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Management Practices
Management Practices


As demonstrated by the results of The R&A’s pace of play survey, players rarely cite golf management practices as a cause of slow play, but instead focus on the habits of their fellow players as being the root of the problem. However, research demonstrates clearly that certain management practices can have a very positive impact on pace and the flow around the course and, in equal measure, misguided management practices can create significant problems. This section focuses on management practices, policies and miscellaneous ideas that those responsible for golf facilities may wish to consider if there is a desire to improve pace of play and player experience. It is not suggested that all of the policies that are referenced be adopted, but each golf facility should implement those which best fit the nature of the club and its course to yield positive results.

Starting Intervals

2.2a Overcrowding the Course It is accepted as fact, by those who have studied pace of play and flow around the course, that overcrowding is the most common cause of longer than necessary rounds and unacceptable waiting times. If the starting intervals between groups are too narrow it will result in too many groups being on the course at any one time, and, in such circumstances, adopting all or any of the other recommendations in this manual will be futile. There have been many studies into flow around the course but, at its most basic level, the following example demonstrates the problem that arises from having narrow intervals:
  • The course starts with two mid-length par 4's, followed by a mid-length par 3.
  • When play is in three-balls, the allotted time for completion of the holes is as follows:
    • 1st hole in 12 minutes
    • 2nd hole in 12 minutes
    • 3rd hole in 9 minutes
  • The Committee has adopted 8 minute starting intervals
  • If all groups play the holes in the allotted time, by the time the second group reaches the 3rd tee it will wait for one minute on the 3rd tee and the third group will wait for two minutes on the 3rd tee (see table below)
  • The waiting time will worsen as more groups come on to the course            
With all aspects in the example the same, but with 10 minute starting intervals, there is no delay on the 3rd tee (see table below).
This is a very simple example. Much more detailed and thorough explanations of the significance of starting intervals on pace of play can be reviewed in chapter 6 of “Golf’s Pace of Play Bible” by Lucius Riccio (see References Section). It is acknowledged that there is a certain amount of ebb and flow in pace of play during a round, but the message is clear – starting intervals need to be sufficiently wide for there to be any chance of achieving good pace of play and flow around the course.
The obvious question then becomes, how wide do the starting intervals need to be? The answer is, the wider the better. However, whether it is, for example, a members’ club trying to give a large number of members the opportunity to play on a given day, a resort course trying to maximise revenue or a tournament organiser trying to get 156 players around the course in daylight, it is understood that there is a limit to how wide the intervals can be. When play is in two-balls an interval of at least 8 minutes is recommended. When play is in three-balls this should be increased to at least 10 minutes. When play is in four-balls, 11 or even 12 minute intervals should be considered. A good guide is that the starting interval should not be shorter than the time it should take to play the quickest hole on the course, and this becomes particularly relevant when that hole features early in the round. When the groups are likely to be going out in a mixture of two-balls, three-balls and four-balls, the intervals should cater for four-balls. This highlights the issues that can arise when the size of groups differs, and this topic is discussed later in this section. A concern that is often expressed with regard to increasing starting intervals is that it reduces the number of groups that can play the course on any given day, and therefore reduces playing opportunities and, potentially, revenue. The reality is that reducing the amount of time it takes to play will mean that those starting later in the day will be guaranteed to complete their rounds and, consequently, additional later tee times can be offered. It is also the case that very few facilities operate at maximum capacity, so stretching out the tee times is unlikely to have a significant impact on the number of players that will in fact play the course, but it will enhance player enjoyment. As outlined in the Introduction to the Manual, even if an alteration to the starting intervals does reduce the number of players that play the course on any one day, if the experience of those who do play is positive the likelihood is that, over an extended period of time, more golfers will wish to play the course. In addition, those people may be prepared to pay slightly more knowing that they are guaranteed a pleasurable experience. For an example of the potential positive financial impact of increasing starting time intervals, see the Financial Impact Study by Global Golf Advisers Inc. (see References Section). 2.2b Empty Starting Intervals or “Starter’s Gaps” Even with appropriate starting intervals, delays can arise on the course due to a number of factors, such as ball searches, a hole that is playing particularly hard or easy, etc. Such delays can be cleared, or at least alleviated, by having empty starting intervals, sometimes referred to as “starter’s gaps”. If, for example, the starting intervals are 10 minutes and the Committee has an empty starting time after every 10th group, there will be a 10 minute break in play from the 1st tee every 90 minutes. If a delay has built up on a particular tee early on in the round, the starter’s gap should enable that delay, or at least some of the delay, to clear. Without the empty starting interval, the likelihood is that waiting on that hole will increase as the day goes on. 2.2c Two-Tee Starts A “two-tee start” is where groups start simultaneously from two different tees, usually the 1st and the 10th tees. If it is necessary to get a lot of players around a course in one day, and the course lends itself to two-tee starts, this can be an effective way of getting more players around the course more quickly. The principal reason for this is that play through the day occurs in two “waves” – the morning wave and the afternoon wave – and the theory is that the afternoon wave is a fresh start so any delays that have built up during the morning wave do not impact on the afternoon wave. For an example of a draw for a two-tee start, see Appendix B.
If two-tee starts are adopted, it is important not to have too many groups going out from the 1st and 10th tees. This will simply result in players making the turn having to wait for the 1st and 10th tees to clear, which eliminates the potential time saving that the two-tee start creates. It can also result in the afternoon wave of tee times being delayed, which will cause more frustration for the golfers. 2.2d Shotgun Starts  A “shotgun start” is where groups start simultaneously from multiple tees and it is an effective way of getting more players around the course in a shorter period of time, simply because more of the holes are utilised from the start rather than needing to be filled from the 1st tee (or the 1st and 10th tees). Shotgun starts are more common in club and corporate hospitality events where the concern may be less about pace of play than the desire to have all the players completing their rounds by a specific time, e.g. in order to attend a prize giving or other function. Efficient organisation is vital when conducting a shotgun start as you need to ensure that all players are in position at the appropriate starting time. Golf cart transportation can be very helpful when conducting a shotgun start.
As the course will be full from the beginning, managing a good pace of play is crucial. Like a two-tee start, a shotgun start should enable you to have two “waves” of play – a morning wave and an afternoon wave. Related Links “Golf’s Pace of Play Bible” by Lucius Riccio Related Downloads Pace of Play Management

