Ready Golf: Explaining the Speedier Way to Golf

Golfer Marisa Baena swings away from the pine needles
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"Ready golf" refers to a method for golfers to speed up play. Simply put, "ready golf" means that each golfer within a group hits when ready, rather than strictly adhering to the principle that the farthest from the hole plays first.

The Rules of Golf and golf etiquette prescribe the proper way to determine hitting order on a golf course. On the tee, honors; everywhere else, the player within a group who is away (farthest from the hole) plays first.

But ready golf allows the golfers within a group to take their swings when each member of the group is ready to play. If you reach your ball and are ready to hit, while other members of your group are not yet prepared, then go ahead and hit even if you are not away.

'Ready Golf' Now Recommended in the Rule Book

In the past, a golfer who played when ready but when not farthest from the hole was considered to be "playing out of turn." This was thought of as a major violation of golf etiquette. Although there were no penalties against it during stroke play in the Official Rules of Golf, the rule book did admonish golfers who did it. (A penalty for playing out of order did exist for match play.)

If a group of golfers playing stroke play all agreed to play ready golf, however, then playing when ready (even when not farthest from the hole) was fine.

Beginning in 2017, the governing bodies began encouraging more golfers to use ready golf when playing stroke play. For example, in 2017 the R&A issued a release stating in part:

"Ready Golf features in The R&A’s Pace of Play manual as a recommended solution for tackling slow play and enables golfers to play when they are ready to do so rather than strictly adhere to ‘the farthest from the hole plays first’ requirement. ...
"Examples of Ready Golf include hitting a tee shot if the person with the honour is delayed in being ready to play, playing a shot before helping someone look for a ball and adopting continuous putting when possible."

("Continuous putting" refers to the practice of a golfer who misses a putt going ahead and holing the short, remaining putt, as opposed to marking the ball and holing out later.)

In 2019, the USGA and R&A codified this recommendation in the Official Rules of Golf, under Rule 5.6 (Unreasonable Delay; Prompt Pace of Play). Part of that rule states:

"Playing Out of Turn to Help Pace of Play. In stroke play, play “ready golf” in a safe and responsible way.
"In match play, you and your opponent may agree that one of you will play out of turn to save time."

Golfers can still observe the traditional order of play (honors on the tee, farthest from the hole plays first) when there is no rush to a round — when they are not falling behind a group ahead, and not holding up a group behind. But now, the sport's rule makers encourage golfers to play ready golf any time there is a need or desire to save time.