Shotgun Start in Golf

Take your Position: What is a Shotgun Start in Golf?

In golf most there are two main ways to start a tournament round – a rolling start or a shotgun start.

A rolling start is much more traditional and based on a tee time system. While a shotgun start is when all golfers begin the round at the same time but start on different holes.

Each type of format has their own pros and cons which we’ll cover today. 

Shotgun Start Golf 

If you’ve ever played golf in a charity tournament, you have probably played in a shotgun start. Most golfers are familiar with a tee-time system where you tee off at a certain time.

But a shotgun start system originally started in 1956 when Jim Russel – the head pro at Walla Walla Country Club fired a shotgun to start the day. This changed the way a golf tournament begins and is now quite common in the sport.

Key Takeaways

  • A rolling start where players have a set a tee time. With a shotgun style event all players tee off at the same time on different holes throughout the golf course.
  • Shotgun starts are more common with amateur events than professional golf.
  • LIV Golf is the first professional golf tour to have shotgun starts which have been highly criticized by the golf community. 

Keep reading to learn more about these types of events and how they might affect your performance on the course. 

Traditional Starting Times

The first way to begin a tournament is known as a rolling start where golfers are paired together at random to play at a specific tee time. Most tee times are spaced out between 8 and 11 minutes to ensure a proper pace of play

If the tournament is a multiple day event, pairings are often regrouped the following day or after a cut based on results. The better you score on the first day(s), the later you tee off on the final day. This is how the PGA Tour runs their events with the leaders of the event always teeing off last on the final day. 

What you can learn from watching the pros

When there is a bigger field groups might also have a split tee start. This is when half the field starts on the 1st hole and the other half on the 10th hole. If it’s a multiple day event it’s common to start one day on the first hole and the other day on the 10th hole. 

There is also a “wave” system for each day to ensure everyone plays each round at the same time of day (to account for different weather conditions). For example, in a 4-day tournament (like the PGA Tour) players have a morning tee time one day and afternoon tee time the other day. One day they’ll start on hole 1, the other day they’ll start on hole 10. 

After two days a cut is made and during the weekend final two rounds all players tee off from the first hole. The only exception is if they have a potential weather delay and send golfers off both 1 and 10. In this example the top half of the field would go off the first hole to finish on hole 18. 

Pros of Starting Times

With a traditional tee sheet start it’s much easier to warm up than a shotgun start format. Since players are on the golf course at different times it means fewer golfers trying to use the practice area.

Second, it’s easier to get to the 1st and 10th hole as they’re generally near the clubhouse. Plus, there’s less confusion on who’s starting on what hole.

Finally, as a golf fan it makes for better TV in my experience as the final groups all have to play the same closing stretch of holes.

Cons of Starting Times

The biggest disadvantage of starting times is that players can get vastly different weather when tee times are several hours apart. For example, sometimes the first group out can get perfect weather for the full round. While the later times can get awful weather in the afternoon (or vice versa).

Unfortunately, this happens all too often in major championships. Sometimes players get a bad draw and it might make the difference between winning and losing (or even making the cut).

Golf Scramble Rules

Shotgun Start 

The second format is known as a shotgun start. This is where all players in a tournament tee off at the same time but on different holes.

For example, you might get your tournament time to learn you’re starting on hole #12 at 7am when everyone else tees off. Some groups will get the benefit of starting on hole 1 and 10, which makes it feel like a normal round. While others will start on random holes which can take some getting used too.

Shotgun starts in golf are more commonly associated with amateur golf events, not professional golf tournaments. There were a few exceptions over the years when the European Tour ran a shotgun tournament format on the final day due to weather. But in general this starting format is not used in professional golf…

That is until LIV made a splash in the golf world in 2022 with their slogan, “Golf but louder.” Not to mention, a very different format – including no cuts.

With LIV, it’s the same 54 players and they only play three days (54 holes) using a shotgun start format. This style of play began at the Centurion Club in June 2022.

Their reasoning for using a shotgun start is that it:

  • Makes golf more exciting for fans.
  • Allows all golfers to tee off at the same time in the same weather conditions for a “fair” playing field. 

As they said on their website, “Shotgun starts: Action everywhere from the very first moment.” 