Number of Players in Groups

Clearly it is more likely that a group of four players, each playing their own ball, will take longer than a group of two or a group of three players doing likewise. If administrators wish to reduce the time it takes to play, then restricting the number of players in each group is a simple method of achieving that. That said, it is entirely reasonable for players to wish to play in groups of four, and in some countries it is common to play in groups of more than four. However, to cater for those who wish to play their rounds more quickly, administrators should consider setting aside blocks of starting times for players wishing to play in groups of two. Logically, these times should be assigned when the two-balls are not going to catch up with three-balls and four-balls, so it is best if early starting times are reserved for the smaller groups. For example, some courses adopt a “two-balls only before 9 am” policy. The lack of managing the mix of players in two, three and four-balls through the day can lead to significant delays and conflict on the course as faster groups will want and expect to be let through.

Forms of Play

One of golf’s great strengths is that there are many forms of play that can be adopted. Not only does this make the sport diverse, but it can also assist with pace of play. Regular stroke play competitions, where players are required to hole out on each hole in order to have a valid score, tends to be the slowest form of play. Alternative stroke play competitions, such as Stableford, Maximum Score and Par/Bogey competitions, which enable players to have valid scores without completing each hole, tend to be quicker, provided administrators impress on players the importance of picking up their ball when they are effectively out of the hole in so far as their score is concerned.
Similarly, match play golf tends to be quicker than stroke play, because strokes and holes can be conceded in match play. Foursomes, where partners play alternate shots, is a good way of maintaining the social aspect of having four players in a group, while retaining the pace of play benefits of only two balls being played. The use of foursomes (or “foursome-like” golf, such as greensomes) would allow groups of four to utilise the tee times that administrators may have set aside for two-ball play only, as referenced in Section 2.3 (Number of Players in Groups). Related Downloads Pace of Play Management

