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The Golf Course
The Golf Course


The nature, location, design and set up of a golf course all have a major impact on the time that it takes to play a round of golf. There are courses that will be difficult and take longer to play as a result when compared to others. This section examines various aspects of the design and set up of the course and provides guidance on actions that can be taken by those responsible for setting up the course if the desire is to improve pace of play. It is recognised that there may be cost implications associated with some of the solutions proposed in this section, but many of the suggestions have very little financial impact, yet can make a significant difference. Please note that nothing in this section is intended to suggest that all golf courses should be easy to play. The challenge that the sport presents is one of golf’s enduring attractions. However, it is worth considering that, in the UK, the average handicap of a male golfer is 16 and the average handicap of a female golfer is 25. This means that, even when playing to their handicap, the average golfer is playing bogey golf. In other words, the majority of golfers find the sport suitably challenging without the course being made unduly difficult. Related Videos


3.2a Variety A reasonable variety of tees should be offered on each hole so that players can use the tees commensurate with their ability and/or hitting distances. There is strong evidence that suggests that having players play from tees that suit their ability not only improves the pace of play, but increases player enjoyment. It is recognised that encouragement may need to be given to players to select the appropriate tees, rather than electing to play the course at the full length available on any given day, and this point is referenced in more detail in Section 2 (Management Practices). It is common for the gap between different sets of tees to be so big that it almost forces players to play the course at a length that is too long for their ability. For example, if there is a group of male golfers with a handicap range of 6 to 15 and they have the choice of playing the course at 6,100 yards or 6,800 yards, there is a strong likelihood that they will go to the 6,800 yard tees as the 6 handicap golfer will feel that 6,100 yards is too short. However, if there was an offering of tees at around 6,400 yards, it is far more likely that the group will elect to use those tees, which may result in the group enjoying the round more and playing more quickly. By providing an additional distance option between 6,100 yards and 6,800 yards, Kingsbarns Golf Links in Fife, Scotland saw a reduction from 50% of groups using the 6,800 yard tees to only 15% of groups playing the course at that length. Provide all golfers with teeing options that match the design of the hole and the way that it was intended to be played.  This may include setting up a suitable number of holes where players are hitting lofted clubs into greens, rather than always having to hit long irons, hybrids or fairway woods. In particular, focus on holes where it is clear that the green is designed to accept lofted shots, as opposed to low running shots.
If your course has “carries”, (for example, over water, bunkers, areas of rough or the like) try to provide teeing options that enable all players to make the carries with a well-played shot for a player of their ability.  Alternatively, bail out areas should be provided for those unable to make the carry. This would also apply to a hole where there is a carry for the approach shot into the green. 3.2b Gender Neutral Many clubs that have pursued a programme of encouraging players to play from tees appropriate to their ability have found considerable success  by avoiding having designated “men’s” and “women’s” tees. In many parts of the world, red tees are associated with ladies golf, and men can be reluctant to play from these tees. By simply changing the colour of the “forward” tees and referring to tees as, for example, “forward, middle and back”, evidence suggests that men are more likely to choose to play from the forward tees.  Alternatively, tees can be referred to by the measured course they offer, which will be an immediate assistance to those who know what length of course they enjoy the most (for example, referring to tees that give a 6,400 yard course as the “64 course”). If golfers are to be encouraged to play from the tees that suit their game, it is equally as important to provide men’s and women’s course ratings from the different sets of tees for handicapping purposes. 3.2c Avoiding Bottlenecks The design of a course can introduce or eliminate bottlenecks. The types of holes that consistently create delays on golf courses will be looked at in more detail in other parts of this manual, but it is worth noting that the positioning of tee-markers to slightly adjust the nature of a hole can assist in preventing delays. For example, if a hole is playing as a long par 3 (perhaps due to its yardage or because it is playing into a significant wind), moving the tee up to reduce the yardage and increase the number of tee shots that make it on or around the green is likely to reduce the waiting that occurs on the tee. It is not always a reduction in distance that will reduce waiting time. If a par 4 is likely to be reachable from certain tees due to the expected wind conditions that day, those teeing options can be removed so that it plays as a two-shot hole for everyone, thereby avoiding players on the tee waiting for the green to clear. Alternatively, consider implementing a “call-up” procedure for long par 3s, drivable par 4s, or par 5s that can be reached in two shots. This is discussed in more detail in Section 2 (Management Practices). 3.2d Distance from Green to Tee If it takes considerable time to walk or drive a cart from a green to the next tee this adds significantly to the time taken to play. If there is a choice between using teeing areas that are closer to the greens versus those that are further away, on days when pace of play may be a concern, do not offer the further away tees as an option, unless it makes sense from a pace of play perspective to do so (see comments above regarding drivable par 4s). Ideally, short walking distances between a green and the next tee should be designed into a course, though the topography of some sites may mean this is unfeasible. Re-routing of the course should be considered if it might reduce the distances from greens to tees (while retaining the same level of safety). For guidance on re-routing the course, see Section 3.7 (Course Routing). Related Downloads Longleaf Tee System Pace of Play The Course Related Videos

