How Long Does 18 Holes of Golf Take?

What is the number one way to ruin your time at the golf course? Slow play. Well maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s definitely near the top of the list. Golf courses hate slow play, we hate slow play.

The answer to how long a round of golf takes varies from course to course, day to day. There are tons of factors that go into it, but an average round is 4 hours and 30 minutes. A longer round of golf is considered slow day. A shorter round of golf means a good pace of play.

How Long Does 18 Holes of Golf Take

Slow play ruins a round of golf. Aim to play in four hours or less, no matter what standards are.

A rule of thumb is that nine holes will take half the time of eighteen holes. Who would have thought?

How long should each type of hole take?

The USGA tells us there are specific time expectations based on par for the hole you’re playing. Par 3’s should take about 13 minutes, par 4’s 15 minutes, and par 5’s 17 minutes.

A standard course has four par 3’s, four par 5’s, and twelve par 4’s (an average of 15 minutes per hole). If you add those up, you get 270 minutes, or four and a half hours.

Things outside the control of golfers

What makes a round shorter or longer?

People will argue it’s skill level, how long people take for a single shot, or course difficulty. These things matter, but not as much as how busy a course is.

No matter your playing partner or where you’re playing, groups ahead and behind you reigns supreme. When you have an empty golf course, playing in four and a half hours is incredibly slow.

With a cart and no groups sandwiching you in, there’s no reason an average golfer can’t play a round in three and a half hours. If you have multiple groups walking ahead of you, five hour rounds are automatic.

Does time of day matter?

When you tee off absolutely matters as it relates to pace of play. If you’re first off on the day, you set the pace. If you get the course going at a three and a half hour pace, it’s going to keep things moving for the day.

If you tee off around 1 pm, especially on the weekends when courses are most busy, pace will have slowed significantly from the morning. A mid-afternoon tee time comes with the expectation of a much longer round.

How much time do golf courses leave between tee times?

Most golf courses have tee time intervals between eight and twelve minutes apart. Contrary to what it might seem, pace of play tends to be quicker when you tee off twelve minutes apart compared to eight minute intervals.

Teeing off eight minutes after the foursome in front of you means regularly waiting on shots. Quick tee times also lead to bottlenecks, typically on a short stretch of a few difficult holes.

When tee times are more spaced out, it allows forgiveness for bad shots, lost balls, and any other delays. You won’t wait as long for those ahead and those behind you won’t put as much pressure on you because there’s fewer golfers on the course.

The issue for golf course management is more golfers get on the course when tee time intervals are closer together. They’re able to make more money even though play will be slower.

How long does 18 holes take when you’re playing alone?

If you are walking alone, without any groups holding you back, anything over four hours is slow. If you’re in a golf cart, over three and a half is too long. Three hours is great.

Golfing alone is when you’re most likely to be hitting more shots and working on new things. This is when pace of play tends to be less of a concern. However, if you’re playing in front of a group and 18 holes of golf is taking as long as it would as part of a full group, you won’t make any friends.

How long does 18 holes take when you’re playing in a group?

When you’re playing golf in a full group, average time is not multiplied by the time it takes to play alone by four. As someone plays their shot, you measure distance, pick out a club, and will be ready to hit your ball by the time the other lands.

If everyone does this, it’ll be about 20 seconds between shots and an extra two minutes or so per hole. Another place this comes into play is on the greens. You can still look from a couple of angles, but you can also get a read on your putt from someone else’s. A better idea of what your ball will do means less putts and less time on the green.

Another benefit of playing a foursome when you’re having an off day on the golf course; four sets of eyes searching for your bad drives.

Things I can do that affect pace of play (speed things up)

How should I pick the tees I play?

Picking the correct set of tees lowers the total amount of time needed to play 18 holes of golf and will help your scores go down.

To help pick a set of tees, multiply the distance you hit your 5-iron by 36. If you hit your 5-iron 175 yards, the set of tees you are most likely to succeed with will play around 6300 yards.

This formula can be a bit misleading as it assumes skill and distance are directly related. Even if you hit the ball 300 yards off the tee, longer hitters can still be a 25 handicapper. If that’s the case, move yourself up a set of tees and ignore anyone telling you to move back. It also might be worth keeping the driver in the bag. You hit the ball far already, pick a more accurate club and watch your scores go down.

The “ladies” tees

Golfers need to stop calling the tees with the lowest total yardage the ladies tee. It brings with it a false set of beliefs that only low-skilled female golfers should be using them. They are the forward tees and reserved for the players who score the highest—which has nothing to do with gender.

There are far too many people who pridefully play middle and back tees when they would have a way better time playing the forward tees. Also, do not be afraid to play from a different tee box than the rest of your group.

