What Is A Shotgun Start In Golf? Golf Shotgun Start Explained + How To

Whether you’re a lifelong golf enthusiast or you’re just starting out and developing your growing love of the game, you’re undoubtedly unboxing a near-constant stream of player jargon and golf vernacular. 

One of those terms within the wheelhouse of the golf vocab is the shotgun start, but what exactly is it? How does a shotgun start work, and what’s the what and the why? 

That’s what we’re here for: we’re breaking down everything shotgun starts for you to take into your next tournament, either as a fan or an organizer. 

In this article, we’ll be looking at:

  • History Of The Shotgun Start
  • What Is A Shotgun Start In Golf?
  • Why Use A Golf Shotgun Start?
  • When Should You Choose A Shotgun Start?
  • Other Ways To Start
  • Golf Shotgun Start Recap

Let’s fire away!

a line of golf bags and carts sit on the edge of the golf course before a golf shotgun start

History Of The Shotgun Start

The shotgun start as a whole, while there is some controversy behind its exact origins, is largely attributed to Washington country club, Walla Walla President, and golf pro-Jim Russell. 

A December 2004 issue of Golf Digest reported that in May 1956, Russell went to extremes by sounding off a shotgun to announce the start of the tournament as golfers waited from holes 1-18 at their respective staggered tees. 

Reportedly, it was said in the same Golf Digest issue that Russell fired off his shotgun to keep the play moving and the tournament play efficient. An entire day-long tournament would drastically impact his club’s revenue, especially one in which the entire weekend was booked up in the otherwise cold, rainy state of Washington. 

That was nearly 70 years ago; since then, air horns or sirens have replaced the shock and awe of hearing a shotgun blast start a tourney. 

What Is A Shotgun Start In Golf?

A golf shotgun start in a tournament setting is where all participating players start their rounds at the same time but from different holes on the course.

This is in contrast to the traditional tee-time start, where each player or group begins their round on the first hole, one after the other.

golfer wearing red top hits golf ball with woman standing behind him

In a golf shotgun start, each hole on the course is assigned a group of players who will start their round from that hole, where all groups begin to play simultaneously when the tournament director or starter sounds an air horn, siren, starter pistol, shotgun, etc. 

How To/The Rules

The rules of a shotgun start in golf are generally the same as those of a regular golf tournament, with a few minor differences:

  1. Starting Time: A golf shotgun start begins with all players present and ready to play at the designated starting time. The tournament director or starter will signal the start of play, usually with an air horn or starting pistol.
  1. Starting Hole: Each group of players is assigned a starting hole and must begin their round from that hole; players are staggered. If you’re starting from hole 14, for instance, you would play holes 14-18 and then 1-13, respectively. 
  1. Pace Of Play: As with any golf tournament, players are expected to play at a reasonable pace and keep up with the group in front of them. Slow play can result in penalties or, worse: disqualification.
  1. Scoring: Each player’s score is recorded on their scorecard as they play the course. At the end of the round, scores are tallied, and the winners are determined based on the tournament format.
  1. Etiquette: Players are expected to adhere to the standardized rules of golf and observe proper etiquette on the course.

How Does A Shotgun Start Work In Tournaments?

A golf shotgun start is often used in larger tournaments, charity events, and pro-am tournaments. 

a line of golf carts parked on the concrete

Firstly, the tournament organizer/golf pro defines the playing parameters via the tee sheet; a tournament’s golf shotgun start begins with players being assigned a cart and a starting hole.

You can also expect some tournaments to start with scorecards indicating the staggered order of assigned holes. 

For carts, they’re usually arranged in reverse order, with hole 18 being first in the queue. At 10-15 minutes before the sound of the siren, air horn, etc., players hop in their carts and head to their respective assigned holes. 

Why Use A Golf Shotgun Start?

There are many reasons why a course would choose to use a golf shotgun start; here are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.


  • Efficient use of time
  • Better scheduling 
  • Levels the playing field
  • Ups the excitement for spectators 


A golf shotgun start can help reduce the time it takes to complete a tournament based on the staggered, synchronous start of play. 

For clubs, there’s largely a financial incentive to this sentiment, as tournaments don’t necessarily occupy a whole day; Jim Russell knew it, and your club can also capitalize on shorter tourneys. 

a clock is signposted on a golf course with a golf cart in the background

Keep in mind, however, that this drastically reduced optimal time while keeping the play exciting and fast-paced, ultimately limits the amount of revenue from green fees as well as food and beverage sales, the pro shop, etc. 

Moreover, shotgun starts support the typical flow of the day and the programming you’ll see in most pro-am or charity tournaments; a meal followed by a trophy presentation is to be expected, and this way, everyone can enjoy it together. 


Shotgun starts allow for more flexible scheduling, which can be helpful for larger tournaments with a greater number of players.