“Ready Golf”

“Ready golf” is a term used in stroke play, which indicates that players should play when they are ready to do so, rather than strictly following the procedure of “farthest from the hole should play first” in the Rules of Golf. “Ready golf” is not appropriate in match play due to the strategy involved between opponents and the need to have a set method for determining which player plays first. However, in stroke play formats it is only the act of agreeing to play out of turn to give one of the players an advantage that is prohibited. On this basis, administrators should encourage “ready golf” in stroke play, and there is strong evidence to suggest that playing “ready golf” does improve the pace of play. For example, in a survey of Australian golf clubs conducted by Golf Australia, 94% of clubs that had promoted “ready golf” to their members enjoyed some degree of success in improving pace of play, with 25% stating that they had achieved "satisfying success".  When “ready golf” is being encouraged, players have to act sensibly to ensure that playing out of turn does not endanger other players.  “Ready golf” should not be confused with being ready to play, which is covered in Section 4.5 (Being Ready to Play). The term “ready golf” has been adopted by many as a catch-all phrase for a number of actions that separately and collectively can improve pace of play. There is no official definition of the term, but examples of “ready golf” in action are:
  • Hitting a shot when safe to do so if a player farther away faces a challenging shot and is taking time to assess their options
  • Shorter hitters playing first from the tee or fairway if longer hitters have to wait
  • Hitting a tee shot if the person with the honour is delayed in being ready to play
  • Hitting a shot before helping someone to look for a lost ball
  • Putting out even if it means standing close to someone else’s line
  • Hitting a shot if a person who has just played from a bunker is still farthest from the hole but is delayed due to raking the bunker
  • When a player’s ball has gone over the back of a green, any player closer to the hole but chipping from the front of the green should play while the other player is having to walk to their ball and assess their shot
  • Marking scores upon immediate arrival at the next tee, except that the first player to tee off marks their card immediately after teeing off
Related Downloads Pace of Play Management Pace of Play Ready Golf

Time Par

“Time par” is the term given to the length of time allocated to complete each hole, a certain number of holes or the full round. Establishing a pace of play expectation, and communicating that expectation to players, is a common method of trying to improve pace of play. The time par provides a standard by which each group will be judged, and gives an objective guide on whether a group is playing at an appropriate pace. Depending on resources, enforcing the time par can be done in a number of ways, which will be covered in Section 2.11 (Pace of Play Policies). The time par can be printed on the score card, communicated at the time of booking and starting, etc. Alternatively, and sometimes more effectively, it can be displayed on the course, for example by having a sign after six holes that states “Your group should have taken no longer than 1 hour 15 minutes to reach this point”. One drawback of having a single time par that applies to a course is that it does not take into account groups of different sizes. If there is a single time par then realistically it has to cater for play in four-balls (assuming four-ball play is permitted on the course). Consequently, it is recommended that time pars are established for two-balls, three-balls and four-balls. This means, for example, if play before a certain time is restricted to two-balls, those two-ball groups will be aware of what is expected of them in terms of time to complete the round.
For guidelines on establishing the time par, see Appendix C. Related Downloads Pace of Play Management

