Guidance on Running a Competition

Pace of Play

It is understandable that Clubs, public courses, resorts and competition organisers may have differing views on what constitutes acceptable pace of play. However, it is a fact that slow play detracts from the enjoyment of the game for many golfers, and few golfers are heard to complain about play being too quick.

Rule 6-7 governs in the event of slow play. It provides that “The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish”. The penalty for a breach of Rule 6-7 is loss of hole in match play and two strokes in stroke play, and for a repeated offence, disqualification. However, Note 2 under Rule 6-7 states:

“For the purpose of preventing slow play, the Committee may, in the conditions of a competition (Rule 33-1), establish pace of play guidelines including maximum periods of time allowed to complete a stipulated round, a hole or a stroke.
In match play, the Committee may, in such a condition, modify the penalty for a breach of this Rule as follows: 
First offence – Loss of hole; 
Second offence – Loss of hole; 
For subsequent offence – Disqualification

In stroke play, the Committee may, in such a condition, modify the penalty for a breach of this Rule as follows:
First offence – One stroke;
Second offence – Two strokes; 
For subsequent offence – Disqualification.”

It is a matter for the Committee in charge of a competition to formulate its own pace of play guidelines, although in practice the nature of such a condition will be dependant on the number of Committee members available to implement it.

For example, at The Open it is possible to adopt a hole by hole pace of play guideline and, subsequently, shot by shot timing procedures if a group is out of position on the course and in excess of the prescribed time limit (see Appendix G for the full Pace of Play condition adopted at The Open).

Obviously, it is unlikely that such a policy could be successfully adopted at Club level. Therefore, if the Committee is having problems with pace of play, it may be necessary to formulate a simple condition whereby the Committee establishes a time limit that it considers is more than adequate for players to complete the round and/or a certain number of holes (which will vary depending on numbers in groups and form of play). In the circumstances where a group exceeds the prescribed time limit and is out of position on the course (see Appendix G for definition of “out of position”) each player in the group is subject to penalty.

As an example of this form of condition, a Committee may decide that a group of three playing stroke play should not take more than 1 hour 45 minutes to complete nine holes and stipulate that if they exceed this limit, and are out of position, all three players are subject to a penalty of one stroke. In addition, the condition may state that if they fail to complete the second nine holes in the prescribed time and are still out of position all three players are subject to a further penalty of two strokes. 

The problem with adopting such a policy where each player in the group is penalised for a breach of the condition is that it does not consider individual responsibility for the delay and a player who is blameless may be penalised. However, this type of policy may assist in terms of a group’s self-regulation with slower players being encouraged to improve their pace of play.

The time limits prescribed in the condition must take account of the form of play (e.g. a foursome should be quicker than a single) and the age of those playing (e.g. a “junior” should be quicker than a “senior”). In addition, the climate and the course itself, with regard to factors such as length, severity, layout, etc. will have a significant bearing on what the Committee decides is a reasonable time for players to take.

In major Amateur competitions and Professional events, the Committee may wish to establish a hole by hole pace of play guideline. It is impossible to give specific recommendations as to the times that should be applied to each hole, but a number of factors should be taken into consideration. Firstly, while Professional golfers cannot be given unlimited time to complete a round, it has to be recognised that they are playing for their livelihood and, therefore, generally more time may be afforded to play than would be the case in Amateur events.

More specifically, if in an elite Amateur or Professional event the Committee has decided on standard times for par 3’s, par 4’s and 5’s (e.g. 11, 14 and 17 minutes respectively), adjustments should be made to take into account severity/simplicity of a particular hole and walking distances between the green of the hole last played and the next tee.

While a pace of play condition may assist in monitoring the speed of play and will identify the slow player, not all slow play is the fault of the players themselves. A Committee can cause play to grind to a halt by letting too many players on to the course too quickly. It is important that the Committee allow sufficient time in between each starting time to enable the groups to stretch away from one another so that players are not waiting on every shot. In addition, where possible it is advisable for a Committee to introduce “Starter’s Gaps” where every so often a starting time is left blank so that a build up on the course is not necessarily perpetuated all the way through the field.

Also, overly severe course set-up may contribute to the pace of play being slower than desirable. In particular, time spent putting can be increased if hole positions are too difficult.

Identifying the most suitable pace of play guidelines and the ideal starting times may be a case of trial and error. However, when the correct methods are established they can greatly assist in the enjoyment of the game for all concerned in the competition. For more guidance on pace of play for general play, see Appendix G.