Confession time: I used to laugh with my friends at the lone single golfer, and hope to God they didn’t get paired with our group. If someone couldn’t find even one buddy or acquaintance to join them, why bother going to the golf course at all? Wasn’t it humiliating to show up and have your fate handed to you by some kid working the register? I just couldn’t understand the psychology of volunteering for several hours of awkward small talk with strangers who either desperately want or pretend to want to befriend you. At least on an airplane, you can feign sleeping to avoid unwanted social interactions. And nevermind the pressure of trying to play golf in front of complete strangers! The horror.
During my 17+ years of playing golf to date, I have probably encountered dozens, if not hundreds, of singles that were either paired up with my group by the pro shop or asked to tag along once they caught up to our group on the course if playing through wasn’t feasible. A lot of the guys have been perfectly decent: friendly, quiet, and will adjust their pace of play to match my group’s usually lightning fast golf speed. Admittedly, I don’t remember a lot of those gentlemen.
The single golfers that I remember stick out in my mind for the wrong reasons. Golf Digest has an amusing take on the most common characteristics of the most annoying golf partners, and I have encountered most, if not all, of these personalities on the golf course. Granted, at times they have been members of my group and not a single that joins up, but I’m much more willing to overlook my friends’ golfing idiosyncrasies than a stranger’s eccentricities.
Among those listed in the article that I cannot be in a group with include the Human Volcano, the Delusional Guy, and the Christopher Columbus golfer. On more than one occasion, I have been very tempted to tell incarnations of these fools to go ahead without the rest of our group out of pure anger or palpable disgust. I can’t comprehend how someone would act in a particular manner on the golf course that would be utterly inappropriate under any other circumstance. No wonder, I thought, that these guys were relegated to playing golf by themselves.
Then a funny thing happened to me; over the past couple of years, I became that guy – the lowly golfing single. One by one, my golfing buddies either moved away, started families, or otherwise shifted their priorities away from spending a few hours a week on the golf course with me. My wife and I started taking vacations together, instead of me just heading out on some guys-only roadtrip bender. Guys started joining country clubs and golf clubs that required a sophistication and disposable income that were beyond my grasp.
So, in order to satisfy my golf fix, I was left without a choice. I would have to shelve my pride and head to the golf course (gasp) alone. Oh, the humanity. Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed and afraid the first time I entered the Pro Shop alone, inquiring if there was room for me on their tee sheet. What happened next was as remarkable as it was unlikely, in my mind. Life went on just as it had before. I must admit, upon reflection, I was a bit embarrassed at how much I had thoroughly overthought the issue before actually experiencing life as the single golfer.
It turns out that my money was just as good at the Pro Shop as was the eager foursome’s money. Most of the time, I could tee off by myself, and more often than not I would still be on my own by the time I reached the 18th green. Despite my darkest fears, it turns out that I could withstand my own company in isolation on the golf course. And if I did get paired up with another single or catch a group on the course, after the round I generally felt like I had made a new pal with whom I could definitely repeat the experience if required.
On the occasions I did play entire rounds by myself, I enjoyed having a chance to work on my game without distraction. Playing solo, I was able to take my time getting around to take in the full golf course experience, rather than be distracted by idle chatter. The rare couple of hours of relative silence in which I could think through whatever was pressing in my mind that particular day turned out to be much more valuable than I’d ever imagined. More often than not, I would take the opportunity to walk the golf course if I was teeing off alone. Lord knows I need the exercise, and until the fatigue might set in on the last few holes, I found I generally played better walking the golf course than if riding in a cart.
Now, golf as a single player is a different experience than playing with a group of partners or competitors. There’s not a formal code of conduct for single golfers, but I believe there acceptable norms that ought to be adhered to when playing a course by one’s self:
- Never expect that you will have the course to yourself, and be polite and courteous to your playing partners and other golfers, no matter who you may be paired with;
- Don’t try to show off for or show up anyone that you may be paired with, and don’t put yourself on that list of annoying golf partners;
- Do not show up and expect that you will immediately be able to tee off, especially on a Friday afternoon or weekend morning;
- Don’t ever hit into the group in front of you or insist on playing through once you catch up to a group in front of you; and
- Play fast when possible, and don’t ever cause anyone to wait on your golf game.
I find that if I, and those in my immediate vicinity, can adhere to these basic norms of golf course etiquette, I’m perfectly happy to play a round of golf on my own. Would I rather be amongst lifelong friends, yucking it up over our youthful indiscretions? Of course I would. But it turns out that a solitary round of golf isn’t the worst way to spend a sunny afternoon.