Rules of Golf 101
Rules of Golf Review: How long can you take to hit a shot?
We all know that guy. He's the one that never gets out of the cart until it's his turn to hit. The one who doesn't pull a club while waiting. The one who takes four practice swings. The one who stands over the ball for so long, moss starts to grow on his north side.
Setting aside the utter frustration and annoyance you might feel over a slow player, if you're wondering if the Rules of Golf has anything to say about how long it should take to play a shot—it does.
Rule 5.6 addresses unreasonable delay and prompt pace of play during a round. Penalties progress from one stroke to disqualification for someone who unreasonably delays play. What's considered unreasonable? Some examples: Unless you can race back, going from the green to the tee to retrieve a misplaced club is likely grounds for a stroke penalty. If you continue a lengthy search for a lost ball after the three-minute limit expires, you also can expect a penalty. And forget going into the clubhouse to eat lunch at the turn (though it's OK to stop briefly for food, drinks, bathroom, etc).
Interestingly, there are some provisions for unusual occurrences. What happens if you're plonked by a golf ball, twist an ankle or get stung by a bee? The recommendation is that you should get 15 minutes to recover before the delay is considered unreasonable.
If you’ve watched any spring training for Major League Baseball lately, you know about the new pitch clock that’s in place to prevent long waits between pitches. There’s been some chatter on social media about whether that should come to pro golf or not. While we’re not advocating a formal digital display getting set up on the PGA or LPGA Tour, there is a “shot clock” of sorts built in to the Rules. The amount of time recommended when it's your turn to hit is generally no more than 40 seconds to make a stroke—and even that is considered abnormal. Unfortunately, this is a rule that most often doesn't come with consequences should you violate it.
Unless you're playing in an event where the committee has adopted a Local Rule on pace of play—which is highly recommended—there is no penalty for a breach of Rule 5.6. The thinking is that it would be very difficult to implement a 40-second shot clock during a normal round. When does the clock start? Who is responsible for monitoring it? What if there's even the slightest chance to hit into another group when it's your turn to play? You get it. This rule is more gray than winter in Seattle.
That being said, a course could set a time limit on anything from a round to a particular hole to an individual stroke, and set penalties for not following the policy (Rule 5.6b(3)). And don't forget, it's always smart to play "ready golf" in stroke play (playing out of turn to save time). In match play, it's also legal to play out of turn if both sides agree from shot to shot.
None of this is likely satisfying if you have the guy at the start of this article in your group—or worse—in the group ahead of you. But if you're out of options for what to do about it, maybe holding up a big "40 seconds" sign when it's that person's turn would make you feel better.