15 ways to be a faster golfer
I hate slow play. Ever since I was a caddie picking up the range at the Country Club of New Canaan in Connecticut, I learned to play fast—because playing fast meant getting more holes in after the range was picked. Play fast, and you’ll make fast friends on the course.
To be clear, a quick pace does not mean you should rush your shots or run to your ball. We all enjoy golf for its social elements, plus giving each shot an appropriate amount of attention is crucial to playing well. But over four decades of playing the game, both walking and in carts, I’ve observed and developed some best practices to keep the game moving faster, making the four-hour round an easy mark to break with regularity. Aside from the obvious (hitting when it’s your turn and grabbing a handful of clubs when it’s cart-path only), we’ll all be faster players if we abide by the below.
Leave the driver headcover in the car
Taking the headcover on and off on every tee box is a time suck. You’re not really protecting anything—take it from the equipment editor of Golf Digest. The driver sits well above your irons, and your fairways and hybrids have covers, so you’re good. I’ve gone without a driver headcover forever and my driver is never dinged and certainly never busted. Put it back on before you shove the clubs in the trunk—that’s it.
Next person to tee off? You better be ready
If you have the honor, don’t screw around. And if you’re not first, having your club and ball/tee ready to go puts you several seconds in front of the loser that’s fumbling around for a tee when it’s their turn to hit. As soon as the ball is in the air, make your move to where you are going to tee off from, obviously having taken the opportunity to decide in advance what side is best to hit from.
Limit the practice swings
“Gee, wish my regular swing was like my practice swing,” is a common refrain from weekend hackers. Well, then don’t take a practice swing. If you can't change your routine, limit yourself to one. Any more than that is not only not helpful to pace of play, it’s highly annoying.
If you’re walking, place the bag on your shoulder before the last player hits; if riding, be at the cart
How often do you see players milling about the tee box while the last player hits? What are you doing? If you’re hoofing, have the bag saddled up. If you’re riding, be at the cart. You can just as easily say, “good shot,” from there as you can from close range.
Watch other players’ tee shots
While you have the bag on your shoulder or are standing by the cart, make sure to keep an eye on your playing companions’ tee shots. Lord knows many don’t watch their own. Not many things slow down play more than the proverbial, “Hey, anyone see where that went?”
Hit a provisional
If there is any likelihood your ball is lost or out of bounds, for goodness sake’s, reload. It takes but a few seconds, and if your ball is lost, it saves a ton of time when you have to do the walk of shame. Plus, I’ve noticed over the years that players are more willing to give up the search if they have another ball in play rather than staring at an X on the card.
While it’s someone else’s turn, figure out your yardage and be ready to play
Part of being ready is knowing the number to the pin. That means sizing up the shot, getting the yardage and being ready to play. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit and then watched as my playing companion hits the trees behind the green three or four times before locking in on the flagstick. Get this task out of the way. Pro move: Feel free to tell nearby players what you got. It will save them the time of shooting it themselves.
Yes, there’s an efficient way to clean your clubs
We’re all for having clean clubs, but there’s a time-efficient way to do it. If you’re in a cart, pull up to your partner’s ball, and wipe off your club while they’re prepping to hit. If walking, hold the club and wipe it while you’re walking. It’s pretty simple—but we’d bet you could pick up the pace in this category.
On par 3s on a course you play all the time, skip the rangefinder
“Uh, I got 178 pin.” No kidding, genius. If you play a course enough, you can figure out whether it’s a 5- or 6-iron. And if you’re going to tell me the pin placement matters, get lost. You’re Bill Hogan, not Ben Hogan and you don’t dial in yardages like that. Unless you’re hitting to a green like the ninth at Yale Golf Club, which has a green stretching about 100 feet front to back, just eyeball it and pull a club.
Place your bag in a spot near the walk to the next tee
It absolutely is maddening to watch someone hit their ball on the front of the green, place their bag short of the green and then putt, watch everyone else putt and then walk all the back to retrieve their bag. Have some awareness. After your first putt, mark your ball (or finish out) and go get your bag and bring it to where you are headed next. And yes, you can do this without bothering the other players in the group.
On the greens, line up your putt while others are putting
Stop wasting time while others are on the green. From the moment you mark your ball you should start to calculate the line and speed. You even have time to look from the other side (if you must). Then, once that’s accomplished, when you’re on deck, start putting your ball down and lifting your mark once the other person’s ball is on its way. Anyone that does anything else deserves a lifetime of three-jacking.
Do not mark a two-footer
Ever. And major demerits if you not only do this, but align the line to the hole just so when replacing the ball. Unless there is major cash or a club championship on the line just sweep it in. You’ll probably make more of them.
Stop writing down scores after you exit the green
Be courteous and think of others. Get to the next tee and do it either before or after you hit. Sitting in your cart beside the green trying to figure out if you made 6 or 7 is an amateur move.
Move away from the 18th green
We’ve all been waiting in the 18th fairway, furious that the group ahead is busy shaking hands, putting all their belongings away, tallying scores or whatever they’re wasting time with. Again, please be courteous and pull away from the green to allow play to continue.
Tips for playing with a caddie
We love taking caddies any chance we can. When you do, resist the urge to have them coach you through every shot and read every putt. If you have a looper who's being overly coachy from the start, tell them, 'Hey, I don't take this too seriously ... you can give the rest of the group the pointers.' A few ways to speed up play when your caddie's double-bagging: When you miss your approach shot, grab a wedge or two and take it with you—rather than waiting for them to meet you at your ball. If your other competitor is struggling, let your caddie stay with them and grab a handful of clubs. It will make the experience better for you—and the caddie.