Fairway Width and Rough Height

Much time can be lost during a round as a result of searching for balls in the rough; it is also a source of much frustration for golfers. Time spent searching for balls can be reduced in the following ways:
  • Making it easier to play the ball onto the fairway by increasing fairway widths
  • Ensuring, where possible, that players can carry any rough in front of the tee and reach the fairway
  • Extending the width of the first cut of rough so that balls that initially land on the fairway are less likely to run through the first cut into deeper rough (which may be more cost efficient than widening fairways because of the frequency and speed of mowing)
  • Generally reducing the severity of rough so that, while the rough still provides a challenge, it is less likely to conceal a ball
In addition, where there are stretches of rough where it may be difficult to find a ball, installing marker posts that provide reference points for estimating where stray shots may have come to rest will assist players in locating balls. 
The length of the grass around greens can also contribute greatly to the round times. Even if rough near greens is not long enough to lose a ball, if it is of a length that makes it very difficult to control a chip shot, there is a strong likelihood that most players will not be able to get the ball on the green with their chip shot, or at least not get the ball close to the hole. Reducing the height of the grass around greens to make chip shots easier to play, or to enable players to putt from off the green, will reduce the time it takes to play. The R&A is not advocating the cutting of all grassland to a length aimed at improving pace of play. Natural grassland provides a home for a range of wildlife and every facility should carefully consider the need for cutting such areas, and only do so if it is going to be of benefit to a reasonable number of golfers.  Indeed, some areas that are being mown regularly at present might not demand such treatment if they are well out of play. Compromise in this respect is often required, and before changes are made to mowing practices, which may have a significant impact on labour and the cost of course maintenance, it is advisable to undertake an assessment of need with regards to the playability of the course. An alternative for an area farther from play that has environmental value is to make it wild enough to discourage players from trying to look for their ball because there is really no point, or to adopt a Local Rule defining the area as a No Play Zone. A balance needs to be struck between cutting huge areas to speed play up and the costs associated with doing so. Related Downloads Pace of Play The Course Related Videos

Bunkers and Rakes

Bunkers are, by definition, hazards and are meant to present a challenge. However, the number of bunkers and their design will impact on pace of play. If a course is considered to be excessively bunkered, either in terms of their number or their severity, it is recommended that a review of the course be undertaken by a qualified course architect to determine what, if any, measures need to be taken to address this issue. If bunkers are small, with steep faces, it becomes harder to extricate the ball, and this means that it will take longer to play (unless taking the extra relief option under Rule 19.3b). With reference to greenside bunkers, if it is hard for less skilled players to get the ball out of these bunkers, there is also a strong likelihood that even when they do succeed in extricating the ball, it may be difficult to stop the ball on the green. The challenge presented by a bunker can be reduced without making it easy. Slightly lowering the height of the face, providing a gentler face angle or enlarging the bunker slightly to allow more room to swing the club all increase the chances of players being able to get the ball out of the bunker. In addition, ensuring that the bunkers are prepared in such a way that a ball generally comes to rest away from the sides and faces of the bunkers will reduce the number of occasions when the ball is left in the bunker. This can be done by ensuring that the floor of the bunker is shaped in such a manner that when sand is introduced it can be prepared so that it is reasonably firm and slopes down towards the centre of the bunker If there are bunkers on the course that come into play only for high handicap golfers, clubs may wish to consider whether it is necessary to retain these bunkers. While high handicapped players tend to find bunkers challenging, more skilled golfers often find shots from bunkers, especially greenside bunkers, to be relatively easy. Converting greenside bunkers to tightly cut swales can make the course easier for high handicap golfers but at the same time retain, or even increase, the challenge for the better golfer.
The photographs above and below show the 5th green at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. The bunkers in the photograph above have been removed and replaced with swales, which will be closely mown.
It is now commonplace for rakes to be left on the course, and players are expected to leave bunkers in the condition that they found them by using the rakes to smooth over their footprints. It will assist with pace if play if there are an appropriate number of rakes on the course as it enables players to fulfill their responsibilities without too much delay.

