How Long Does it Take to Play a Round of Golf?

Introduction

This is one of those classic golf questions for which there really isn’t a simple answer because there are just so many variables.

Most experienced golfers would probably look at four hours as the maximum they would like to spend playing a round of golf.

Here is a rough idea of the time it would take to play 18 holes:

Of course, the number of players is only one of many variables that will affect the length of time a round of golf will take.

Let’s try and look at each factor that will affect the amount of time it will take to play a round of golf.

Variables

Number of Holes Played

The number of holes you are intending to play in your “round” is going to have the biggest effect on the time it will take.

The common consensus is that a round of golf is 18 holes, however for some people nine holes might be their round. Perhaps they are physically unable to manage 18 holes. Time constraints might mean they are limited to 9 holes.

Whatever the reason you can assume an 18 hole round will take roughly twice as long as a 9 hole round.

Number of Players

Aside from the total holes being played the number of players will have the largest effect on the time taken.

On the men’s professional tours you could easily be looking at an hour difference between two balls and three balls.

Quite frankly the speed of play in pretty well every professional event is laughably slow. It is no doubt influencing the speed of play in the amateur ranks.

Tour pros certainly aren’t doing golf any favors by spending hours studying greens books and yardage charts, often for the most simple shots.

Indeed I have often thought that even if I had the requisite skill to play on tour I would never be able to manage it. I couldn’t cope with the speed of play!

I think most amateurs would view four hours as a maximum enjoyable time for a round of golf. Any longer than that and their concentration is likely to be completely shot.

Length of the Golf Course

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that it’s going to take a lot longer to play a course that measures 7600 yards than it will to play a course of 5600 yards.

On a typical members course, you are likely to be walking around 4 miles when you add in looking for balls in the rough and walking from greens to tees.

Given that most people are only going to walk at around 3 mph you’re already talking about an hour and 15 minutes just to walk the length of the course.

Many older courses will usually flow from one green onto the next tee without having to walk a great distance. Modern courses, particularly those that are going to be played using buggies don’t really take that into consideration. They can sometimes have long hikes from a green to the next tee.

If almost every hole involves a 100-200 yard walk to the next tee then that will add another 2000-3000 yards to the total on the scorecard.

Player Ability

A group of four beginners each taking 100-120 shots is likely to take much longer to play than four expert golfers playing off handicaps of scratch. Even if scratch players spend more time with pre-shot routines and studying yardages and lines of putts!

Format

Strokeplay, where everyone is expected to complete every hole will take longer than most other forms of the game. Probably the only format that would be slower would be a scramble.

By contrast, foursomes should be a very quick format. Indeed there are a number of courses that will only allow fourball play at certain times. Foursomes play is preferred if you wish to go out in groups of four.

Rough

The amount and length of rough will have a significant impact on the time taken to play.

Narrow fairways bordered immediately by knee-length rough are not a recipe for a fast round of golf.

Even if everyone is following the new guidelines regarding three minutes to find your ball!

If the fairways are sufficiently narrow and the rough sufficiently deep then many more players will be looking for their ball. They will probably also have played a provisional ball from the tee which will also add time to the round.

Bunkers and Water Hazards

Many amateurs struggle to extricate themselves from bunkers and might need more than one shot to get out. Plus there is the time taken to tidy up the bunker.

A course featuring many water hazards is also likely to be slower. Golfers will have to determine points of entry for drops. They will also need to determine with their marker whether their ball actually went into the water.

Green Speeds and Difficulty

Particularly fast greens will mean many more three and four putts. Greens that feature lots of slopes or which have multiple tiers are also likely to slow play. Players will struggle to hole out in two putts.

Especially firm greens can also be an issue as amateur players will struggle to hold their ball on them.

Don’t copy this examples!

Blind Shots

A course featuring many blind shots is likely to have slower round times, particularly where visitors are concerned.

Course Design

The design of certain holes might encourage slower play. For example, if a course has several short par-5s that many people think they can reach in two shots. They wait for the green to clear and will often miss it!

There may be long par-3s that are difficult to hit. They should be call up holes but the group on the green doesn’t realize and fails to call up the group behind.

