First Time Series: Speed Golf - MASSGOLF

My First Experience With Speed Golf Was One Of The Toughest Races I’ve Ever Run

By Steve Derderian

If we’ve learned anything about golf in the past three years, it’s that there are countless ways to play the game and get people involved so they can enjoy it. Something that stands out about golf is firsts. We remember our first round of golf, the first time you made a birdie or a hole in one (still waiting on that one), or the first time you played a round of golf with a twist. That last part is something I’ll be exploring in this new series: playing golf in ways that I haven’t personally tried before and seeing how it compares to the traditional rounds. If you have any suggestions, please share them with me:


Standing on the first tee with players watching behind you is enough to make anybody from a scratch to a high handicapper like myself nervous. But on Wednesday, there was no time to think over the ball. I had 18 holes of golf and a whole lot of running ahead of me.

You may have heard of golf sprints for charity where golfers raise money and try to play as many holes as possible in a fixed amount of time. Golf Channel once aired a reality show competition called Altered Course featuring golfers who compete in timed golf challenges. Given my proclivity for running — I was a Division III cross country & track runner at Ithaca College — I found myself wondering how quickly I could complete 18-holes of a full-sized golf course.

With the 127th running of the Boston Marathon coming up this Monday (an event I’ve yet to participate in), I thought what better way to kick off this series than by mixing the two sports I know best? While I discovered running is very clearly still my better sport, it was a delightful phenomenon to finish 18 holes of golf, a 5-plus mile run, and breakfast all before 9:30 a.m.


Before I get into the details of the experience, I wanted to set this up as authentically as possible. Speedgolf USA, the national governing body for the sport, has a certain subset of guidelines, but it almost entirely follows the USGA Rules of Golf.

  1. There’s no carts or caddies. Players carry their own clubs, either in their hands or in a small carriable bag.
  2. Most golfers carry between 4-7 clubs. My selections: 4-hybrid, 7-iron, 9-iron, 52-degree wedge, 55-degree wedge, and a putter. (I prioritized accuracy over distance).
  3. Scoring formula: The lowest combination of minutes and strokes. Ex: A score of 80 in 60 minutes is 140:00. Clock starts from the first stroke and ends when the ball drops into the final hole.
  4. Some local rules can be implemented. Ex: Stroke & Distance alternative relief penalty reduced from 2 strokes to 1 stroke in Speedgolf competition.

While it’s not in the rules, I opted for running shoes over spikes as a courtesy to the course (and my feet). Speaking of the course, I have to thank the assistant pro Craig and the entire team at Poquoy Brook Golf Club in Lakeville for letting me out first, allowing me to avoid running (literally) into other groups and play through while the course was still being set up for the day. The conditions were excellent for early spring, the greens were fair, and they had some extremely tricky placements to keep you honest.

Now that you can legally keep the flagstick in the hole while putting, it’s a huge timesaver. I knew a few more things would aid my time: 1.) Keeping score using the GHIN app on my Apple Watch so I didn’t have to fumble with a scorecard or my phone. 2.) Avoiding bunkers, as you lose time having to rake them. 3.) Not marking and lining up putts, just hit them and keep it moving.

Armed with the small golf bag that I used growing up, lightweight black shorts, and a gold Bruins polo trying the channel the energy from their record victory the night before, I was ready to give it my best.


So how did I do? Here’s the map in case you have any doubts. (Note: Actual elapsed time differed from moving time, which will be revealed).

As I walked to the first tee, I saw the threesome that had the first tee time of the day and explained to them what I was attempting. Their reaction echoed that of others who I told I would do this: “Thanks, but no thanks, but good luck.”

My first shot was nearly a disaster, a slice left (I play left-handed) that looked to be tailing OB, but thankfully the wet grass prevented it from bouncing out of play. Immediately I grabbed my bag and took off down the hill, like a dog sprinting to chase off the geese. I punched out, got to the green in three but three-putted for double-bogey. But the first hole was done in less than 3 minutes. “Could I really pull this off in under and hour?” I thought.

