in quality of play during the round. It is always important to pack snacks and extra water if you plan to walk to counterbalance the side effects of exhaustion.
- Carrying your own clubs limits the amount of stuff you can carry in your bag.
- It can inhibit one’s ability to retrieve lost or forgotten items on previous holes.
- It is harder to make it to the bathroom should an emergency arise.
- It can be more difficult to locate lost golf balls or yardage markers.
Riding on the Golf Course
Riding in a golf cart, or buggy as they are referred to across the pond in the United Kingdom has become much more popular in the past few decades. Golf carts are either electric or gas-operated and many people buy their own and add many custom features.
Despite being fun to drive, golf carts require the driver to practice self-awareness at all times as serious injuries can occur without the use of safe driving habits.
- Don’t stand in the cart, off the side, or on the back of a cart, especially when in motion.
- Limit the number of people in a cart to one or two people.
- Keep legs and feet inside the cart.
- Carts tip easily so take tight turns slowly.
- Engage the parking brake when you come to stop to prevent the cart from rolling away.
- Always check your surroundings when going in reverse. A buzzer will sound when the cart is in reverse.
Golf courses provide golfers with daily cart restrictions that include the above-mentioned options: cart path only, the 90-degree rule, and carts scatter. Golf carts should stay on the paths for all par 3’s, and off all tee boxes and putting greens.
Here are the pros and cons to riding in a golf cart:
Pros of Riding on the Golf Course
- Golf carts can really speed up a round when the course is less busy.
- It can shorten the distance between holes. Oftentimes these distances can be up to several hundred yards.
- Golf carts are added revenue for golf courses, which help keep them open.
- Golf carts provide access and mobility for individuals like elderly golfers and golfers with disabilities.
- They provide shelter and a quicker exit off the golf course when inclement weather moves in.
- Many golf courses utilize computerized GPS systems that provide yardages to the hole, the ability to order food at the restaurant, keep your group’s score and send and receive messages with the golf shop.
- The golf cart’s storage space allows golfers to bring more items during the round. Golf carts come equipped with many tools like drink holders, tee and golf ball holders, ice coolers, and sand to fill divots.
Cons of Riding on the Golf Course
- Sometimes you get stuck riding in a cart with someone you don’t like very much.
- Golf carts can cause significant damage to integral parts of the golf course and natural environments if driven in prohibited places like putting greens, tee boxes, long grass, bunkers, and water hazards.
- Gas carts are loud and the batteries in electric carts can die and leave golfers stranded on the course.
- Golfers sometimes miss out on the opportunity to enjoy nature in and around the golf course.
- You have to go everywhere your cartmate goes.
How Much Do You Walk in a Round of Golf?
Walking can take on many different forms during the average round of golf. Whether renting a golf cart, carrying clubs, utilizing a pushcart, or hiring a caddie, a golfer can expect to walk a lot and burn many calories while doing so.
A golfer who walks 18 holes can expect to log four to seven miles depending on how many shots they take, the length of the course, and the distance between holes.
Carrying one’s own clubs can burn anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 calories. Using a pushcart can drop that down to 1,000 to 1,500 calories and hiring a caddie can burn 800 to 1,000 calories.
Riding in a golf cart requires significantly less exertion than walking but a golfer can still expect to walk two to four miles and burn 800 to 1,300 calories.
What Are Some Techniques to Improve Pace of Play?
Golfers need to pay attention to the group of golfers in front of them. If you notice a foursome playing in front of you on the first hole and they are no longer there by the fourth hole, it’s possible you are playing too slow.
The following are techniques you can use to quicken your pace of play:
- Play Ready Golf: Ready golf is a concept that whoever gets to their ball first plays first. When playing ready golf, you need to communicate with your other playing partner(s) to not put anyone in danger. Be sure to continue practicing normal golf etiquette even if playing ready golf (i.e. rake bunkers, replace or fill divots with sand, and repair ball marks on the putting green). If you play ready golf, you’ll generally play faster, and if you play faster, you’ll be less likely to hold up other golfers on the course.
- Let faster groups play through: If you see golfers behind you waiting, it is common courtesy to let them play through. Finish playing the current hole and as you walk off the putting green, motion with a wave your intention to call the group behind you to play through. Head to the next tee box, hit your tee shots, and pull off to the side so the faster group may play through. Be sure to keep up your pace of play with this group using these techniques or risk letting every other group on a very busy course play through, adding significant time to the round.
- Set a maximum score for any hole: Maximum scores allow for less skilled players to pick up and move on once the score is reached. Beginners can play to double bogey or double par, for example.
- Play from a shorter set of tees: Different tee boxes allow golfers of different playing abilities to play appropriate distances relative to their skill level. New and beginning golfers should play from the forward most tee box and move back as they become more familiar with the game. Playing golf from a longer set of tees can add time to a round of golf and significantly increase the course difficulty.
- Position the cart toward the back of the green when putting: Whether walking or riding, leave your bag or your cart on the side of the putting green closest to the next hole. This will save many steps and can subtract minutes from your round.
- Get to know the basic rules of golf: Understanding the basic rules of golf can help a golfer quicken their pace of play. The USGA is the primary governing golf body in the U.S. The Rules of Golf are dense and complex but the USGA provides many resources that make it easy for even the newest golfers to learn the rules. Here are some suggested rules topics for new golfers to learn: penalty areas and bunkers, loose impediments and moveable obstructions, dropping a ball from an immovable obstruction (i.e. the cart path), putting greens, ball lost or hit out of bounds and playing a provisional ball, playing the course as you find it and unplayable lies.
- Limit the time spent looking for a lost ball: Try your best to keep an eye on your ball to see where it goes. If looking for a lost ball, limit yourself to no more than three minutes. If you can’t find it after three minutes, consider dropping a provisional ball.
- Build self-awareness and monitor your internal clock: Self-awareness is a key skill to have in life and on the golf course. Take your swing when you are ready but limit yourself to 45 seconds or less per shot to keep up your pace of play.
- Limit the number of practice swings: All golfers take practice swings to prepare for the next shot but taking four or more practice swings can take up a lot of time and a lot of energy. Three or fewer practice swings are ideal and if the first practice swing feels right, move right into playing your actual shot.
Knowing how long it takes to play golf can help golfers enjoy their day on the course. Golf courses are community places where people of all walks of life escape to play a game.
Practicing techniques to quicken the pace of play of your next round of golf can make the game a more enjoyable experience for all golfers.