In multi-day tournaments using a shotgun format the lower the scores, the lower the starting hole. With the leaders teeing off on the first hole like a normal tournament round. 

Pros of Shotgun Start Tournaments

Shotgun starts have some advantages even though a percentage of the golf population doesn’t favor these types of events. 

First, this format is great for scrambles and charity events as everyone starts and ends at nearly the same times. This makes it easier to make pre-round announcements and have awards/food after the round. 

Second, it’s easier for the tournament organizer to get the results together after the round. It’s also easier if there is a playoff.

Horse Race in Golf

Cons of Shotgun Start Tournaments

While there are some advantages, it’s not a perfect system either. 

First off it’s mentally challenging sometimes to start on a different hole like #4 or #17. I wish I could explain why but it takes some getting used to.

Second, you might get stuck on a really hard starting hole – like the #1 or #2 handicap. In general, most golf courses don’t have the hardest hole to begin with on either nine so this can lead to a tough start.

Third, as a fan it’s hard to anticipate a LIV Golf finish. For example, in a standard format you know that the final groups still have the same few holes to play. And get used to anticipating drama on the final few closing holes – especially at courses like TPC Sawgrass where anything can happen.

But with a shotgun format golfers are all over the course and might finish on an easy or hard stretch. It doesn’t always make for the best viewing finish in my opinion. 

Finally, as a golfer playing in a shotgun start it’s a little stressful before and after the round. Before the round every golfer is trying to register, putt, and hit golf balls on the driving range at the same time. This can lead to a poor warm-up that might affect your game. 

FAQs About Shotgun Start Golf Tournaments

Do you have more questions about golf tournaments? If so, keep reading through our most frequently asked questions and answers now. 

What is a shotgun start in golf?

A shotgun start in golf is when all players in a tournament tee off simultaneously on different holes. In most events players tee off on #1 and sometimes #10 as well – especially with a bigger field. 

With a shotgun start has every golfer starting on different holes… which means you could start on a random hole like #3 or #14. This is a big change for a lot of golfers and one of the reasons it was such a big deal when LIV used this format. 

How many golfers can play with a shotgun start?

In general the most that can play are 18 foursomes – 72 golfers. But sometimes they’ll have two groups per hole (or on some oles) to avoid a double shotgun start. This means some groups will be a “B” group and be the second group to tee off.

Why is it called a shotgun start?

Because every golfer starts on their designated holes at the same time. There is no formal tee sheet and the shotgun signifies that it’s time for everyone to tee off. This started in the 1950s and is now common for tournament organizers to blast a shotgun to begin the event.

How long does an 18-hole shotgun start take?

It depends on how many players are in a shotgun start tournament. If you only have threesomes and 18 groups (like LIV Golf) it will play pretty fast in general.

What is a double shotgun start?

A double shotgun start is when you have too many golfers for one round – even with four golfers per group. In this event you might have a 7am and 1pm shotgun start to accommodate all the players.

What is a reverse shotgun start?

A reverse shotgun start tournament is when the best players start on 18, then proceed to #17, #16, etc. As Leaderboard.com said, “This is a variation of a Shotgun Start that applies when the tournament has fewer than eighteen foursomes. The motivation for using a Reverse Shotgun is to clear Hole 1 as quickly as possible so the course starter can run out regular customers and make more money.”

Competition Golf 1

My Experience 

I’ve played in hundreds of amateur golf tournaments over the years but a majority of them don’t use a shotgun style. Most events have a rolling start which is generally a better format in my opinion – especially for competitive events. But some events like a Chapman or Stableford might use a shotgun start.

A shotgun start is challenging because everyone in the tournament is starting at the same time. This means that every golfer in the event is also trying to use the driving range and putting green at the same time as well. Needless to say, it’s hard to find a spot on the range sometimes and might affect your pre-round routine.

If you are playing in a shotgun style event make sure to arrive plenty early before the start time. This way you can get there early enough for more practice and hopefully not be rushed before teeing off. 

Final Thoughts on Shotgun Start in Golf

This type of golf tournament has both its pros and cons for tournament organizers and players. If you get a good starting hole, it doesn’t make much of a difference. But if you get a tough starting hole, it can make the day more challenging.

If you have a shotgun start in golf make sure to always get there early as it’s very busy before the round with everyone going off at the same time.