Weather

Golf is already difficult enough without the intervention of bad weather. However strong winds and/or rain will have an impact on the speed of play. Golfers will be trying to keep their clubs dry or checking the effect of the wind on their next shot.

Player Behaviour

While I’m quite aware of the speed of whichever group I am part of not every golfer is.

Some players never seem to be ready when it is their turn to play.

I often see players leave their golf bag in a situation that is going to mean them having to move it again so they can take their shot.

Players who don’t look where their ball is going because they are too busy moaning about their shot is another classic example.

Sticking rigidly to the honor system will also inevitably lead to delays. If you are ready and it is safe to play then really you should just play. If you know you are the shortest hitter in your group then try and be ready to play first on the tee as you will be able to drive when other players may not.

In an effort to maximize their revenue some courses will set the tee times too close together. This means golfers are unable to get out of each other’s way quickly enough and just leads to queueing on every hole.

Is the Course Busy?

Unfortunately, you are only going to be able to move at the pace of the slowest players in front of you. If the start sheet has been booked by four balls since 8 a.m. then I’m afraid your two-ball going out at midday is not going to sweep round into 2¼ hours!

Buggy Use

In theory, people using buggies should get around much quicker than people that are walking. However, not everyone uses a buggy to their best advantage, and not every course is set up in such a way to allow you to.

How about something obvious like two players sharing a buggy when one is a slicer and one is a hooker? On every hole, they have to drive to the right of the hole and maybe look for one ball then drive over to the left for the second player.

A bigger problem would be if the course has a ‘no fairways’ policy which means you have to stick to the cart path. In this case, you may find it not much quicker to use a buggy than it would be to walk.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of buggy golf although I can see the advantages if you are playing in extreme heat or humidity.

I would expect a two-ball using buggies to take around two hours if they were decent players may be up to 2 ½ if they were spending time looking for balls. If they really set their mind to it then they could probably get around in about an hour.

How Long Does it Take to Play a Round of Golf: Conclusion

How long does it take and how long should it take are two entirely different things.

These days most people are probably satisfied if their fourball makes it round in four hours or less.

I believe if golf is to keep hold of players then everybody needs to address slow play at every level of the game.

How long does a round of golf take on the PGA Tour?

Far too long!

It’s not unusual to see rounds taking as long as five hours for a three-ball and 4 ½ hours for a two-ball.

I’m sure the pros would argue that they have to wait for spectators to be quiet or to be moved. They have to take many more drops than a typical amateur due to grandstands, TV towers, cabling et cetera.

Sorry but that doesn’t cut much ice with me. They all have caddies so their job is purely to play golf. They are almost all now superfit athletes so the physical act of walking the course certainly shouldn’t be tiring for them.

The reason it takes so long is:

Most of them are either unaware or are afraid of breaking rules accidentally so call for referees for even the simplest situation.

They spend hours debating with their caddies about the strength and direction of the wind.

They spend ages poring over yardage books and now have greens books to slow them down even more.

For those of us watching the PGA Tour from overseas, it’s quite easy to fall asleep whilst watching, waiting for players who take so long to get around.

Not so many years ago The Open Championship involved playing 36 holes on the final day.

Can you imagine getting the current crop of tour players around twice on the same day in a major tournament? It’s hard enough in the Ryder Cup when there are only four games on the course at a time!

For me, slow play is one of the biggest problems in golf. The recent surge in golf participation due to the pandemic is great but if we aren’t careful a lot of players may quickly drift away if we don’t tackle slow play at every level of the game!

How long will it take to play 36 holes of golf?

The same caveats as above apply.

I have played in 36-hole competitions where we managed to get both rounds in under three hours each (3 balls).

This was very much an exception however and you would generally be looking at between three and three-quarter and four hours for each round.

In fact, one of the earliest 36-hole competitions that I played was at Fulford Heath G.C. and I think we spent close to 10 hours on the course for the two rounds!

How long are 18 holes of golf in miles?

A typical member’s course would be between 6200 yards and 6500 yards. So that’s around 3 1/2 miles not including walks from greens to tees.

Championship courses will be 7000 yards to 7500 yards on the scorecard so around 4 to 4 1/2 miles plus any distance between greens and tees. This can often be significant on modern courses where they expect players to be using buggies.