One of the greatest challenges facing the game of golf is how long it takes to play. This page is designed to give NCGA members all available information on how to improve pace of play for yourself, at your facility or in your competitions.
Quick Reference Table of Contents
Tips for the Everyday Golfer
Tips for the Tournament Golfer
Tips for Facilities and Professionals
One Checkpoint Policy
Match Play Policy
Stopwatch Timing Policy
Pace of Play Tips for the Everyday Golfer
- Play ready golf: Just because it’s called “honor” doesn’t mean it’s dishonorable to play out of turn. It’s far more dishonorable to keep the group behind you waiting all day long.
- Be ready for your turn: Don’t sit and wait while your cart-partner plays; go get ready for your own shot and be ready to hit when it’s your turn.
- Shorten the pre-shot routine: Although pride and some money may be on the line between friends, you do not need to have a lengthy pre-shot routine. Playing within 30 seconds from when it is your turn really shouldn’t be difficult.
- Don’t over-read your putts: Yes, professionals look at putts from every angle. They also are playing for millions of dollars. If you want to get multiple angles, do so before your turn so that when it is your turn all you need is one last look before pulling the trigger. Chances are your first instinct is correct. Trust it. And never, EVER plumb-bob. The pros don’t even know how to use it effectively and it sure can’t help you.
- Take multiple clubs with you to the ball: I see it all the time: you brought the club that was perfect while at the cart. You trek across the fairway only to realize it isn’t the right club. You trek all the way back to the cart and to get the right club. Bring a range of clubs with you, that way you always have the right one.
- Stop searching so much: Just because you are entitled to three minutes of search time doesn’t mean you should use it. First, hit a provisional, then go and look. If the only place the ball could be is nasty, stop looking. You don’t want to find it.
- Buy a distance-measuring device: If you’re playing enough golf where an exact yardage matters to you, you can spare some change for this time-saver.
- Play ready golf. I know, I said it already. Trust me, you’ll play faster.
Pace of Play Tips For Tournament Players
- Work on a quick and effective pre-shot routine: You shouldn’t need a full minute to gather yourself and focus for your shot.
- Be prepared for your turn: Just because you’re not away doesn’t mean you can’t be reading your own putt or checking your own yardage.
- Proceed to the next hole if you’re the first one to hole out: Use this when your group is behind to help catch up. There is no penalty for playing out of turn in stroke play to save time so be ready to tee off.
- Place your equipment properly: There is nothing more annoying than watching a player walk back and forth to the far side of the green to retrieve his clubs after completing a hole. Know where you’re going to walk and place your clubs there.
- Observe while walking: Too many young tournament players wait until they’ve reached the golf ball before thinking about the next shot. There is so much you can learn from observing while you’re walking. You can notice elevation, perceived distance on occasion you get better views of your approach than where the ball lies and you can look for yardage markers along the way instead of blindly searching after the fact.
- Play ready golf: Just because it’s a tournament doesn’t mean you should wait five minutes for a another player’s ruling before playing, nor should you have to wait if you’re ready to play and he’s still deciding.
Pace of Play Tips For Facilities and Golf Professionals
- Make your policy clear, whatever it may be: Have the time to complete the round posted and have the starter emphasize keeping up with the group in front of you.
- Have clear training and guidelines for marshals: A marshal without a clue can do as much to hurt your pace of play and reputation as any other poor experience.
- Focus on helping, not rushing: When groups are behind, you can generally tell the difference between a group that can play faster but wasn’t trying and a group that needs help. Marshals and professionals should know how to assist groups that are out of position rather than immediately making them skip a hole or rushing them through the round.
- Be visibly invisible: Subtle hints about pace of play like well-placed clocks, times on the scorecards and signage will do more than you think. Sometimes players just need a reminder and these non-forceful hints won’t impose upon the experience like a marshal.
- Post pace of play tips: A sign in the pro shop and a sign in the bathroom can have a subconscious effect on players. Suddenly players find themselves thinking about the tips and using them throughout the round.
- Use proper tee time intervals: Yes, pace of play problems happen at facilities with seven minute intervals and 10 minute intervals, but it sure does help to have the extra 3 minutes. While crunching the numbers, you may think squeezing in the extra 20 rounds a day makes sense, but not when half of those customers walk away with a bad experience. Even at a good pace, courses can only hold so much play on them at one time before grinding to a halt.
- Guide players to the correct set of tees: The starter has a huge role in this, but it can also be as easy as leaving the professional tees in the maintenance shed on certain days. Take away the temptation to play the “tips.” If a player is really good enough to play them he probably will anyway, but the player who isn’t really ready for them won’t feel pressure to play a set of tees that doesn’t exist on that day.
- Have hole location guidelines: Every course has one greenskeeper that likes to set holes for the US Open. Having the right practice in place to make sure holes are always placed in fair spots and rotates around the putting green will help your pace of play. Nothing slows down play more than a hole that’s difficult to finish.
Rule 5.6b Prompt Pace of Play
“A round of golf is meant to be played at a prompt pace.
Each player should recognize that his or her pace of play is likely to affect how long it will take other players to play their rounds, including both those in the player’s own group and those in following groups.
Players are encouraged to allow faster groups to play through.”
This Rule, added to the 2019 version of the Rules of Golf is here to remind players that playing at a reasonable pace is part of the game and players are not entitled to take as long as they feel they need to play a stroke. The Rule goes on to cover three things:
- Pace of Play Recommendations, many of which are mirrored in the recommendations listed above.
