With one exception, the Rules of Golf published by the U.S. Golf Association doesn’t specify a time limit in which a golfer must play a shot. The rules make it clear, however, that slow play is discouraged. They permit individual tournament committees to set more specific regulations to encourage a reasonable rate of play.
Rule 6-7 states that a golfer must play a shot “without undue delay.” The same rule applies to players who’ve just completed a hole (other than the 18th), stating that they must proceed to the next tee to continue their round and not “unduly delay play.” Rule 6-7 also allows a tournament committee to set its own standards to discourage slow play. Pursuant to Note 2 to Rule 6-7, a committee’s regulations may limit the time in which a golfer must complete a round, a hole or a stroke. The penalty for violating Rule 6-7 is the loss of the hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play.
Under Rule 16-2, if any part of the ball overhangs the lip of the hole, the golfer is given “enough time to reach the hole,” then must play the ball within 10 seconds. Should the ball fall into the hole after the 10-second period, the player is assessed a 1-stroke penalty. If the ball remains on the edge of the cup without dropping into the hole, there is no penalty, even if the player waits more than 10 seconds to take his shot.
Even accidental delays in playing a shot may incur a penalty. Under USGA Decision 6-7/1, if a player preparing to putt discovers that he left his putter at the tee area, then returns to retrieve the putter, she’ll be penalized for undue delay. Likewise, according to Decision 6-7/2, a player is penalized for undue delay if he searches for a lost ball for more than the five minutes permitted under Rule 27-1.
Amateurs vs. Pros
In 2011, golf teacher Peter Kostis performed a study for “Golf” magazine comparing how much time professionals and amateurs took to play their shots. Kostis and his crew timed players from the moment they reached the ball until the shot was played. PGA Tour pros at the Arnold Palmer Invitational took an average total of 107 seconds -- using an average of 4.19 strokes -- to play the 458-yard 18th hole at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida. Amateurs playing the 464-yard 18th hole at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, North Carolina, took just 90 seconds in total, but they required an average of 4.73 strokes to finish the hole.