Golf's Official Rain Delay Rules

By Todd Mrowice

Rory McIlroy plays golf in heavy rain

The dreaded sound of the inclement weather horn. Whether you're a tour pro on the course or a viewer on your couch, nobody likes that sound. Whether play is suspended for an hour or a day, the PGA Tour and other governing organizations have protocols to account for inclement weather. Let's learn more about those procedures.

Types of Delays

There are two types of play stoppage on the PGA Tour, which is also the same for any USGA sanctioned event.

  1. Normal Suspension: Players have the option to either stop play or finish the hole they are playing. Normal suspensions are most common when dealing with darkness or prolonged rain without lightning. In stroke play, players may make their own individual decision as to whether or not they want to finish the hole. Some players in a group may finish the hole while others may elect to stop immediately. In match play, if one opponent elects to stop, both players in the match must stop. If a group is between two holes when a normal suspension begins, they may not begin the next hole.
  2. Immediate Suspension: Players must evacuate the grounds without making another stroke. Immediate suspensions are called when there is imminent danger.

These two types of suspensions are distinguishable by which type of horn sounds. One prolonged horn indicates an immediate suspension because of imminent danger. Three consecutive horns represent a normal suspension. Resumption of play is signaled by two short horns.

Play Suspension

When play is suspended during the middle of a match or a tournament, the player is allowed to pick their ball up from the course. However, they must mark their place with a specific marker so they know exactly where the ball was when play stopped. If wind, rain, or other weather conditions move the marker, the player must put the ball back in its original position.

If a player sees lightning or the committee reports lightning, the player can leave the course immediately without picking up their ball or marking it. If the ball is missing or has moved when play resumes, the player must return it to its original position as best they can without penalty.

Water Pooling

When it comes to rain, tournament organizers and course staff pay close attention the course drainage. If water pools in the fairways, bunkers, or greens, there will almost certainly be a stoppage of play (normal suspension). However, steady rain with no lightning on a course that drains well does not warrant a stoppage of play.

Monday or Tuesday Finish

When a PGA Tour event has a weather delay, the first option is to resume play as soon as it's safe and the course is playable, whether it's later in the day, or the next day. This can sometimes lead to players playing 36 holes in a single day, depending on when play was stopped the day before.

In the event a tournament cannot squeeze all 72 holes in from Thursday to Sunday, a Monday finish is likely. There is also the rare Tuesday finish. The only way a tournament can finish on a Tuesday, however, is if at least half of the field finished all 72 holes on Monday.

Darkness

When play is discontinued in a golf tournament or match because of darkness, it is a normal suspension, and players have the option to finish the hole they're on. A suspension for darkness is often caused by a rain delay. As tournament officials push to complete as much golf as possible (to avoid a Monday finish), players are often racing against dusk.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

As spectators, it doesn't get much worse than sitting down to watch some golf and finding that the event is in a weather delay. You're usually stuck watching a replay of last year's tournament or some dreaded network television.

As you now know, these weather delays happen for good reason. Ultimately, tournament organizers must keep players and fans safe and keep the golf course in good shape. It couldn't hurt to use the delay as an opportunity to work on your putting at home.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. His experience spans over 15 years and he has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours. Todd has also put his deep knowledge of golf equipment to work as a club fitter and in several marketing roles in the golf industry. He has a hole-in-one on his playing resume and appropriately gave his son the middle name “Ace.”