Understanding the Shotgun Start in Golf Tournaments

Golf tournaments have different formats, but the most common one is a stroke play tournament in which the player who has the least strokes at the end of the round wins.

In these types of tournaments, players tee off (start) at different times based on their rankings or how they played the day before.

A shotgun start, however, is a format in which all players tee off at the same time. They are only allowed to play as fast as they can and those who finish early will wait for their slower peers to catch up (instead of waiting out on a practice range).

With a shotgun start, there is no reason to waste time waiting for slow players, which makes the whole process more efficient.

What is a shotgun start in golf

The shotgun start, also known as the time-gun start or silent 20 , takes place on the first tee. All players are given an equal amount of time to play from that point. Typically you'll get three minutes.

A player's allotted time begins when he hits his drive off the ground and ends when his ball comes to rest.

Why the shotgun start was created

There are two main reasons they've been implemented: To keep players from taking too long between shots and competitive advantage.

Allowing a player extra time to hit a shot isn't exactly fair, but if you play from the same tee time then it's essentially just part of the game.

What's the benefit of a shotgun start

The biggest benefit is that it speeds up play and keeps everyone honest. It also makes those long days on the golf course less grueling.

Players will still have time to enjoy themselves as they make their way through an 18 hole round or during skins games, but there will be less standing around time because it takes away the excuse of "I need more time to line up my putt."

If you're the last one on the tee, then there are no excuses for taking too long. Your three minutes start when your fellow competitors hit their drives and stops when they've holed out.

The shotgun start in action

You'll see the start implemented in tournaments on the first tee. In a typical tournament, players are spread out over two hours, but everyone tees off at once for the shotgun start.

The main advantage is that it reduces extra downtime and speeds up play. It also makes tournaments easier to manage because there's less waiting around for golfers who are running late.

How does the shotgun start work

It can occasionally be confusing because it's not exactly clear when your time starts and stops, but you're given a 3-minute allotment to play from the first tee.

Once you hit your drive off the ground, that's when your clock starts. However if another player hits their drive before you, your clock stops. When your ball comes to rest that's when the clock starts again.

That seems like it gives players an incentive to try and hurry up or rush through a hole ,but there are officials who are watching for slow play and they'll enforce penalties if necessary.

A typical 3 minute allotment might look like this:

Player one hits their drive off the tee.

Player two hits their drive off the tee before player one.

Player one's clock is stopped and starts when they hit their ball out of a hazard or onto the green.

Player two's clock stops when they reach the green, but it starts again when they putt out.

Player one hits their ball onto the green.

Player two strokes their putt and misses, but player one hits their layup before player two's time starts. (Player three follows behind.)

The takeaway:

Playing in a shotgun start tournament typically requires quick thinking and fast reflexes . You have to be ready to hit your drive off the tee once another player hits their drive.

If you're slow and you wait for a slower competitor, then you'll be the one penalized if your time runs out before they hit their shot off the tee .

It also requires that you trust the other players to have similar respect for each other's time. If someone takes too long between shots, then the penalty will typically fall on them .

Drawbacks of a shotgun start in golf

The biggest drawback is that it adds a lot of pressure to an already stressful situation.

It's not only important to focus on hitting your drive straight, but you have to be ready for other golfers' drives as well.

If someone hits their drive and you're not ready to hit yours, then you'll be penalized .

That makes it a bit more difficult for golfers who are just learning the game or taking part in a competition that's new. The shotgun start was designed with experienced players in mind.

Are shotgun start tournaments appealing?

They're not exactly as appealing as your typical 3-day golf tournament, but they're a lot more exciting in the sense that you don't have to wait around for slowpokes to catch up.

Do I prefer shotgun start tournaments?

I actually like them better than regular tournaments because it keeps everyone honest and speeds up play. Plus, we've been conditioned to believe that the first person to tee off is going to have a better shot than those who come after them, so it sort of negates that advantage.

When it was created and where to find more info

As far as I can tell, the shotgun start was created in 1929 at The Masters. It's still used to this day for that tournament and others around the world .


If you're interested in golf and are thinking about playing in a tournament, then consider the shotgun start.  

Don't be intimidated because it's definitely not as easy as it sounds. I was worried at first that it would turn into a free-for-all and people wouldn't respect each other's time, but that hasn't been my experience.

The shotgun start gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of when you play your shot, so it's not all that stressful or time-consuming.   In fact, the times are clearly posted and officials watching for slowpokes make it easier to stay on schedule .

That said, if you're looking forward to relaxing with a round of golf with a few buddies, then it might not be the best idea.  It's really designed for tournament play where you're trying to win rather than getting exercise or having fun.

If that's your goal, then give the shotgun start a try and see how you like it!

I'd love to hear from other pro golfers who have experience participating in shotgun start tournaments.


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