At some point in your amateur career as a linksman, you might have heard the phrase “shotgun start”. You pause for a moment and rack your brain. Shotgun wedding. Shotgun blast. Shotgun…Wait a minute, you say, “What’s a shotgun start in golf?” If that’s the case, you may have been too afraid to ask or maybe it's your first time hearing the phrase. In either scenario, you need answers.
Very simply, a shotgun start in golf is when the start of play involves groups of players at different holes on the golf course at the same time. This is in comparison to a normal start when players or groups tee off in increments or intervals at the first tee or the 10th hole. This is a popular format that’s most often used in tournaments from charity golf scrambles all the way up to the professional ranks.
This golf-exclusive start to a tournament or competition is favorable for several reasons to both the golfer and the proprietor of the golf course:
How many other sports allow 18 to 72 competitors to simultaneously and individually compete with each other? Other than cycling or auto racing, probably not all that many. But this certainly provides the chance to do so.
The origins of a shotgun start in golf have been widely debated. However, the general consensus comes from a 2004 Golf Digest article. In this December 2004 article, the author posits that the name — not the exact concept — came from golf pro Jim Russell at Walla Walla Country Club in Walla Walla, Washington.
During a shotgun start tournament in 1956, the technology to let all golfers know the official start time wasn’t widely available — especially in a somewhat rural town in Eastern Washington. As a result, Russell got the idea to fire a shotgun into the air to signal the start of the tournament. The blast was loud enough that golfers on 18 holes could hear that the tournament was finally ready to begin.
How the name became common nomenclature across the country and its spread from Walla Walla through the rest of the nation remain a mystery. But perhaps a mix of ingenuity and the 2nd Amendment paved the way for this tournament style.
Today, tournament organizers may symbolically use an air horn during shotgun starts to signify the start of play.
The difference between a shotgun start vs. a tee time is rather simplistic. To recap, what is a shotgun start in golf? It’s when golfers tee off from every hole on a course simultaneously.
Conversely, a tee time is a reservation that you make with the pro shop that ensures you get a spot on the course at a specific time. However, a tee time basically insinuates that you go from the country club straight to the closest hole; the 1st hole or the 10th hole, which are traditionally the places that golfers start and stop on their way through 18 holes.
Keep in mind that a shotgun start is usually only reserved for tournaments. You can’t readily call a golf course and request to start on the 15th, 12th, or 7th hole, even if it’s gotten the best of you and you want a challenge.
In the spirit of golf etiquette, you should always inquire about a replay rate if you want to take on a challenging hole a second time around. Oftentimes, country clubs or public courses will let you go 27 or 36 holes at a significantly discounted rate, provided you have the bankroll and the mental and physical stamina to do so.
While professional tournaments have two or three golfers per hole, most amateur tournaments or golf scrambles have foursomes. Perhaps the biggest problem with a shotgun start is the required number of participants, meaning the golf course could earn less revenue than on a normal day. Doing a traditional shotgun start on 18 holes with foursomes requires 72 golfers.
That’s why many golf courses that hold tournaments employ something called a reverse shotgun start. This allows the golf course to have golfers not associated with the tournament to start on the 1st hole earlier in the day.
In a normal shotgun start, those twelve foursomes would have started from holes 1 through 12. The second last foursome starts at hole 2 and must play all eighteen holes before hole 1. This means non-tournament customers can only begin playing the course from hole 1 once 18 holes have been played.
In a reverse shotgun, these 12 foursomes would begin with the 18th. Golfers start from holes 7 through 18 instead of 1 through 12. For example, if a tournament had 12 foursomes and wanted to do a reverse shotgun start, the first foursome would be placed at the 18th hole, the 17th hole, 16th hole, and so on, until the last team starts at the 7th hole. The last foursome that starts on hole 7 needs to only play 13 holes before hole 1 is clear and the golf course can begin letting regular customers start playing from hole 1.
When you first asked, “what is a shotgun start in golf?” you may have thought that the shotgun start is the only one. Well, now that you’re aware of a reverse shotgun start, you may wonder if any other variants exist.
As mentioned above, the reverse shotgun start is one of the most popular, especially in tournaments and scrambles. However, the double shotgun start is another term you may come across.
A double shotgun start consists of a shotgun or reverse shotgun start, but is scheduled in two sessions — typically a day and a night session. In most cases, the day session features a traditional shotgun start followed by either a shotgun start or a reverse shotgun start in the afternoon.
If you have the option of getting to the tee sheet first or can choose your own start time, always opt for a later start. While the morning sunshine, dew on the course, and fresh air can feel like a great way to start your day, a State University of New York study shows that you’re actually 20% more limber in the afternoon and early evening, which can give you a competitive edge in some cases. Just make sure you have the right golf clubs in your bag, you hit a few golf balls in the morning, and you’re ready to go.
A modified shotgun start works exactly like a regular shotgun start format. The only difference is that it’s used when a tournament has fewer groups of golfers than holes, and often when you’re playing a scramble rather than a best ball tournament.
For example, if you had 10 foursomes, you wouldn’t need to assign a hole to each one like you would with a large field. Instead, you may have a shotgun start between holes 1 and 10. The tournament would commence with the first group at the 1st hole, the second group at the 2nd hole, and so on up until the 10th hole.
Since its inception in 1929, the PGA Tour has always used tee times as a way to start its golf events. However, tournaments on the PGA Tour have either 132, 144, or 156 participants, which requires all-day tee times. This means that the first golfers finish hours ahead of their colleagues — or in the event of bad weather — even the next day. To date, the PGA Tour still refuses to consider shotgun starts, claiming it is against “tradition.”
The controversy continues about the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, which has started as a PGA Tour competitor and a more thrilling alternative to traditional golf tournaments. Aimed at a younger crowd and perhaps at stirring more controversy, LIV has some notable differences from the PGA Tour, including 3 rounds (54 holes) as opposed to 4, no cuts, and four-man teams. In addition, LIV Golf also uses a shotgun start, becoming the first league to use it in all tournament formats.
Outside of LIV Golf, the shotgun start isn’t popular among the professional ranks, but it has been known to make an appearance due to poor or inclement weather. In 2015, the Euro Tour implemented a shotgun start at the Portugal Masters due to excessive rain, expediting the tournament and making up for a lost day in one of the biggest tournaments in Europe.
If you’re in a tournament that employs a shotgun start, don’t stress too much about it. If you’ve never played the course, the start will have no impact. But even if you’ve played the course before, a shotgun start is more like playing the lottery and finding out what type of player you are.
Are there golfers who want to get the difficult hole out of the way first? Do you want a challenge right out of the gate? Do you play your best golf on the first hole, or do you warm up as you go?
These questions might be moot when you get to the tournament, but getting your mind right, setting goals, and staying on track even after a poor hole is essential to your success. In the grand scheme of things, a shotgun start in golf is little more than dealing with adversity. Isn’t that what golf is all about anyway?