How to Organize a Socially-distant Golf Tournament

Due to the pandemic, many nonprofits took their in-person galas virtual, streaming their presentation online and raising money through mobile bidding software.

Though it has received less fanfare, there is a second trend afoot in socially-distant fundraising: the benefit golf event.

Since golf is an outdoor sport where it’s easy for people to keep their distance, golf courses are opening their gates for charity tournaments.

In this post, we explore how socially-distant golf outings differ from pre-pandemic outings.

Pre-Pay Only

Charity golf outings are known for volunteers selling mulligans and raffle tickets for cash. In a socially-distant golf outing, all purchases (including prize drawing tickets) should be made electronically ahead of the event.

During check-in, guests simply need to tell a volunteer their name and receive their swag bag.

Prize drawings should be done electronically so there is no need to distribute tickets. This assumes you are running a prize sweepstakes, not a raffle that has special ticketing requirements.

Tee Times Not Shotgun Start

For big golf events, shotgun starts pose a threat to social distancing. Since everyone is starting at the same time, the registration area, driving range and putting green can get very crowded.

Rather than shotgun starts, rent the course for a day and send teams out at different times. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Start teams on holes #1 and #10 simultaneously. Subsequent groups fill in behind at ten-minute increments.
  • Start teams on holes #1-6. After around 60 minutes, start six more teams on those same holes.
  • Have half your teams complete their round in the morning, and then have the rest of your teams play in the afternoon.

Players should be instructed to show up approximately 45 minutes before their scheduled time in order to avoid a glut of people.

Individual Carts and Walking

The rule for carts is that only people from the same household may share a cart since presumably they are already sharing germs. Everyone else rides solo.

This policy can be a problem since the course will run out of carts.

To mitigate this issue, make sure the course has plenty of pull carts available and encourage walking. Alternatively, start a group of golfers in the morning and a second wave in the afternoon after the morning golfers finish (sanitizing the carts between use).

Don’t Touch the Flagsticks or Rakes

The golf course will certainly remind your guests not to touch the flagsticks. Everyone will putt with the flagstick in.

Most every course has removed the rakes in their sand bunkers to prevent unnecessary touching of shared objects. This shouldn’t be an issue since each scramble team can place their ball in a preferred lie.

The course may implement some other social distancing guidelines as well, like separating the hitting slots on the range so everyone keeps six feet apart.

On-Course Auction

Traditional silent auctions are obviously a no-go since it is unsafe to have people crowd around a table to read descriptions.

Mobile bidding software, like, has made it possible to host an online silent auction in the days leading up to your event or even during the golf round!

For the latter option, simply place promotional materials for an auction item on each tee (one item per tee). Then, players can bid during the round on their mobile devices.

Limited Beverages & No Banquet

The traditional post-round buffet and awards banquet is something your event will have to do without.

Rather, distribute boxed lunches during check-in, which the players can take out to the course.

Additionally, many courses are not stocking water on the course or sending out a beverage cart. You will need to supply bottles of water or instruct players to bring their own.

The silent auction can continue after the event, though remotely for each bidder.

Online Scorekeeping

Scorecards are yet another object that multiple people typically touch at golf outings. If you choose to use physical scorecards at your event, make sure your volunteer receiving the scorecard wears gloves.

A fun alternative is to have teams record their scores electronically in real time using an app like 18Birdies. Teams can see other teams’ scores throughout the round, making the competition feel like a PGA tour event.

Further, electronic scorecards and leaderboards are ripe opportunities to place a sponsor’s logo.

The Really Socially-Distant Option

If the thought of inviting hundreds of people to an in-person golf event still gives you heartburn, there is another way.

Provide your teams a date range within which they must complete their round at the specified course, around a two-week period. Work with the course to negotiate a special rate for players.

Teams self-report their scores to you, and you hold a virtual banquet to announce the winners and draw prize tickets.


Al McDonald is the Chief Product Officer for TravelPledge and author of the e-book “The Definitive Guide to Silent Auction Fundraisers.” Al has helped thousands of nonprofits exceed their auction goals through auction item procurement and advice. Al understands that successful auctions are hard work and is committed to delivering practical advice that will move the needle for you today.