Utilising Golf Course Staff and/or Volunteers

The staff at the golf course can be a very useful resource in terms of encouraging a good pace of play. When guidance on the expected pace is given prior to the round or polite encouragement is offered during the round, more often than not players will do their best to adhere to the requests being made. 2.7a Check-In Staff If players are required to check-in, for example at the professional shop or at the club office, prior to playing, the check-in staff can be the first to advise on the pace of play expectations for the course or for that day. The simplest thing to do may be to display the expectation on a notice board, and then the check-in person can simply refer to it. This can then be reinforced by the starter on the first tee. Research shows that having two people make the same point can have a far greater influence than just one, and that verbal requests have more impact than written ones. Obviously it is important that the request is made in a polite and encouraging manner.
Staff at Troon Golf ’s Abu Dhabi Golf Club wear clothing referring to the time par for the course 2.7b Starters The starter, whether it is a dedicated starter or the Club professional, is generally the last person to speak to the players before they start their round. If the starter can politely advise the players of the pace of play expectations, provide them with any guidance that may assist with pace of play (for example, encouraging “ready golf” in stroke play) and ensure that the group starts at the correct time (not before or after), this can have a very positive impact on the pace of play. As stated in Section 2.7a , this impact is further increased if the starter’s encouragement is a reinforcement of guidance already provided. For guidance on best practice for Starters, see Appendix D.
2.7c Caddies If caddies are commonly used at a course, they can be asked to monitor the pace of play of the group that they are with. Caddies may understandably be reluctant to be seen as criticising the pace of play of their group, but if the starter has advised the players that part of the caddie’s role is to politely encourage groups to keep their position on the course, it will make it easier for the caddies to speak to the players about pace of play if necessary. Caddie training is also important. A good caddie can assist by being at the ball quickly, replacing divots, raking bunkers, attending the flagstick and offering guidance on the course, for example, on the best direction of play, the need to play a provisional ball, etc.  2.7d Ball Spotters If there are holes where it is very common for balls to be lost (for example, holes with blind tee shots), the deployment of ball spotters can greatly assist with pace of play. It is recognised that this may only be realistic at high level tournaments with a significant number of volunteers. 2.7e Greenstaff Undertaking course maintenance during play is common and necessary at many Clubs. However, where possible, greenstaff should be encouraged to adapt their maintenance schedules to have as little negative impact on pace of play as possible. For example, with an empty course, it may be more efficient for the greenstaff to prepare the course non-sequentially in groups of holes in close proximity to one another. However, if course preparation cannot be completed in full before play commences, it is often better to prepare the course in hole sequence so as to keep ahead of play. With a two-tee start, this will involve using two teams of greenstaff commencing from the 1st and 10th tees. It may also assist greenstaff in completing their tasks if management of the facility stipulates that play does not commence prior to a certain time, which then ensures that the greenstaff can stay ahead of play
2.7f Course Marshals/Rangers One of the most effective ways of ensuring that golf is played at a good pace is to employ marshals that monitor pace of play (also known as course rangers) who are responsible for encouraging groups to play within the expected time and, importantly, helping them to enjoy their rounds as much as possible. The key to effective pace management is ensuring that any pace of play problems are spotted quickly and acted upon promptly. It is very important that course marshals are properly trained, not only in being able to spot pace of play issues and act upon them, but in how to communicate with players. Polite and friendly encouragement initially is more appropriate than stern warnings. Players can take offence at being told they need to quicken their pace, so marshals need to ensure that when they do make such requests it is entirely justified. For guidance on effective pace of play management practices and a sample pace of play spreadsheet, see Appendices E and F. 2.7g Pace of Play Chairman/Committee Appointing someone with responsibility for monitoring, educating on and improving pace of play can have a beneficial effect. If a facility has an on-going issue with pace of play and is serious about improving the situation, it makes sense to appoint someone to lead the initiative to bring about such improvement. If nothing else, it shows that the facility is taking the issue seriously, and it means there is a specific person to whom suggestions or concerns can be directed. 2.7h Referees It should almost go without saying that referees should consider it part of their role to ensure that the sport is played at a good pace. Referees should intervene to prevent potential pace of play issues, and properly enforce any pace of play policies of the competition that the Committee has introduced. Further guidance on enforcing pace of play policies, see Section 2.11 (Pace of Play Policies) and Appendix H.
2.7i On-Course Catering Facility Staff If the facility offers on-course catering, for example a half-way house or carts with food and drink, the staff need to be efficient with service so as not to delay play. Staff may also be asked to encourage groups that have been utilising the facilities for longer than necessary to continue play. In addition, if there is half-way house or the like, it is a great source of collecting pace of play data, as the staff can record when the groups arrive at that point. Related Videos