Other Obstacles on the Course

In addition to rough and bunkers, most courses will either have penalty areas, trees, bushes and other forms of obstacles that present a challenge to the player (or a combination of these obstacles). Pace of play may be improved if there is a reasonable opportunity for recovery when a ball comes to rest in such an area, which may require some redesign of the obstacle in question. For example, if trees are a feature of a course, and it is common for errant shots to come to rest among trees, it is preferable if the ground beneath the trees is maintained in such a way that a ball can easily be found and a recovery shot on to the fairway is possible. If there is dense rough under the trees then not only is the ball harder to find, but the chance of advancing the ball out of the trees with one shot is significantly reduced.  The R&A is not suggesting that the ground under every tree on the course be managed in this way, as this can have cost implications.  As with rough height around the rest of the course, the rough under trees should be assessed to determine its impact on pace of play, and only where it is considered to have a significant impact should maintenance be employed to make ball finding and recovery shots easier.
Similarly, where a penalty area provides an intrinsic challenge on a hole and is likely to receive a large number of golf balls, resulting in players having to take relief under penalty, it will assist with pace of play if the player then has a reasonable place to make his next stroke from. If the relief under the Rules has players dropping in thick rough or in otherwise very difficult positions on a regular basis, this will have a negative impact on pace of play. In such situations, consideration should be given to improving the relief areas or, if this is not possible, providing dropping zones as additional options under the Rules.

The Putting Greens

3.6a Introduction In general, around half of the strokes made during a round will be from on or around the putting greens. The more putts that players take to hole out, the longer a round will take. The number of chips and putts will be strongly influenced by a combination of the following factors:
  • the severity of the slopes on the greens,
  • the speed of the greens,
  • the firmness of the greens, and
  • the position of the holes on the greens.
Pace of play will be negatively impacted when greens have severe slopes, are running at a quick pace and the holes are cut on or near the slopes. The impact of this combination is that it makes it harder for golfers to get the ball into the “tap in” zone, which means they take more putts and take longer to play. 3.6b Green Speed The common method for measuring the speed of greens is by using the “Stimpmeter” to provide measurement in feet and inches. It is generally accepted that the faster the greens are, the harder it is for less-skilled players to putt. It is not possible to provide a definitive green speed that is appropriate for general play as it depends hugely on factors such as the slopes on the greens, wind speeds and the like but there is a tendency at many courses to have green speeds that are unnecessarily fast, particularly when it comes to competitions. It is more important that greens are smooth and true than fast. Fast greens may also mean that you are unable to utilise certain hole positions that the course architect had in mind. With experience, those responsible for setting policy for green speed on a course should be able to establish the speed whereby the greens become overly challenging for the majority of golfers. This in turn will allow for a policy on green speed to be established for general play, i.e. a more moderate green speed, which will ensure that the speed of the greens is not a factor that is contributing to slow play. To provide some context on this point, at The Open, played over seaside links courses that are susceptible to strong winds, The R&A sets a maximum green speed target of 10½ feet on the stimpmeter. When strong winds are forecast, the target speed will be reduced well below the maximum of 10½ feet.
3.6c Firmness of Greens Firmness of greens should also be a consideration. Soft, over watered greens are in no way being promoted. However, very firm greens do provide a stiff challenge for the majority of players in terms of holding the green with approach shots or with chip shots from around the green. This is not so much the case when it is possible to run the ball into the green, but when the green is protected at the front by bunkers or a slope, thereby requiring the ball to be pitched on the green, the firmness can have a significant impact on a player’s ability to execute the shot successfully. In such situations, if the desire is to maintain firm greens (which often is the sustainable approach to course maintenance), the positioning of the holes and the tees becomes very important so as to ensure that players are hitting appropriate clubs into greens. To provide some context on this point, at The Open, where measurements of firmness are taken with a “Clegg Hammer”, The R&A aims for firmness values of approaches and greens between 110 and 150 gravities. It should be noted that these firmness values relate to links golf, where the ability to run the ball up to the hole is considered an intrinsic feature of the challenge of the courses. 3.6d Hole Positions As referenced above, the positions in which the holes are cut on the greens has an impact on pace of play. If the holes are cut on or close to slopes, this inevitably makes it more challenging to stop the ball close to the hole with a putt (or a chip), and this means that lag putting and putting from close to the hole is made more difficult. In match play, this will mean fewer conceded putts, and in stroke play there will be fewer tap in putts. Locating the holes in flatter areas of the greens will reduce putting time and benefit the pace of play. Hole positions can also have a significant impact on approach shots. If the hole is positioned close to the edge of the green or close to bunkers, water hazards or severe greenside run offs, the recovery shot will be more difficult or the penalty will be more severe for a slightly errant shot. If the focus is on reducing the time taken to play, then the hole positions should offer a greater margin for error with the approach shot. For additional guidance on Hole Positions, see Appendix K.
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Course Routing

