Is There a Time Limit for Playing a Stroke or Round of Golf?

Shadows of golfers over golf ball next to hole
Paul Burns / Getty Images

What do the Rules of Golf say about time limits for playing a stroke or completing a round of golf?

In past editions of the Rules of Golf, the USGA and R&A didn't have much concrete to say about these topics, other than that a player may not "unduly delay" play.

In the edition of the Rules of Golf that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, however, the governing bodies get more specific about how golfers use our time on the course.

40 Seconds to Play a Stroke

In the preamble to Rule 5 (Playing the Round), the governing bodies to make a suggestion:

"When it is a player’s turn to play, it is recommended that he or she make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually more quickly than that."

Golf Meant to Be Played 'Promptly'

Also in the Rule 5 preamble, the Rules state this:

"Play continuously and at a prompt pace during each hole until the round is completed."

Rule 5-6 (Unreasonable Delay; Prompt Pace of Play) gets into specifics. "A player must not unreasonably delay play, either when playing a hole or between two holes," the rules state. Doing so results in a one-stroke penalty; doing so a second time, a two-stroke penalty; doing so a third time, disqualification. (See Rule 5 for the full details).

And under the heading, "Prompt Pace of Play," the rules state "(e)ach player should recognize that his or her pace of play is likely to affect how long it will take other players to play their rounds, including both those in the player’s own group and those in following groups," and encourages golfers to allow faster groups to play through.

When it is a player's turn to play, the rules say:

It is recommended that the player make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds after he or she is (or should be) able to play without interference or distraction, and
The player should usually be able to play more quickly than that and is encouraged to do so.

The rule book now specifically grants golfers the right to play out of order to speed up play (playing "ready golf").

Note that golf courses may impose pace-of-play guidelines at their discretion, and if they do it is the responsibility of the golfers to keep up with those guidelines.

There are some specific time limits in the rules, however. For example, you have three minutes to search for a ball before you must take the lost-ball penalty; if a putt hangs on the lip of the cup, you have 10 seconds following your walk to the cup to wait for it to fall.

For more on tour policies, see our FAQ about the PGA Tour's slow play policy and penalties.