Lost ball protocol

Losing balls happens. Even professionals do it. If you’re a weekend golfer, chances are it happens a couple times per round. And when this happens, play comes to a crawl. Knowing the rules for when this happens means keeping up with the group in front of you and not slowing your group or the course down.

If the area has stakes, the rules are pretty clear. If it’s out of bounds or you just can’t find the ball, things are different.

After you get to the area you expect your ball to be, you have three minutes to search for it. If it is not found after three minutes, you’ve lost your golf ball.

When you don’t hit a provisional ball there’s a different option many golfers don’t know about. One of the best rules enacted in recent years is an alternative for stroke and distance when a ball is lost.

Decide where your ball was lost or entered an out of bounds area.

  • Find a direct line at the hole from this spot.
  • Walk to the edge of the fairway, no nearer to the hole and find the line directly to the hole again.
  • You may drop the ball from knee height anywhere between these two spots, or within two club lengths closer to the fairway and play on.

The penalty is two strokes. For example, if you lose your drive, the next shot you hit will be your fourth.

An important distinction for this rule is it does not apply when a ball is hit into a penalty area. If your ball goes somewhere marked by stakes, you must follow the designated rules for whatever type of hazard it is. You are also not allowed to use this rule if you hit a provisional ball.

Being the group causing slow play

Golf takes less time when you realize you’re not the only group playing a round of golf that day. When you keep in mind that everyone wants to play faster rounds, the entire course benefits.

Part of being a responsible golfer is keeping things moving for everyone else. If one group is playing at a five hour pace, it slows the entire course down to a crawl. But, if the obscenely slow group happens to be thinking of others, they can maintain their pace without ruining everyone else’s round of golf.

Ready golf

When you fall back from the group ahead of you and the group behind you is waiting for you on every shot, play ready golf.

Ready golf is exactly what it sounds like. Whoever is ready to hit their shot goes. Throwing away the typical traditions of golf, it does not matter who is closest or farthest away. If you are at your ball and ready before anyone else, it is your turn to hit.

Playing ready golf speeds up pace of play and closes the gap between you and the group ahead of you. You should consider this any time a group gets more than a full hole ahead of you.

Waving a group up

Par 3’s can have the biggest hold ups, but are also a great opportunity to keep things moving if multiple groups get on board.

After everyone in your group hits their ball onto the green on a par 3, mark them and move to the side. At this point, “wave” the group behind you up. They’ll hit their tee shots and while they walk to the green, you putt out.

This prevents any one group from having to wait a significant time on the tee box and with any luck will help avoid a delay on the next hole.

When do I write my groups scores?

The scorekeeper has an important job, no sense in arguing that. However, a good scorekeeper can really hurt pace of play. They can also chop down pace of play for the group behind them pretty easily.

Do not write your groups scores down while on the green. Don’t even bother asking anyone and leave them standing there, counting one-by-one their shots on the hole just completed.

Instead, ask your playing partners on the next tee and write the scores down while the rest of your group tees off. This allows the group behind you hit onto the green and you’ll maintain reasonable pace of play for your group and theirs.

Things you might not have considered

Why a round of golf gets quicker as you improve?

When you take fewer shots, a round of golf takes less time. If you used to take 110 shots and now you take 90, it’s nearly impossible for time to go up. As long as you keep your practice swings to one or maybe two and don’t stand over putts for more than a few seconds, you’re sure to have faster rounds.

Why better golfers can take longer?

Skilled players don’t go from one spot to another. Every shot sets up for the next and involves a lot of strategy. To be a scratch golfer takes careful consideration of many factors on every shot, and to bring everything in requires time. Skilled golfers take less shots, but take more time on each shot. The USGA gives us 40 seconds per golf shot, and some players take every moment of it.

Every golfer is well within their rights to use a full 40 seconds, but it does lead to a long 18 holes. For a casual round, there’s no reason for this. When it comes to a serious round, we get it.

No matter how long each player takes on their shot, as long as they are preparing when others hit their shot, pace of play doesn’t suffer too badly.

Does a cart really matter?

When the course is empty, a cart absolutely matters. You set the pace and can go as quickly as the cart will take you.

When the course is busy, a golf cart is only good for keeping your legs fresh. It won’t help too much with pace of play, but will help you conserve energy and relax on a hot day.

Calling your order in for the turn

Anyone like to pick up some food or drinks on the turn? Yeah, you’re not alone. If you want to get something from the grille or bar on the turn, do not wait until you’re there or on the 9th tee. Let the bar know when you have a couple holes to play and tell them where you are on the course.

This prevents any delays on the turn and any frustration from a group behind you that did not order anything. If you have a well-run grill room, picking something up on the way from the 9th green to 10th tee causes a minimal disruption in your round.

About The Author

Writers of Independent Golf Reviews
Independent Golf Reviews has tested and reviewed 1000+ golf products over the past 10 years. We use our experience and expertise to give golfers an unbiased insight on the market. 
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