Golf is an extremely fun and competitive sport, and while it may not be as popular as some other sports, it’s a great way to get out into some beautiful scenery, meet friends, and stay fit regardless of your age and experience.
While golf is very fun and increasingly accessible, many people find it difficult to plan their day around a full 18 holes of golf, and there are a lot of variables to take into account when planning your next trip.
In this guide, we’re going to look at how long it takes to complete a full 18 holes of golf, as well as the many variables and factors that can affect your rate of play and some additional tips on how to speed your round up and keep things moving at a steady pace.
But first, let’s take a look at how long an 18 hole round roughly takes.
A standard par 4 hole at most golf courses will typically take a golfer around 10 minutes to finish, ideally. In theory, this means that an average group of players should take around 15 minutes to complete a hole, while beginners may take up to 20 minutes per hole depending on conditions and other factors.
From these estimations, it is possible to make a rough estimate of how long a full 18 holes will take.
For professional or low handicap players with an open course in front of them, a whole round of golf can be completed in around 3 hours, while for average players it should end up being around 4 hours – but this isn’t always the case.
For beginners, a full round could take 5 hours depending on the amount they struggle and other key factors. Beginners should keep in mind that a golf course’s pace is like a chain, and the weakest link can bog down the whole course. If you’re a beginner, remember that you’re there to have fun, so if you find yourself struggling, there’s no shame in picking up and dropping near your more experienced playing partners. Nobody cares if you suck, but everyone cares if you slow them down.
There’s no escaping the fact that even on the lower end of the spectrum, this is a considerable amount of time. In fact, time is one of the key reasons why people don’t play much golf, or don’t try it out. It’s simply a massive investment of time each week or each month.
However, there is a good way to think about this to make it seem less daunting. For example, there are movies which last 3 hours, sometimes more, and many people binge watch several episodes of TV for 3 or 4 hours without thinking, which puts a round of golf into perspective and makes it comparable to a lot of other leisure activities.
Despite all of this, there are a ton of factors which can affect your speed on the golf course, so making an accurate assessment of time lengths is difficult and somewhat uncertain, however, these times will allow you to at least make rough plans going forward.
Factors Affecting Play Speed
In this section, we’re going to highlight some of the main variables that will influence your rate of play.
Riding vs. Walking
One of the first things to consider is how you’re getting around the golf course. Walking from hole to hole is considerably slower and less comfortable than using a golf cart, and you can shave off several minutes from your total play time by using one of these. I’ve personally played 18 holes in less than 90 minutes when the course has been wide open (and it only cost me $15 – summer in Arizona is great for this if you can deal with the heat).
Golf carts also help you preserve your energy for your strokes and protect you from the elements out on the course, be it rain or sunshine.
However, a common misconception is that golf carts make the round go faster for all golfers – it doesn’t matter if you save 30 seconds driving to the ball if you spend extra time getting ready to hit your next shot.
Another important factor is group size, as naturally more players means more waiting around per hole and less fluid and consistency in the play.
More shots per hole will multiply your play time considerably, so if you’re inviting more players make sure to account for this.
Smaller groups will play through a lot quicker, however, there are some occasions where a small group of beginner players will be slower than a larger group of more experienced players, and its important to not hold up play excessively and follow good course etiquette to prevent holding up other people and ruining their plans.
Traffic is a huge cause of delays in golf, and slower individuals or groups can slow down more experienced and faster golfers considerably, creating a knock on effect for everyone behind, sort of like motoring traffic.
This can be very frustrating, but try to be considerate as new players may not understand proper etiquette, and should be politely reminded of this if possible, before you request to play through. As mentioned above, if you are the new player, just try to have fun and keep up – there’s no shame in picking up and moving closer to the hole or taking a break until you get to the next tee when you’re really struggling.
Golf is for everyone, so enjoy the company and you’ll have a good time – anyone who gets mad at beginners forgot that they were once there themselves.
The type of course you’re playing on can play a huge role in your play speed, as not all courses were made equal.
In fact, some courses are far more challenging than others, using features and terrain that will slow down even experienced players and bring newer players to a total halt.
Obstacles and features like bunkers, longer holes, long rough and water are all common on more prestigious and difficult courses, and beginners trying to play on holes like this will likely get stuck or take a very long time to play.
Don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask for advice about the difficulty of a course, to ensure your own enjoyment as well as the enjoyment of the other golfers at a particular course.
As you may have noticed, player skill is a huge influence on the rate of play. The ability to take fewer strokes to finish a hole and course will result in a much faster day out on the links, however, skilled players can still be affected by traffic, weather, and equipment failure.
Weather conditions have a huge impact on overall play speed. Cold and rain make the ball travel a shorter distance, make play more difficult and awkward, and slows down golf carts.
Many people try to avoid playing in bad weather due to these effects, but if you get caught out by the weather, prepare to take a bit longer and try to rearrange your plans accordingly – a day in less-than-ideal conditions can also be a lot of fun if you play your cards right.
If you’re unsure about the weather ahead of time, try to plan for all possiblities.
Ball Loss/Equipment Failure
Losing a ball or a club/bag failing can happen to anyone at any time, and can make your round take much longer if you spend time trying to find your ball or broken parts. On one past golf bag, my strap broke walking up the 18th fairway – it could have been a long day had it broken 5 holes back.
Try to take it as part of the game when possible and reset as quickly as possible to avoid delays.
How To Speed Up
There are a few ways you can take control of your rate of play, and speed things up for yourself even as a beginner.
The biggest misconception is that golf carts make the round go faster. While this can be true, if you spend the saved time taking extra practice strokes or reading each putt from every angle, you’re not saving anyone any time.
Use The Proper Tee
Using the correct tee box for your handicap can help with pace immensely. While it may not seem obvious, ego is a factor in tee selection, and the USGA’s Play It Forward campaign encourages amateur golfers to move up from the tees they would normally head to – 20+ handicaps don’t need to be playing from the blue tees in most cases.
If there’s a very easy putt on, it’s good etiquette to consider it a gimme, or a free putt which is already guaranteed to go in, to save time and move the game a long more quickly.
Take Quicker Breaks
Shorten any breaks you take and try to take them while other players in your group are playing to save time.
Try Playing Ready Golf
Don’t be afraid to hit your shot whenever you’re ready as long as it’s safe – while etiquette is nice, competition is the only context in which the farthest player back needs to take the next shot.
This is the most important point – after all, saving 10 seconds 150 times in your round adds up to 25 minutes.
There’s no escaping the fact that golf is quite time-consuming, but managing your time well around it can ensure that you don’t miss out on anything important and don’t get a reputation for lateness, or upset your other plans.