Speedgolf is an actual L.A. sport, part fitness craze, part just crazy

Rafa Cabrera Bello runs up to the green on a par-five hole during speedgolf.
Rafa Cabrera Bello runs up to the green on a par-five hole during a speedgolf attempt at setting a world record.
(Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

You have no idea the sacrifices I make for you people.

Take speedgolf. This is the taking of a sport a lot of people hate and making it worse.

“No,” says Wesley Cupp, a world champion speedster. “We took golf and made it into a sport.”

OK, that’s fine, if your idea of sport is to tee off at 5:30 a.m. and play golf like you’re double parked and be done by 6:30 so you can get back, shower up and be at work at 8. But isn’t that the whole point of golf, to miss all that?

“I hear that a lot,” says Garlin Smith, the head of Speedgolf SoCal in L.A. “My buddies say: ‘Garlin, you’re killing me. I need my wife to think Saturday golf takes eight hours.’ ”


Just thinking about speedgolf makes me tired. U.S. champion Scott Dawley won the 2020 title by shooting a 75 in 43 minutes for a speedgolf score of 118 (75 + 43 = 118). Does that sound ... fun?

But, for you, I agreed to try it.

We met at 5:15 a.m. at Chester Washington Golf Course in L.A. By “we” I mean “insane chisel-faced fitness freaks” who make up Speedgolf SoCal and me. The starter at Chester Washington lets them go sprinting off first about 15 minutes before the sun rises. For the first hole or two, they use glow balls.

I drove slit-eyed while I scarfed down a breakfast Hot Pocket and made it just in time. In the parking lot, I met Smith and hated him immediately. He was a 56-year-old surfer who looked 46. Worse, he kept talking about how much fun I was about to have. “Speedgolf is perfect to keep your game sharp,” he said in his annoying happy way. “Get in some cardio and get on with life’s requirements.”

I had a question: Why are we doing this again?

“Because you’re going to feel so great getting in your car, having worked out and played 18 holes while cars are just pulling up to start their round.”


Speedgolf is like regular golf. You have to wait until the ball stops rolling and putt everything out and rake the bunkers. But it’s not like regular golf. You wear workout gear. You carry a streamlined golf bag with no more than six clubs, though some only carry a six-iron. If the ball goes out of bounds, you drop along the line of flight and hit. There’s no three-minute search rule. There’s barely a three-second rule. Also, there’s no time for the honor system. Some holes, everybody is hitting at once.

Joaquin Niemann, right, and caddie Gary Matthews, second from right, jog on No. 18 in a round that took 1 hour 53 minutes.
Joaquin Niemann, right, and his caddie jog on No. 18 during the final round of the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship in September. Playing by himself, Niemann finished in 1 hour 53 minutes.
(Cliff Hawkins / Getty Images)

Well, it all sounded just delightful to me.

My threesome included Garlin and a lawyer whose body seemed to suggest that he’d never run after a bus, much less a golf ball. “I do this because I hate slow play,” Randy Balik said. “I mean, do you think I got a body like this because I like running?”

But the instant he hit his first drive, he was off like he’d just robbed a liquor store. Before I could absorb it, Garlin had hit and was off too, which meant I was playing golf in a jailbreak.

Swinging at the speed of light, I swiped it miles right. Since I didn’t have a glow ball, it was surely lost. I quickly teed up another and hit it nearly the same exact place.

Q: When can an hour feel like a week?

A: Playing speedgolf.

I noticed most of these guys were wearing two rain gloves because they sweat so much. “You think a four-footer is tough?” Cupp wrote me. “Try it with your heart beating out of your chest as sweat pours off your nose and onto the ball. And then do it again for 17 more holes.”

I was running as fast as my 63-year-old asthmatic lungs would take me, and so I’d try to make up for lost time by swinging really fast and really hard, sweat stinging my eyes, hitting pig slices and snipe hooks, which only added time zigzagging across the course, while Randy and Garlin were zipping along in straight lines.


Somewhere in the misery it hit me all the dumb things I’d done. I’d worn sunglasses. (The sun was barely up.) I’d put a scorecard in my pocket. (You keep your score in your head.) I had two ball markers. (Nobody marks anything.)

By the time I got to the sixth tee, the speed group in front of us was already on No. 8. Randy kept checking his watch.

After nine holes, I could feel that Hot Pocket trying to stage a comeback. (Oddly, it tasted the same either way.) I was done, spent, finished. Smith saw my failure coming way ahead of time and had a golf cart ready at the turn. I’ve never been happier to get into one in my life. My nine-hole time was 45 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than these guys usually go, and who knows what I’d shot? I’d lost count. Maybe 45? Over 18 holes, that would’ve been a speedgolf score of 180.

The guy driving the cart was named Jason Vaughan, a really good player whose best normal round is five under and best speed round is two under.

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He said his hero was Wes Cupp. “He’s like a god to us,” said Vaughan, who was nursing an injury. “His transition time is like six seconds.” Turns out “transition time” is the time it takes to switch from running to hitting to running again, a kind of golfing pit stop. Cupp is famous for putting with his bag hanging off a carabiner hooked to his waist. He’s the Steve Jobs of speedgolf.

Freed from their anchor (me), Randy and Garlin played the back nine in 34 minutes. That’s not even four minutes per hole.


I know guys who plumb-bob for four minutes. For some reason (me), they’d given up keeping score, but I’m guessing without this handicap (me), they’d each have shot about 78 in 68 minutes, for a score of 146. Strong.

I didn’t entirely hate it. Speedgolf taught me some cool things about golf that I didn’t know before.

1. Practice swings are useless. To a man, the speedgolfers all said they shoot about the same playing speedgolf (no practice swings) as they do normal golf (many practice swings.) I’ve been wasting years of my life.

2. Fourteen clubs aren’t necessary. After playing speedgolf, I now take out my four-iron and lob wedge when I’m carrying my bag. Hasn’t made a lick of difference and my shoulders thank me.

3. Yardage watches are a godsend. The speedos all wear them because they save so much time. If every golfer in America wore a yardage watch, the world would be a happier place.

But I knew I’d never speedgolf again, for three reasons:

1. The bull—. Eighty-two percent of the joy of golf for me is giving the needle to my buddies, telling stories, and recapping the glory and sorrow of the last hole.


Ted: I think my wife could’ve played that hole better than you, and she’s never played.

Me: Maybe. I’ll ask her tomorrow morning after you leave for work.

All that’s gone in speedgolf. You can’t needle your buddies because they’re always off leaping over a bush somewhere.

2. The job of it. The FunMeter needle is at about 1/16th in speedgolf. It’s more like timing yourself cleaning out the garage. You feel good about it when you’re done, but the same can be said for flossing.

And, the ultimate dealbreaker …

3. No beer.

You think I got a body like this because I like Gatorade?

Excerpted from “So Help Me Golf: Why We Love the Game” by Rick Reilly. © 2022. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc. You can purchase the book here.