While there may be a traditional sequence of holes at a course, this may not in fact be the optimum routing from a pace of play point of view. If that is the case, it may be worth considering using an alternative routing for general play, or reconsidering the routing for all play. A difficult hole may create a bottleneck on the course, which may have a lasting and detrimental impact on pace of play. If it is impractical to alter the bottleneck hole or there is no desire to do so, having a bottleneck hole early in the round is often preferable to having it later in the round as play will flow for groups after they have played that hole. This can be achieved through altering the routing of the holes or simply by reversing the nines. If the course has considerable walks from greens to tees, it is worth considering whether the sequence the holes are played in is contributing to pace of play issues. Altering course routing may provide shorter walking distances from greens to tees, which in turn may reduce round times. Related Downloads Efficient Routing - Arlington Lakes GC 

Cart Path Location

If players using golf carts are required to keep their carts on the paths or only follow specific routes, the locations of the cart paths will impact on how quickly and easily players can get to their ball to play their next shot. If cart paths are only located on one side of a hole (which is common due to lack of space or cost implications), this will increase the time it takes to play as there will be many occasions when a player needs to walk a considerable distance to access his or her ball on the other side of the hole. Where cart golf is common, and the cart paths are not well situated from a pace of play perspective, consideration should be given to allowing players to take the carts onto the fairways. If turf conditions allow, being able to grant such permission will benefit the pace of play. It is recognised that this may be a difficult judgement to make and a flexible policy might serve to create some confusion. Any potential confusion should be easily overcome with clear signage and verbal guidance at the starting tee. Where a course has back tees that should only be used by elite golfers, it can assist in diverting attention away from the back tees for regular play if the cart paths are routed away from the back tees. If players don’t drive past the back tees they are less likely to want to use them.

Distance Information

While the use of distance-measuring devices has become quite common, there are still many golfers who do not use such devices. Many golfers are quite happy with an approximate yardage. To assist such golfers, easily located distance markers can help with pace of play. In this regard, a stake at the side of the fairway is often more easily seen than a ground level disc. Providing distance information on sprinkler heads can also be of assistance.


The claim is often made that it is visitors to courses that cause slow play rather than the members. To reduce the likelihood of this, ensure that there is clear signage directing players who are unfamiliar with the course to the quickest route to help them navigate their way around the course, for example from the green to the next tee.
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Course Rating

It is worth pointing out that if a course does make permanent and significant changes to the set-up of the course (e.g. significant widening of fairway widths), it is recommended that the national association is advised as there may be an impact on the course rating for handicapping purposes.