What Happens If You're Late for Your Tee Time?

Hint: Don't be late or you might have a long wait

Two golfers waiting to tee off
The golfers missed a tee time in the 1960s ... and they are still waiting today!. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Many golf courses require (or at least urge) golfers to reserve tee times — a reservation to begin your round of golf at the specified time. But what happens when you reserve a tee time ... and then show up late? What happens when you miss that tee time?

You snooze, you lose. And if you miss that tee time, you might be waiting a long time to get onto the golf course.

A Tee Time Is a Commitment That Helps the Golf Course

When you make a tee time with a golf course, you are making an appointment to begin your round of golf at the specified time. Let's say your tee time is 10 a.m. That means:

  1. The golf course has made a promise to hold that 10 a.m. tee time for you, ensuring you can start your round at the time.
  2. And you have made a promise to the golf course that you will be there in time to begin your round at 10 a.m.

The tee time is not the time you are supposed to arrive at the golf course, but the time you are supposed to begin play. So you need to arrive early enough to be ready to tee off at your tee time.

Golf courses allot tee times in regular intervals, typically from 7-10 minutes apart, in order to keep golfers organized and moving. When golfers are late getting to the course, the course doesn't suddenly stop the process. Nobody in the pro shop is saying, "Hey, Fred has a 10 a.m. tee time but he's not here yet. Tell everyone we're going to have to wait for Fred to show up."

Nope, Fred just blew it. If your tee time is 10 a.m., and you don't show up until 10:20, you're just another golfer who is showing up without a tee time.

Courses Will Try to Fit In a Group That Misses a Tee Time ... But No Guarantees

If you miss your tee time, the golf course still will try to fit you in. But because you failed to keep your appointment you're now just another golfer waiting for a spot to open up.

And that is what it boils down to: Miss that tee time and you'll have to wait until the golf course staff sees an opening to fit you and your group into another time slot. They might be able to do that 10 minutes later, 45 minutes later, two hours later. On a very busy golf course on a very busy day, perhaps not at all.

So don't miss your tee time. If you have that 10 a.m. tee time, then get to the course in time to tee off at 10 a.m.!

What About Missing a Tournament Tee Time?

The discussion above was about tee times reserved by recreational golfers. But what if a golfer misses his or her tee time at a golf tournament? The Rules of Golf provide harsh penalties for that. Arriving late for a tournament time is covered in Rule 5.3, and you should read that rule. But the pertinent part about penalties is this:

You must start at (and not before or after) your starting time.
Penalty for Breach of Rule 5.3a: Disqualification, except in these ... cases:
Exception 1 — You Arrive at Starting Point, Ready to Play, No More Than Five Minutes Late: The general penalty is applied to your first hole.
Exception 2 — You Start No More Than Five Minutes Early: The general penalty is applied to your first hole.

Note that the general penalty means two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play; and also that there is a third exception noted. The quoted section is from the condensed Player's Edition; see Rule 5.3 in the Full Edition for the full text and much more detail.