An Even Keel

A shotgun start can eliminate any perceived advantages or disadvantages of starting at a more favorable tee time. 

In a traditional tee time start, players who tee off early in the morning might have an advantage if they’re looking at better weather conditions. 

Early morning tee times, for instance, incur slower greens due to moisture, while later start times have faster greens and pose a greater challenge when it comes to distance control.  

With a golf shotgun start, there’s, in principle, an element of fairness and equal opportunity to play. 

Exciting Play

Overall, a golf shotgun start can support a larger container for exciting, dynamic, edge-of-your-seat golf. 

golfer wearing white and brown shoes while holding golf club

At tournaments, fans have an opportunity to see their favorite players in action while building a greater sense of excitement, pace, and energy. A golf shotgun start means spectators can follow multiple groups simultaneously and watch the tournament action unfold.


  • Requires more logistical planning
  • Potential for delays

A couple of the disadvantages we want to highlight here are a) the inherent logistical planning and b) the potential delays that can be associated with a golf shotgun start. 

The Logistics

A golf shotgun start requires careful planning and consideration when it boils down to the logistics. 

Normally, a shotgun-style start tournament will have a minimum number of players for play; usually, you’ll find 60-70 golfers. 

For larger groups of people, and generally 18+ groups of 4 at a time, it can be a challenge in and of itself to coordinate with that amount of players; ensuring everyone’s on the same page may require additional outreach and communication.  

Secondly, a golf shotgun start requires the course to be set up differently than a traditional tee time starts. This means that tee markers, scoreboards, and other course signage need to be prepared and placed in the appropriate locations. 

What’s more, the course needs to be monitored to ensure that each group is moving through at the appropriate pace and that there are no delays or bottlenecks.

All of these considerations are just a few of the factors that organizers take into account when planning and executing a smooth shotgun start tournament. 

Potential Delays

While the shotgun start is designed to speed up play, it can still result in congestion on the course if groups are not spaced out properly or if there are other unpredictable delays. 

When Should You Choose A Shotgun Start? 

a red golf flag with a yellow pole sits in the rain with trees in the background

Let’s take a closer look at some of the instances where a golf shotgun start would be a welcomed change to your tournament style:

You Have A Large Group Of Participants 

As mentioned above, shotgun starts are ideal for larger group sizes of 60+ and tournament golfers in groups of 4. 

Through the implied element of fairness, flexible scheduling, efficient use of time, and overall heightened excitement for fans, a shotgun start is the way to go for larger tournament numbers. 

Approaching Inclement Weather

If you’re looking up and seeing a sea of black, ominous rain clouds ready for the pouring, you might want to consider a shotgun start for its largely shorter round time and staggered starts to avoid areas of the course that have been hit with rain.

For the pros, 3 European Tour events have utilized a shotgun start to stay ahead of approaching inclement weather, with the final 2 rounds of the 2015 Portugal Masters being the most notable.

Other Ways To Start

a golf ball sits on the tee with a fairway in the background
  • Tee Times—Players are assigned specific tee times, usually at 8-14 minute intervals, and play in order of their tee time. This is the most common format for professional golf tournaments.
  • Split Tee—Half of the tournament players start on hole 1, and half start on hole 10. This is great for speeding up play while also allowing more players to participate in a given tournament.
  • Best Ball—Teams of two or more players each play their own ball throughout the round. At the end of each hole, the lowest score among the team members is recorded as the team score. This is also widely popular among charity tournaments.
  • Alternate Shot—Teams of two players take turns hitting a single ball until the hole is completed. For example, player A hits the tee shot; player B hits the second shot, player A hits the third shot, and so on. 

Golf Shotgun Start Recap

A shotgun start is a unique and exciting way to conduct a golf tournament. Rather than the traditional tee time start, all players tee off simultaneously from different, staggered holes. 

While there are some logistical challenges associated with a shotgun start, such as coordination with players and course preparation, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs. 

A shotgun start can be a better use of time for club organizers, provide a level, even playing field, optimal scheduling flexibility, and all while increasing the pace, excitement, and dynamic action on the course.  

If you found this article informative, be sure to check out Golf Terms Explained: Golf Terminology All Golfers Should Know!

Photo of author
After graduating from the Professional Golf Management program in Palm Springs, CA, I moved back to Toronto, Canada, turned pro and became a Class 'A' member of the PGA of Canada. I then began working at some of the city's most prominent country clubs. While this was exciting, it wasn't as fulfilling as teaching, and I made the change from a pro shop professional to a teaching professional. Within two years, I was the Lead Teaching Professional at one of Toronto's busiest golf instruction facilities. Since then, I've stepped back from the stress of running a successful golf academy to focus on helping golfers in a different way. Knowledge is key so improving a players golf IQ is crucial when choosing things like the right equipment or how to cure a slice. As a writer I can help a wide range of people while still having a little time to golf myself!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.