How Long Does It Take to Play a Round of Golf?

A view of a Rolex clock near the 1st tee box prior to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links
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A round of golf, on average, is expected to take about four hours to play for a group of four golfers. That is the estimate most golfers will give for an appropriate length of time to play 18 holes (18 holes is the length of a "standard" round of golf). But the actual time it takes to play varies for many reasons.

A single golfer on an empty golf course should be able to finish in two-and-a-half hours or less. A group of four on a very busy course, on the other hand, might need five hours or more.

Factors That Determine How Long It Takes to Play Golf

The actual time a round of golf (18 holes) takes to play depends on several factors:

  • How busy the golf course is when you and your fellow golfers arrive: The more people on the course, the more possibilities there are for groups to stack up and the pace of play to slow down.
  • How many golfers are in your group: Imagine a golf course that is empty except for your group. Now picture your group consisting of only two golfers vs. having four golfers. Which will be the faster group? The group of two, all other things being equal.
  • The skill level of golfers: A golf course full of low-handicappers should, in theory, move the round along at a quicker pace than a golf course full of high-handicappers. Why? Low-handicappers play fewer strokes.
  • How easy or difficult the golf course is: A golf course that is wide open with no rough and few hazards will play faster than a course that is tight with lots of hazards and deep rough.

Key Factor: Speed of Individual Golfers in Group

One of the biggest factors in golf's time requirement is how fast or slow each golfer is. How quickly, how briskly—or how slowly—golfers move on the course is called "pace of play." Some golfers play very quickly—they are always ready to hit when it is their turn; they stay in position and move directly from shot to shot. Others are quite slow, always discovering ways to waste time.

Don't be one of the slow golfers! Slow golfers aren't just slowing themselves down, but the golfers they are playing with and everyone else on the golf course, too.

Whether your group includes fast or slow golfers, combined with how busy the golf course is overall, play the biggest roles in how long it takes to play golf.

As for how busy the course is: If you play a regular rotation of golf courses, you'll learn over time which ones move the round along more quickly, or take longer to play; and at which times things tend to slow down.

As for individual pace of play, what it boils down to is this: When it's your turn to play, be ready to play. Part of every golfer's responsibilities on the course is to observe good golf etiquette, and part of that means maintaining a good pace of play. Don't slow down the other golfers in your group, and your group shouldn't slow down other groups following behind.

It's important for newcomers to golf to learn how to maintain a good pace of play, and for veteran golfers to help pass along those habits and other golf etiquette tips to newbies.

Easiest Way to Shorten Time It Take to Play Golf: Play Fewer Holes

There is one very easy way to reduce the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf: Play fewer holes. Everyone thinks of a "round" as 18 holes. But you aren't required to play a full 18. Short on time or just in a hurry? Play nine holes instead. Many golf courses offer reduced ​green fees for golfers who only want to play nine. Playing nine is also a great option for late afternoons when there isn't enough sunlight left to finish 18 anyway.

One of the innovations currently going on in golf course design is building courses in a way that allows golfers even more options than just nine holes or 18 holes. Some golf courses are now designed with six-hole loops so that golfers can choose to play six holes, nine, 12 or 18.