What is a Shotgun Start in Golf?

Staging a shotgun start tournament is a great way to get a group of players onto a golf course at one time. Regardless of what the name implies, you aren’t required to participate; it’s nothing like a shotgun wedding! In a nutshell (or a shotgun shell), the tournaments are exciting, fair, and expeditious.

And, for anyone trying to equate the name to their driving, it has nothing to do with the trajectory and lack of patterns from errant tee shots. No matter the tournament, your golf ball is still going where you hit it.

History of Shotgun Start


There’s some controversy over when the first shotgun-style tournaments began because golf has such a long and storied history. But there’s no debate about the term “shotgun start,” correctly attributed to the Walla Walla (Washington) Country Club head pro-Jim Russell. He went to extremes to quickly get tournament players on and off his beautiful country club fairways, and he was inventive.

Russell knew his course was in demand, and while the sun sets late in the evening in Washington, the mornings were too cold much of the year for early tee times, so there was no way to recoup lost revenue from a day-long tournament, and it wasn’t fair to the country club members for an entire weekend to be booked solid.

As told in the December 2004 issue of Golf Digest, Russell fired a shotgun to signal each golf group stationed at holes one through 18 to tee up and begin play. That was back in May of 1956, so the concept has been proven, and as far as we know, nobody has ever been shot. Still, sirens or airhorns are more popularly – and boringly – used today.

Early morning tee times can bring slow greens due to moisture, while later starts encounter faster greens and the effects of the previous play. Ideally, shotgun starts and the same tee time have some fairness built-in, since the course is in the same condition for each player as they begin to play.

Psychologically, not starting on the first or 10th hole can impact a player’s game, and sun and wind may also have minor impacts due to the layout of a course.

Shotgun Start


As you have surely divined, a shotgun format is a tournament that starts at a predetermined time (usually at either 8 am or 1 pm) with a foursome at each hole. Group A starts at tee number one, group B at tee number two, etc. However, it is possible to accommodate more than 18 groups by placing a second foursome on each of the club’s par-five holes. Larger tournaments may even have a second set on each par-four hole.

How A Shotgun Start Tournament Works


The tournament organizer and head golf pro usually define the parameters of play and the tee sheet, but you can expect to be assigned a cart and a starting hole when you arrive (early). Don’t freak, but the carts are usually queued in reverse order with hole number 18 first in line. Usually, 10 to 15 minutes before tee time, the carts will be turned loose, and players head to their assigned hole.

Some tournaments provide scorecards with each player’s name already printed, and that order is used for teeing up on the first assigned hole. Afterward, it’s honors (lowest score) as in match play on future holes.

When the last group takes off for hole number one, each of the previous carts will be at or near their assigned tees. Cool planning! Shortly after that, the time for synchronous golf ball teeing up and driving commences when the shotgun blasts away.

Shotgun Start: Why is it used?


By starting each group on a different hole at the same time, the golf tournament can begin and end simultaneously, reducing the impact on regular customers who want to play a round of golf on the same day.

Standard tournaments (like PGA Tour events) have all players starting on the first tee with different start times, which means the last group finishes many hours after the first group. With a shotgun start format, small-tournament players can finish quickly and enjoy the rest of their day. Often, the tournament is a charity event that includes a meal and a trophy presentation. Starting everyone at once means the meal can be scheduled at a specific time, and nobody will have to wait or be late!

Any tournament affects regular players and the golf course. Specifically, fewer rounds of golf will be played, so most golf courses restrict shotgun start tournaments to weekdays only. The club may also restrict the tournament to a minimum number of players – usually 60 to 72. If the field is too large or too small, it may be modified to encompass fewer holes – a modified shotgun tournament. A double shotgun with two separate time starts can be enacted if the player pool is enormous.

Because the course will be tied-up for several hours and be unable to accommodate as many players as it usually does, other rules may apply. These can include mandatory carts, the presentation and meals are held at the clubhouse, and even golf accessory prizes purchased from the pro shop.

Because of these rules, the cost per player will be higher than the standard green fees. Other tournament costs can include weather insurance if the course requires it and any closest-to-pin prizes or insurance for a hole-in-one grand prize.

At the pro level, three European Tour events have used a shotgun start to stay ahead of approaching inclement weather, including the final two rounds of the 2015 Portugal Masters.

Pros and Cons of Shotgun Tournaments


Tournament pros and cons depend significantly on whether you champion the golf course or the players. There’s a financial incentive to get players through 18 holes at an optimal rate for the course. A shotgun tournament limits that number and reduces income. Not just from green fees, but beverage and food sales, driving range, pro shop, and even instructor time. Pros can include publicity, new players, and guaranteed sales in all outlets.

For players, the tournament is quick from play to the awards ceremony. It’s also a great way to see friends and co-workers away from the office. However, the cost is higher than a standard round of golf, and that time frame does depend on the slowest group on the course, which you can’t play through.

Because of slow play, non-tournament players may have to wait extended times for their tee slot to finally arrive. Or they may have to miss a day on the course entirely because the tournament goes off when they usually play.



While the PGA tour has used the same tournament style for decades, the European Tour recently bent innovation with the GolfSixes Cascais. First played at the Centurion Club in St Albans, England, in May 2017, the tournament held a field of 32-players, two per team from 16 countries, all competing for a one-million-euro purse. Yeah, so?

Well, it’s a six-hole, two-day event that got interesting after the tournament started with four groups of four teams. The scoring was: three points for a winning match and one point for a draw. Then half the field was cut, and the top teams went to a quarterfinal, semifinal, playoff match, and the final concluded on the second day!

Also, there’s a 30-second shot clock (with a one-stroke penalty for a tardy stroke) starting after the third hole, and a greensomes match play format is applied. All players drive, but the teams choose the shot they like and play alternate shots afterward.

That sounds confusing compared to a reverse shotgun start where a small field starts on the first tee, then backs up through 18, 17, 16, etc., to clear the course quickly for non-tournament players.

Other popular golf tournaments you’ll find in Bend, Oregon, include “best-ball,” where a team of players competes against another foursome by scoring only the best total by a player each hole. It’s too bad the best ball format wasn’t called best score because then the scramble would be called the best ball!

In a “scramble,” all players on a team hit their drive and then choose who has the best spot for the next stroke and move their balls to that place and hit their next shot – all the way through the final putt. And there are at least a dozen types of a scramble, none of which has anything to do with eggs. Just everyone scrambling over to the best ball.

The River’s Edge Golf Club allows avid golfers to enjoy the best golf course in Central Oregon, while the River’s Edge Club offers discounted golf for a small $59 initiation fee. It’s a bargain. You’ll enjoy every outing as you take on the challenging course and marvel at the beautiful fairway design and the incredible scenery.

If you’re looking for friendly but competitive golf events, join the River’s Edge Men’s and Women’s Club to tee up in weekly golf tournaments. No matter your handicap, you’ll have the opportunity to join in the fun starting in early April and play into fall.

The weekly blind draw events mean you don’t need a team or to make it to every event. Play when you can! Just sign up by noon on Sunday for the weekly event! Drop by the River’s Edge spacious and well-equipped pro shop for more information.