Hugo First asks, ‘With time replacing money as the No. 1 reason players are leaving the game, how can we speed up play?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

The surest ways would be to charge for golf by the hour, or publishing the names of slow-play "perps" in newspapers, or design a 17-hole course, eliminating the 13th as a concession to superstition.

And, operation policies affect play the most. Studies show that 10- to 12-minute tee times actually allow more play than unrealistically tight intervals.

Polite golfer education in fast play and well-marked courses with visible yardage markings (i.e. vertical yardage posts, or GPS systems) reduces time spent looking for sprinkler heads and deciphering yardage books. Routing cart paths for good visibility to the fairway allows golfers to see their shots, speed shot planning, and reduces returning to the cart for different clubs.

You can't do much about traffic getting to "Gridlock Hills," other than sleeping at the clubhouse, but good design can have a cumulative effect on speed of play, from the moment you enter the front gate. The pre-round sequence of dropping off clubs, parking, paying, changing shoes, practicing and playing should be efficient, without unnecessarily re-tracing steps. For those who do retrace their steps, to use the restroom or make a last-minute purchase, locating holes 1 and 10, the practice range and putting green adjacent to the clubhouse allows golfers back to the tee "on time." Having Nos. 9 and 18 further from the clubhouse is preferable, as a longer cart ride doesn't back up play.

Opening Holes

The opening holes on each nine (with double starts) should be fairly long and easy. Short holes tend to delay golfers on their second shot, after short or topped tee shots. Water hazards, out of bounds (both with stroke and distance penalty) and par-3s and reachable par-5s early in the round also slow play, as golfers wait for the green to clear before playing.

The first par-3 should be the 4th hole or later in each nine, and the later, the better, as far as speed of play is concerned. Reachable par-5s should also be later holes, and, where possible, on the back nine rather than front nine, both for speed of play and the added advantage creating a memorable finish.

First-hole bunkering should be visually appealing from the tee and clubhouse, but be only nominally in play, generally placed well beyond fairway landing zones, outside doglegs and behind greens, etc. Wide fairways and a flattish green contouring facilitate fast play.

Where "O.B." is necessary, I also prefer a reasonable balance of out of bounds on both left and right, but I place more O.B. on the left side and, where possible, give additional room to O.B. on the right side.

Short Green-to-Tee Walks/Rides

Extended cart rides can maximize housing frontage on real-estate courses, but close greens and tees reduces time spent between holes. In fact, the hole-to-hole distance of some courses virtually precludes them from anything less than a 4-1/2-hour round. But I played Royal Melbourne (in Australia), a difficult layout high in world rankings, in 2 hours and 45 minutes, largely because the tees are close to the previous green on almost every hole.


Walking back towards play and crossing over other greens or tees while going to your next tee causes confusion, disturbance and/or delay. Similarly, double tees, while artistic, cause one group to wait for another before teeing off.

Hidden Back Tees

Many golfers play too far back, adding several shots (and minutes) per round. Hiding the back tee on early holes behind landscaping, mounds, or across a pond may fool some golfers into moving forward one set of tees.


Serious golfers will – and should – "walk to the top of the hill" to plan their shot when facing blind shots. Completely visible landing areas, green surfaces and all hazards is safer, more strategic and faster.

Avoid cross hazards.

Forced carries are daunting to many players, increasing failed shots. Given unlimited variation in shot locations and lengths, any hazards fully crossing a fairway will be in someone's landing zone. Lateral hazards (allowing golfers to putt from tee to green) don't affect average golfers as much.

Adequate Hole Spacing

Widely spaced holes (minimum 250 feet between centerlines) allow wider, faster play fairways, good buffering between holes, and reduce play (and waiting) in adjacent fairways.

A course with all of the features above will play from 15 to 90 minutes faster than one that doesn’t. It's something worth striving for!