Communication with Players

Communication with players by those managing the course, e.g. receptionist, professional, starter, etc., can be a key component in ensuring a good pace of play. This communication can take various forms, as follows: 2.8a Education New members and junior golfers may need to be advised in relation to pace of play, and it should be the role of management in its various forms (club committees, teaching professionals, national associations, etc) to ensure that clear, helpful and friendly guidance on pace of play is being provided. In particular, it is considered key for golfers’ early coaching experiences to include guidance on showing consideration for others on the course, which includes playing at a good pace. 2.8b Expectations Players need to be made aware of what is expected of them in terms of pace of play. This should be done tactfully, but clearly. The expectations need to be realistic and, if possible, they should be adjusted to take account of the various factors, such as the number of players in the group, the form of play, the weather conditions on the day (play may understandably take longer in extreme weather conditions), etc.
2.8c Recommended Tees for Skill Level The tees that players select for their rounds can have a significant impact on the pace of play. If players elect to play from tees that are too difficult for their skill level, not only may their enjoyment of the round be compromised, but the pace of play may also suffer. It is helpful for players who are unfamiliar with the course to be given guidance, by a delegated member of staff, on which tees they should play from based on their skill levels. For guidance on setting up tees, see Section 3.2 (Tees). 2.8d General Guidance on the Course If players are unfamiliar with the course, then providing guidance to them before they play may be beneficial. For example, if there are holes where balls are often lost, the starter can advise players to play a provisional ball at that hole if they have hit a stray shot. If there are course boundaries or water hazards that may not be visible from the tee or the fairway, this can be communicated to players.  In addition, if there is routing on the course that may be confusing, players can be advised in advance of the direction to go to the next tee when they come off the green of the relevant hole. 2.8e Course Signage In addition to giving verbal guidance regarding the course, it helps to have well positioned, clearly worded signage. This will enable players to move more efficiently around the course, particularly when the routing is not obvious and there is the possibility of players walking in the wrong direction when leaving the green. 2.8f “Call-Up” Procedures If there are long par 3s, drivable par 4s or par 5s that are reachable in two shots, where delays often occur, those managing the course may wish to introduce a “call-up” procedure (also known as a “call-on” procedure) when waiting starts to develop on the tee of such holes. A “call-up” is where the players at the green stand aside at a safe distance once their balls are on the green to allow the players from the tee to play their tee shots. In such instances, it is important to have good signage that will ensure that players understand when such a procedure should be adopted and how it should be handled. While call up holes may not necessarily reduce the time to play, they can reduce waiting time and the associated frustration. For further guidance on introducing a “call-up” procedure, see Appendix G. 2.8g Use of On-Course Catering Facilities There should be clear and prominently displayed guidance to players as to what is expected of them in relation to utilising these facilities in terms of the time taken. If groups are inconsistent in their approach to using these services (for example, one group stops for 10 minutes at a half-way house when the guidance is to stop for no more than 5 minutes) this can have a negative impact on pace of play. 2.8h Distinguishing Between Members and Visitors A number of clubs have gathered data which shows that, generally, visitors to the course take slightly longer to play than members. This is to be expected due to visitors being unfamiliar with the course. In addition it is quite common for visitors to wish to record a stroke play score (which may be of less concern to members who play the course on a regular basis). Those administering the course should recognise that this is a common, and generally acceptable, scenario. It can set the right tone with visitors if they are made aware that certain allowances are being made for them in terms of pace of play expectations, but that they still have a responsibility to play at a reasonable pace. Equally, administrators should manage the expectations of members playing among visiting groups, and ask them to show a certain amount of patience with visitors. 2.8i Proof of Player Ability There is no suggestion that higher handicap players necessarily take longer to play than low handicap or elite level players, but there are some courses that may simply be too difficult for players of a certain ability to play. Such courses may consider it appropriate to impose a handicap limit on players playing the course. If such a policy is adopted, this needs to be clearly communicated to any visitors well in advance of them arriving at the course, and it needs to be made clear that proof of handicap will be required before visitors are permitted to play. If the facility chooses to adopt such a policy it should be strictly enforced. If not, it will cause great frustration to other players on the course when they see problems being created by players who clearly have not met the pre-determined requirement.

