The ultimate guide to playing golf faster

We dedicate this guide to every golfer who wants to play golf faster but isn’t sure how, and to every golfer who wants to find a way to tell her friends to pick up the pace of play.

NO MATTER HOW experienced a golfer you are, you probably will find a new pace-of-play tip in this guide. We’ve rounded up all of the great play-faster tips we could find and organized them here with numbered headings.

Here’s how this will help you:

  • You can tell your friends, “Hey, I just learned this great new tip that’s going to make our round move along a little faster. What do you say we give it a try today?”
  • You can tell your golf club, “Hey, I’ve been playing golf 20 years and I just found out that I don’t know everything about how to keep play moving. I think we all should read this post and see how our club can play in under four hours every week.”
  • You can make the members in your golf club think you’ve been playing golf for 20 years.
  • Better players will invite you to play golf with them, even though they know you’ll be taking 20 more shots than they do.
  • And, you won’t have to get impatient, tired or rude on the golf course again. (No hubby, I wasn’t talking about you there. Really!)

Most of these tips meet USGA guidelines and all should routinely apply unless you are playing in a major tournament. If there’s one we haven’t covered, be sure to comment below or send us an email, and we’ll add it.

1. HAVE A PRE-ROUND ROUTINE

Put tees, ball markers, lip balm and an extra ball in your pocket.

Pick up a scorecard. Look up course handicaps if you’re having a match. Tee it forward. Lower scores usually mean faster rounds!

Teeing it forward is especially worth considering if your companions prefer to play up a tee. Why not move up one set? It’s not that much of a difference, it’s more social and your game will move faster.

OK, now you’re ready to go to the first tee.

2. BARE YOUR DRIVER

There are a lot of cute headcovers on the market, but how much time are we spending covering and uncovering? Golf Digest’s David Owen suggests leaving your driver headcover in the trunk. At the very least, take it off at the start of the round and leave it off. Consider taking off all other head covers as well, or, as you use your clubs, remove the covers and put them in your bag or in the cart basket. Then you know they’ll be safe when you redress your clubs at the trunk.

3. SHORTEN YOUR PRE-SHOT ROUTINE

Next time you play with good friends, suggest that you time each other — at the tee, in the fairway, on the green. Start the clock when you take your club out of your bag.

The USGA recommends players hit within 20 seconds of selecting a club.

How’s your time? If it’s long, analyze.

If you went long telling a story, learn to say, “Hang on,” and surrender the stage for a moment.

If your friend talked through your routine, learn to say, “Hold that thought,” and step up to play.

If you spent too much time rehearsing, work on shortening your routine at the range and practice green.

And for the sake of the rest of us, limit yourself to only one practice swing or stroke.

4. PLAY READY GOLF

Many players don’t realize that “play ready golf” means to step up to the tee when you are ready and other players are still fiddling around. It also means that when you arrive at your ball, you should prepare for your shot and be ready to hit it when no one else is, no matter who’s away.

”Play ready golf” means ditching honors at the tee and playing even if you’re not away. You can even play ready golf on the putting green if you’re not on someone’s line. Just say, “I’ll go.” It’s not rude.

5. BE READY WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN, IF NOT SOONER

Being ready does not mean you are going to toss grass in the air, walk to all four sides of the green and take three practice swings when it’s your turn. You can do those things while others are walking or playing.

Carry an extra ball in your pocket so you can quickly play again if you hit a shot out of bounds, or so you can hit a provisional when you think your ball might be lost. In fact, hit that provisional if there’s any doubt your ball will be found.

6. GO TO YOUR BALL. NOW.

This seems so obvious, but, how often have we lingered to finish a conversation, check our phones, or even wait for a slow player to join us? Once everyone has hit, it is time for everyone individually to go directly to the next shot. If all four balls happen to have landed in the same circle of friendship, then that’s a perfectly nice time to walk en masse. Otherwise, the pursuit of the golf ball precludes niceties. You can always finish that conversation on the 19th hole.

