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We all break this rule routinely – so is it time we started getting punished?

You’re all guilty of it, and so are we – but Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin have very different opinions on our lax attitude to tee times

 

It’s one of the Rules of Golf you have almost certainly broken on a routine basis. It doesn’t matter what the watch says, if golfers reckon the group in front are far enough ahead, they’ll tee off and get their rounds under way.

But starting times for competitions are used for a reason, and sticking to them can be a key part of making sure there are no early traffic jams on the course.

Does your club enforce it, though? And did you know there is a pretty stiff penalty for those caught transgressing?

While most players won’t face the harshest sanction – disqualification for those who get going more than five minutes ahead of their scheduled starting time – there is still the general penalty applied to the first hole (two-shots or loss of hole in match play) under Rule 5.3a for groups that try and shave a couple of minutes off the official number.

The R&A’s Pace of Play manual, which offers a whole host of recommendations to help clubs and tournament officials keep the game moving, says that one group – and even one player – can “create issues for all of the other players on the course by demonstrating poor pace of play”.

Groups that ignore their watch can cause holes to become overcrowded with times needing to be “sufficiently wide for there to be any chance of achieving good pace of play and flow around the course”.

On an episode of the From the Clubhouse podcast, I zeroed in on tee times after my co-host Tom Irwin noted: “If I’m booked 10 minutes after you, the truth is I’m going as soon as you’re 300 yards away.”

golf tee times

It was a statement that left me, someone who has passed the R&A’s Level 3 Rules of Golf exam, incredulous and asking whether there were players who felt breaking some rules was more acceptable than others.

“This is one of the Rules of Golf that everyone ignores,” I explained. “If you tee off before you’re starting time, you get penalised. It’s a two-shot penalty.

“Now, it’s difficult because it needs a starter to enforce it – and who’s got volunteers who are going to do that on an average club medal?

“But if you started penalising golfers two shots because they’ve gone off two minutes early, it would soon stop it.”

Tom said: “No one’s doing it because it would just be absolute uproar.”

But I retorted: “Why? If you take the Rules of Golf as the standard, what’s the difference between teeing off early and dropping a ball out of your pocket? In each case, you’ve broken a rule.”

What do you think? Should golf tee times at clubs be more rigorously enforced or is it a futile exercise given what would be needed to carry it out effectively? Tweet us and let us know.

Now listen to the From the Clubhouse podcast on pace of play and golf tee times

You can listen in the player below, or click the button to be taken directly to your preferred podcast platform.

More podcasts from National Club Golfer

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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