For context, the Guinness World Records recognizes Christopher Smith as the record-holder for the 65 he shot in 42 minutes, 15 seconds at Jackson Park Golf Course in Chicago. That’s a stroke average of 3.66 at less than 2 minutes, 30 seconds per hole. My idea of success was just to finish this without either running out of golf balls or running myself to exhaustion.

I topped my tee shot on the 4th, and that’s when I began to feel the sweat pouring down my cap and my heart rate elevating quickly. But at that moment, one of the superintendents gave me a much-needed shout of encouragement, and I remembered that I was still doing something that not many would attempt. I put the next one on the front of the green and kept it moving.

A 2-minute search for my ball on the 6th wasn’t helping my time at all, and by the par-5 7th, I was really starting to feel the running catching up to me. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to stand over your ball and actually hear yourself breathing heavy and heart pounding. “Is this what pro golfers feel like during majors?”

When I reached the 8th tee, a downhill par 3, I was at 35 minutes, averaging about five minutes per hole. The green was being sprayed down and the flag was out of the hole. While this cost me a couple minutes, I needed to rehydrate, so I chugged from one of my two bottles of Propel (without them, I wouldn’t have finished). Right after I was spotted, he replaced the flagstick, and I hit one right down the middle, just shy of the green, and was able to finish the hole in less than 2 minutes. Having only hit into one bunker, I made the turn in 45 minutes with a 53 (lots of carefree one-armed putts), just as I spotted the first group walking down to the fourth fairway. 

A quick check of the watch near the turn.

The back nine didn’t particularly get off to a great start. For starters, my already tattered golf bag was a mess. The grips were poking out of the side and eventually one of the already-broken legs snapped in half.

My tee shot on 10 looked promising but landed in the creek separating the fairways, and I ended up with a triple-bogey. Not only did I hit into the second bunker of the day on 11, I hit above the hole, which was cut on top of the front slope, and naturally I proceeded to putt off the front. I reached the one-hour mark at hole 12, not sure if this entire thing was even worth it.

But when I was feeling lowest, I hit my best shot of the day on the 13th, an absolutely flushed shot down the middle of the fairway, setting up a simple two-putt bogey. I followed that up with a par on the short par-5 14th. I guess a second wind exists in golf too.

The pin placement on the 11th got the best of me.

By the time I got to 17, my watch displayed 1:20, and immediately I thought 18 holes under 90 minutes has a nice ring to it. Another well-struck drive got me to the par-5, 18th with about 5 minutes to spare. Facing me was a forced carry into a dogleg left (my two worst nightmares). I took some extra time said some words of encouragement and *whack* a solid 7-iron shot that settled smack dab in the middle of the fairway. I was laying 3 looking straight uphill into the green. Time was running out and with my 52, I made good contact but sent it sailing over the green and into my third and final bunker of the day. This was going to cost me.

My feet splashed into the damp grass as I ran up the hill with just my putter and my sand wedge (55) in hand. No time to check the watch. I set my feet quickly, took a half swing and got it the ball to rest within 10 feet of the hole. Two putts later the ball dropped, and my head shot down to my wrist.


Add to my score of 104, and my first speed golf round was 194:18.

I just missed the sub-90 mark. But my initial sense of disappointment soon turned to accomplishment. How many people can say they’ve played 18 inside 2 hours? Most groups playing nine take that much time, if not more. Plus, I once ran a half marathon in about the same amount of time.

More importantly, I realized that sometimes fast is as good as slow. My golf shots weren’t particularly different from my usual round that takes about triple the time, compared to me running around like a madman in pursuit of my most recent strike.

Overall, this was a fantastic new way to play 18 without the 4-plus hour time commitment. If you’re out early enough, you can fit this in before going to work. So, if you’re up to the challenge, let me know. After all, I have a new benchmark score I’d like to beat.

Sweating but smiling after the speedy 18.


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