- Allowing players to play out of turn to help with pace of play. This has always been permitted in stroke play (“ready golf”) but is now also permissible on a case-by-case basis in match play. If such an agreement is made in match play, the player gives up the right to recall the stroke played out of turn.
- Committee Pace of Play Policy: One notable thing about Rule 5.6b is that there is no penalty statement, which means the only way you can actually penalize a slow player is by creating and enforcing a specific pace of play policy for your tournament or course. Examples of various major pace of play policies are given in detail below.
Pace of Play Policies
There are a number of different policies to use for competitions and which is the most appropriate will depend on a number of factors: a) the size of the event, b) the starting format, c) the level of the competition, d) the number of officials or volunteers available and c) the experience level of the officials implementing the policy. There is no 100% correct policy to use for any one event, but the only policies that work are the policies that are enforced. Below are various examples used in competitions at the state and national level.
Northern California Golf Association
One-Checkpoint System (Current Policy)
In 2016 the NCGA switched from using two checkpoints to one. The premise behind the single checkpoint system is you either play the round within the maximum pace or you finish in position with the group in front of you (within 14 minutes). If your group does either of these things, then there is no reason for the group to be subject to penalty.
A notable difference between the single checkpoint policy and the two or four checkpoint policies below, is that there is no appeal process. The Committee reserves the right to “review” pace of play penalties, but the player does not have the right to an appeal.
The review process is designed to avoid penalizing groups that ended up over time and out of position for reasons beyond their control and for situations that do not warrant penalty. Some of the reasons a Committee might decide not to apply the penalty would be similar to reasons an appeal might be granted, and some are more case-by-case. IN all situations, for a Committee to decide not to apply the penalty, the group would have to be in position coming into the last four holes.
- A group is delayed due to a lengthy ruling in the last four holes.
- A group is delayed by outside circumstances (such as maintenance, wildlife or other outside agencies)
- The slow play of one or multiple players in the group was responsible for holding up the remaining players in the group (in which case only the slow players would receive the penalty).
- The group had waited on the group in front for the entire round until the last hole when the group in front ran to complete the hole in time, leaving the group out of position. This is called the “rabbit” effect.
Two-Checkpoint System (In Use from 2002-2015)
The two checkpoint system was used by the NCGA for more than a decade. One benefit is that groups would automatically get some check on their pace half way through the round. It served as a great system for years, but a couple of major difficulties started to become more pronounced.
- Nine holes was a bit too late to potentially be giving the first pace of play notification to a group, and that missed checkpoint would be a penalty stroke.
- Because the first miss required an appeal, the appeals process at scoring was becoming overly burdensome.
- The NCGA policy must be enforced at all its events, including qualifiers where volunteer Tournament Chairs may have very few officials. Having someone stationed at two different positions was limiting the ability of the Rules officials to help players during the round away from holes 9 and 18.
With those in mind, the two checkpoint system can be modified if the Committee feels more than one checkpoint is needed, but doesn’t want the mid-point miss to involve a penalty. Below is the NCGA’s final version in use in 2015.
For better or worse, it isn’t practical to use the same checkpoint type policy for match play. Since each group is a match with two sides, penalizing an entire group doesn’t work. So a special policy has to be created for match play and inevitably it looks very much like the “Stopwatch Timing” policy you see below used in USGA Opens or in some form on the major Tours. Generally, it involves having a maximum time for the match to complete a hole and a position to keep with the match in front. When the group has fallen behind both of those, it is out of position and individual timing begins. Even though it is the group’s position that starts the timing, warnings and penalties are only applied to individual sides when they have “bad times”.
Other Associations have used various forms of the above policies and some have come up with their own that increase the number of checkpoints. The AJGA has been considered one of the leaders in pace of play and part of it is due to increasing the number of checkpoints to 6. Their system also provides specific feedback to ALL groups at each checkpoint. One criticism of other checkpoint policies is that only groups that are behind get feedback on their position and time.
AJGA Colored Card System with 6 Checkpoints
AJGA Pace of Play Policy
The four-checkpoint system is used at the highest amateur levels. It is recognized as one of the best ways to ensure good pace of play (so long as the event has a reasonable field size and uses proper intervals). The downside is that it requires a lot of volunteer help, which is why we tend to see it only at amateur golf’s highest levels. The first version below was intended for a specific 2020 NCAA Men’s Regional. The second version is one a more general version that was used for USGA Qualifying. Both follow the same premise of four checkpoints with the first miss being a warning and each successive miss earning a compounding penalty.
Generic Four-Checkpoint Policy
United States Golf Association (Opens) & Major Professional Tours*
*The policy and penalty statement for major tours vary. This is just one example of “Stopwatch Timing” as a pace of play policy.
Stopwatch Timing System
At the professional level, the idea of a checkpoint system never took hold. All the major tours and the USGA Opens use a version of the “stopwatch timing” policy. This looks very much like the match play policy above. The first step is to establish maximum times for a hole or a round and establish the meaning of “in position” with the group in front. Once a group is out of position and behind time, timing begins. Then each player has a maximum time to play a stroke and is penalized for bad times (usually starting with a warning). Below is a version used for USGA Open Qualifying that is directly from the policy for a previous USGA Open. (Policies get minor tweaks every year so the current policy may have slight variances). Some additional variations that Tours have started to implemented are:
- Timing all shots on a given hole and penalizing players over the cumulative total rather than individual strokes only.
- Penalizing egregious times over one minute regardless of whether a group is in position.