What is a Shotgun Start in Golf?

golf carts lined up for shotgun start

In golf, sometimes it’s essential for the players in a tournament to finish their games around the same time. This usually happens if there’s a dinner and a prize ceremony after the competition.

With a shotgun start, all the players in the competition start their games simultaneously. However, each group must start their round at a different hole for this to work.

A shotgun start in golf is an effective way to get everyone in the field to finish around the same time. The theory is that if everyone starts at the same time, they’ll finish at (or around) the same time.

How Does a Shotgun Start in Golf Work?

For a shotgun start in golf to work, every group must start at the same time but on different holes. For instance, if it’s a 7 am shotgun start, every foursome in the tournament will start at 7 am.

Group one will start on the first tee, group two on the second, and so on. That way, every player in the competition should finish around the same time.

With a shotgun start, you can expect to play the course in a different order. For example, if you start your round on the sixth tee, you’ll finish your round on the fifth green. You’ll play 6-18 and then 1-5.

Benefits of a Shotgun Start in Golf

A shotgun start in golf is a great way to finish a tournament quickly. Instead of everyone teeing off on the first at different times, which can take many hours if there’s a large field, the players start at the same time.

Finishing the competition in a shorter timeframe is the best thing about that. It can be over in four or five hours, about the length of time it takes to play a round of golf, instead of taking all day long.

That format can benefit competitions held in the late afternoon or on shorter winter days. All the players still play 18 holes, but the entire match is over in the time it takes the slowest group to play 18 holes.

Another good thing about a shotgun start in golf is that you generally don’t have to wait for players in front of you. As everyone starts at a different hole, there’s a one-hole gap between each group.

If every group keeps roughly the same pace of play, your group won’t catch the group in front. Also, the group behind you won’t catch up with you.

Therefore, you won’t have to wait for players to clear the fairways or greens before you can hit your shots. Also, you don’t have to rush your game to try and stay ahead of the group behind.

How Did a Shotgun Start Get Its Name?

As we’ve said, a shotgun start means every group starts at a different hole on the course. Golf courses cover large areas of land, so players need a way to know when to start.

Therefore, a shotgun is fired to let the foursomes know when to start. That’s how it started, anyway.

The first known use of a shotgun start was in May 1956. In Walla Walla Country Club, WA, head professional Jim Russell fired a shotgun to sound the start of play. When players waiting on different tees heard the shot, they knew it was time to start.

Of course, now the club pro doesn’t fire a shotgun to kick off a tournament in this format. Instead, depending on the tournament, an official will more likely sound an air horn to let players know it’s time to start.

In club competitions, you’ll likely just check your watch and tee off at the designated time. So, don’t expect to hear a shotgun blast the next time you’ve got a shotgun start in golf.

What is a Double Shotgun Start in Golf?

A double shotgun start in golf is when there are two different starting times during the day. This format is used when the tournament field is too large to accommodate a single tee time for a shotgun start.

Let’s say there are 144 players in a tournament, and the golf club must do a shotgun start. The maximum number of players for a single tee time shotgun start is 72. That’s four players per group starting on 18 separate holes.

So, the club must arrange a double shotgun start to accommodate the 144 players. The field of players is split into two sections.

The first 72 will play in the morning; usually, a 7 am shotgun start. Then, the second group will play in the afternoon, likely with a noon shotgun start. That gives the morning players time to clear the course before the latter groups begin.

Shotgun Start vs. Tee Times

We’ve established how a shotgun start in golf gets all the players to start simultaneously but on different holes. Now, let’s compare that to regular tee times.

For tee times, everyone starts on the first hole, and there’s a timesheet for the competition. So, everyone plays the course in its natural order from 1 to 18.

Players are assigned specific tee times throughout the day. The timesheet lets everyone know at what time they’ll tee off.

Say you and your buddy are playing in a tournament but in different groups. Your buddy might have an 8 am tee time while you have a 9 am tee time. You’ll both start on the first hole at your designated tee time, with your buddy finishing the round before you.

Tee times are usually at least 10 minutes apart, allowing the group ahead to get far enough down the fairway so that the group behind can start. In theory, that should keep the pace of play steady.

Conclusion

That’s everything you need to know about a shotgun start in golf. You won’t expect to start at the first hole when you play in a competition using a shotgun start.

The first time you play a shotgun start may throw you off your game a little. Golfers usually aren’t used to playing their home course in a different order.

Try to concentrate on the hole you start on and forget that it feels odd. Visualize the strategy you always have for that particular hole and try to execute it, even if you’re not used to it being your first tee shot of the day.

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Joe Morelli

Joe's been playing golf for 25 years, starting as a junior golfer in his early teens. He loves getting out on the links with his dad and friends -- whether an early weekend foursome or his weekday, afternoon league.