Deterring Slow Play

It is hoped that a group that is politely requested to improve its pace of play, whether by a course marshal, another group or a referee, will do so without the need for recourse to sanctions. However, this is not always the case, and the question administrators need to grapple with is whether any action can be taken against the player, players or group as a whole that have been the cause of the pace of play issue. Various pace of play policies, including the penalties applied for breaches of them, will be covered below, but examples of disciplinary actions that can be imposed for slow play, in breach of a Code of Conduct under Rule 1.2b, are as follows:
  • For visitors:
    • being asked to leave the course (either with or without a refund depending on the agreement made at the time of the booking)
    • being advised that future bookings will not be accepted
    • a report being sent to their home club advising of the unacceptable pace of play, or
    • a combination of the above
  • For members:
    • requiring attendance at a session on how to improve their pace of play
    • suspension from play on the course for a period of time
    • being required to play at the end of the field in competitions for a specified period of time
    • displaying the names on the club notice board of members/groups who, without good reason, have taken longer than the expected time to play
    • applying penalties under the Rule 5.6a for unreasonable delay of play, or
    • a combination of the above
It is not the purpose of this Manual to promote severe sanctions for slow play, and The R&A would only advocate sensible and tactful use of the above measures. However, particularly when a player or group has repeatedly caused pace of play issues and has failed to alter behaviour after repeated requests, it is entirely appropriate for the management of the course to take some form of disciplinary action for the benefit of the other players using the course.

Incentivising Play at a Good Pace

An alternative to applying sanctions for slow play is to incentives play at a good pace. This has been successfully implemented at some facilities and examples of incentives that have been offered to players or groups that have played within the allotted time are as follows:
  • Reduced price green fee for the next round
  • A rebate on the green fee relative to the amount of time under the allotted time that the group took to complete the round
  • A free drink at the bar, or
  • A free golf ball or other appropriate item from the professional’s shop

Pace of Play Policies

In the Rules of Golf, Rule 5.6a is the relevant Rule in relation to unreasonable delay of play. It provides that “A player must not unreasonably delay play, either when playing a hole or between two holes”.  The penalty for a first breach of Rule 5.6a is one penalty stroke and for the second breach, a general penalty (loss of hole in match play, two-stroke penalty in stroke play). If a player breaches the Rule for the third time, he or she is disqualified.  However, the Committee can set its own Pace of Play policy adopted as a Local Rule under Rule 5.6b. In practice the nature of such a policy will be dependent on the number of Committee members available to implement it. For examples of how to address the issue of pace of play, see Appendix H. It should be noted that many pace of play policies provide that the first offence has occurred only after an initial verbal warning. It is a matter for the Committee in charge of a competition or administrators at clubs, public courses or resorts to formulate their own pace of play guidelines. In practice the nature of such a policy, and the successful implementation of it, will often be dependent on the number of people available to oversee it. For example, there are an adequate number of officials at R&A Championships for it to be 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 H for an example of the full Pace of Play condition adopted at R&A championships. Obviously, it is unlikely that such a policy could be successfully adopted at club level. Therefore, if a club is having problems with pace of play, it may be necessary to formulate a simple policy 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, each player in the group is subject to penalty. As an example of this form of policy, 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 policy 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 policy 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 by other members of the group. There are a number of different pace of play policies that administrators can adopt, or adapt to the specific situation they face. Some significant success has been noted with checkpoint systems that involve each group recording time at certain points during the round on on-course time sheets. The benefit of such a policy is that it allows the group to determine whether it is in good position and it gives in the group a convenient opportunity to encourage another player or players to improve their pace. See Appendix I for an example of this policy. Identifying the most suitable pace of play policies for competitions may be a case of trial and error. It may be that a simple policy of publishing the round times for each group on a notice board provides sufficient incentive for players (particularly club members) to play at a good pace. When an effective policy is established it can enhance the enjoyment of the sport for all concerned.

Peer Review

It is often very hard for management to devote sufficient resources to administering pace of play policies or for the club to be able to employ course rangers. In such circumstances, administrators may wish to encourage players to review and critique each other’s pace of play. Some success in improving pace of play has been noted with peer review systems where each player fills out a “report” card on a fellow-player in the group.