Miss it quick: 8 ways to play faster golf
A sign bearing these eight words greet members and guests by the first tee at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. Its disarming bluntness may make some outsiders think it's meant in jest, but it's entirely serious. Speedy play is a way of life at the compact oceanside course designed by Donald Ross and beloved of no-nonsense golfers like Ben Hogan. When I played Seminole in 2021, my caddie introduced himself thusly:
"Hi, I'm A.J. and we play golf in three hours and 40 minutes here."
Brevity is the soul of golf at Seminole and several other great courses, including The Old Course at St. Andrews, where daily play runs like clockwork at a pace of 3:57, with marshals who are not afraid to sternly remind golfers of their sluggishness, sometimes even shooing them away from the restroom if their group has fallen behind.
These and other golf courses don't usher players along out of some arbitrary power-trip, but because time is precious, and they and their golfers know the pleasure of an enjoyable pace of play is something to which every golfer is entitled. So they enforce it for the greater good.
Why most golfers play too slowly
I've played hundreds of golf courses in the company of thousands of other golfers over the years and feel confident in saying that the vast majority simply do not play quickly enough. But the good news is that slow play is relatively easy to fix. It comes down to two factors:
Quickly preparing to hit your shot
Hitting your shot when it is your turn
Of these two main tasks, the vast majority of slow play has to do with the first one. For the most part, golfers play slowly because they are not ready to hit when it is their turn. Here are the biggest pitfalls and how to avoid them.
Rule #1: Remember why you're on the course in the first place
Golf is undeniably a social game that provides a great platform for spending time with others and getting to know them. But there are limits to the amount of conversation that a round of golf should entail. If the slowpokes in front of you are keeping you from getting anywhere, that's one thing, but some shaggy-dog stories are best told either on the putting green beforehand or in the bar afterward. Just use your best judgment and if you find yourself standing on a tee box listening to your buddy's latest poker bad-beat in excruciating detail, you might want to interject, "Okay, I'll go ahead and hit" to get the message across politely.
Rule #2: Pick it up by picking up
One way to play faster is to play a match within your group...as long as you understand that you're not competing for the U.S. Open out there. Most competitive formats enable golfers to pick up when they're out of a hole, so there's no need to grind over a four-footer if it's for an 8. Stableford is a great format, too, because it usually includes a maximum-score component. My typical home game awards 0 points for double-bogeys and worse, so players just pick up after they're out of a hole. It helps things move along.
Rule #3: No zigzagging
For the most part, golfers are awful at sharing a cart. If I had a dollar for every time I've seen a cart stop for one rider, then move 10 yards forward to go to the other rider's ball, I'd own my own course. In the majority of cases, when the cart arrives at the first player's shot, the second player should be going off in search of his or her own ball, either in the cart or on foot. And when that happens...
Rule #4: Never leave empty-handed
Even if your cart is 50 yards away from your ball, you should never set off to assess your shot while others are hitting without grabbing a couple of clubs. If you're not sure exactly how far you are, make your best guess and grab two or three clubs you might need. In a worst-case scenario, you misjudge things and need to grab the right club when your cart-partner arrives. But far more often than not, one of the clubs you took from your bag will be the right one for your shot, and you'll be able to play much sooner. No need to stand like a statue behind your ball and hold up your group and the one behind while your buddy drives over to you.
Rule #5: Switch smart
Say you've just hit your shot from the fairway onto the green. Instead of walking around the back of your cart to put your club away, just bring it with you into the cart so that you can clear the landing area sooner. Then, when you get greenside, that's when you put your club away and take out your putter. Think of it as golf's equivalent of the saying "Measure twice, cut once." Speaking of being greenside...
Rule #6: Keep driving!
Another huge pace-of-play mistake most riding golfers make has to do with cart placement around greens. As a general rule, you should endeavor to park behind the back of the green of the hole you're playing, rather than to the side of it (and definitely not in front of it), whenever possible. That way, any group behind you won't need to wait as long for you to put your clubs away and then drive around the green and out of the way. When in doubt, drive your cart farther than you think you need to around the greens. It can save the better part of a minute, which adds up quickly over 18 holes. If the next tee is nearby, just go all the way there, rather than having to move your cart 20 or 30 yards from green to tee. And for goodness' sakes, write down your scores at the next tee box, not by the green.
Following these five rules alone will save you tons of time every round, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual process of playing a shot. But if you want to speed up your own personal pace of play, here are some helpful tips.
Rule #7: Practice (swing) with purpose
One of the "secrets" that experienced and low-handicap golfers learn over time is that a great deal of the success or failure of a particular shot hinges on what happens before the golfer even takes the club back. Having an efficient and effective pre-shot routine is as important as any swing mechanics tip you will ever receive. Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy is one of the faster players in pro golf, and his efficient pre-shot routine is part of his secret to success. Check out this segment from Ask Rory, where Rory helps Today anchor Craig Melvin with his pre-shot routine.
Rule #8: Stay loose
Watch just about any professional golfer and you;ll notice that they spend almost no time over the ball standing still. Everyone has their own system of waggles, shifts and little trigger motions to tell themselves, instinctively, that it's time to start the golf swing. Many golfers who stand utterly still for any amount of time over the ball do it for far too long. This invites tension and as a longtime pro and assistant coach on my college team said to me, "Tension is the enemy."
That same wise pro had another phrase for those on our team who took too long to play: "Miss it quick!"