Go now. And walk briskly. Think of the calories you’re burning.

7. PUTT, DON’T PUTTER

If you miss your first putt, you do not have to mark your ball and wait. You can say, “I’ll finish,” and do so unless you’ll be stepping on someone’s line.

First to finish putting usually stands by the flagstick to replace it when the last has finished putting. But there are exceptions.

For example, in a mixed group, those playing the longer tees may be dismissed from the green to prepare for their next shot while those playing the forward tees finish putting. And if you’re the only back-tee player in a group of forward-tee players (typically, the man with three women), don’t think you’re being a gentleman by hanging around the green until the ladies have finished. Leave early so you can clear the next tee for them.

In any case, don’t think of it as rude for two players to finish putting and head for the next tee. It is a bona fide play-faster tactic that, more than any other tip here, helps a group that’s fallen behind to catch up.

8. WATCH THE CLOCK

You’re already keeping a scorecard. Check the clock every three holes and agree to try to beat a 40-minute pace (four hours for 18). When everyone is calling out scores, call out the times, especially at the turn.

9. IN A CART, THINK NASCAR

If you’re riding in a cart, take your shot and jump back in without putzing around at your golf bag. You can clean and replace your club while your friend is playing. Another option: Encourage your friend to go to her ball to play. You can walk to the cart when you’ve finished.

If it is cart-path-only (an estimated 30-minute drag on pace of play), always take three clubs with you to your ball. If you chunk a shot (yes, you), just walk to the ball and play the next one without walking back to the cart to get a different club.

Always park your cart or clubs between you and your next destination. You never want to have to go backward after you’ve finished a shot or a hole.

Take off for the next tee immediately after you’ve finished a hole. There’ll be time to write down scores while everyone is teeing off. Yes, they’ll still remember by then.

And if it’s couples day in carts, here are two approaches:

  • One is that if the women are playing the blues and the men are playing the reds (!), the same-tee players should ride together. You can reunite with the honey at the 19th hole.
  • A second strategy is for the couples to stay together in their carts, but while the long hitters are at the blues, the short hitters grab their drivers, jump in the forward cart and drive to the forward tees. The thinking here is that while the long hitters are exiting the back tees, the short hitters don’t have to wait to play from the forward tees. This is actually a better strategy if the short hitters are unlikely to reach greens in regulation, because their long-hitting cart partners can drop them off short of the green.

10. MAKE IT EASY FOR OTHERS TO PLAY FASTER

Pay attention to where others are playing. Don’t make them wait because you’re walking in front of them.

Fill someone’s divot or rake her bunker if you’re already safe and she’s struggling. Make a habit of announcing yardage to others when you laser a par-3 or see a fairway marker. Help to pick up stray towels and clubs at the putting green.

11. MINIMIZE THE DAMAGE OF A LOST BALL

The entire foursome does not have to look for a ball. Two can look, two should play. And limit the search to a minute or two, not the allowed five, unless you’re playing golf with gold balls.

12. KNOW YOUR MAXIMUM AND STOP THERE

A new golfer should stop at 10 shots on a hole. Pick up the ball, say, “I’m in my pocket,” and tend the flag or help others to move along.

The rest of us have USGA-established maximums. We do not take 10s, unless we have handicaps over 40 or are playing in major stroke tournaments. Don’t torture your friends with a 12 on a par-3.

FINALLY, IF ALL ELSE FAILS…

If your group cannot keep up with the group in front of you, invite the group behind you to play through by following the GottaGoGolf “playing through” procedures.

We think we’ve got it covered. In case you’re not convinced, here are a few other great resources:

“25 Easy Ways to Speed up Pace of Play” (Golf Digest)

Tips and Suggestions for Improving Pace of Play (USGA)

Slow Play in Golf? Not With These 4 Tips (Gail Rogers)

8-Second Rule: Are You Standing Over the Ball Too Long? (Golf Digest)

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