OPINION

The irrefutable joy of playing golf alone

Playing Golf Alone

Conventional wisdom dictates that there are certain things golfers should and should not do. 

We tend to consolidate these expectations under the rather broad canopy of ‘etiquette’. They’re not rules so much as commandments.   

Thou shalt not walk over another player’s line; thou shalt not take an eternity to play; thou shalt turn off thy phone, and so on.   

Whilst most are obeyed without protest, there are some that are less readily observed. The matter of playing on your own is one such example. It’s a behaviour that has long divided opinion amongst golfers.

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Some clubs won’t allow it, particularly at peak times when they want to accommodate as many people as possible on their course. Perfectly understandable. A much less legitimate claim, and one I have heard too many times to mention, is that it is an odd thing to do. “Golf is a social game,” people have told me. “You should always want to play with others.”  

Except I don’t, nor do I think I should be expected to. As hard as it is for some people to comprehend, I actually love playing golf on my own.   

Since I joined a new club earlier this year, I have played more on my own than I have with other people. It just suits me better. 

I typically head up to the course in the early evening, when there’s hardly anybody else there, and I can get around in two, three, four hours – whatever suits me best. I don’t have impatient groups behind me or slow-moving groups in front of me. I have the freedom to, largely, do as I please.   

If I want to hit more than one tee shot, I can. If I want to practice my putting on a particularly good green, I can. If I want to sit on the bench next to the ninth for 20 minutes and do nothing but enjoy the peace and quiet, again, I can. I’m not getting in anybody’s way. I’m not taking a tee time away from anybody. It’s just me, the cows in the adjacent fields and the hills beyond versus the setting sun. It’s absolute bliss.   

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I also find that I tend to play better. There are fewer distractions so I’m much more focused on what’s going on. I don’t have to wait for others to hit shots; I don’t have to go searching for others’ lost balls; I don’t have to make small talk; I don’t have to worry about being affected by other people’s behaviour, good or bad. I can just do my own thing, at my own pace, on my own terms. Unless I decide there’s going to be pressure, there’s no pressure.   

More than anything, I’ve found golfing solitude to be exceptionally good for the mind. I have a busy job, a young family and a lot of extra-curricular commitments. Like everybody, I need a bit of ‘me’ time. For others, that might be doing the garden, going out for a cycle, going shopping. For me, it’s golf. Or rather it has become golf. The course is where I do my thinking, where I go to clear my head. It’s hard to do that with other people around.  

None of which is to say that I don’t enjoy playing with others. I’m not some ‘Melvin Udall’ misanthrope. On the contrary, what I’ve found is that playing most of my golf on my own makes me appreciate company when I do have it. I find that I’m more engaged – and hopefully, by extension, more engaging. There’s no going-through-the-motions. It’s a far more enjoyable experience.  

Of course, there are reasons not to play alone. You could shoot the round of your life but not be able to use it towards your handicap thanks to the new World Handicap System. In a similar fashion, you lose all access to provenance. Imagine having a hole-in-one during a solo round. Who would believe you? Short of filming every shot you hit, how could you prove it?   

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And then there’s the not-at-all-insignificant matter of your ‘rights’. I’m fortunate in that my club is not massively oversubscribed in terms of its members. It’s an exceptionally well-run, rural, community club. There are next-to-no airs and graces. I know, from experience, that’s not universally the case.  

The club I was a member of prior to my current one was sadly infested with stubborn, indignant and frankly stuck-up individuals. I can’t tell you the number of times I played on my own, only to catch up with a glacial fourball who refused to allow me through because ‘a single has no rights’. That may indeed be the case but it’s an obscene, nonsensical rule. I often wonder about those people and laugh at their pettiness, not to mention their selective adherence to club rules. For example, they have no problem not letting a single through but apparently choose to routinely ignore the recommended round time as clearly displayed on the first tee. But I digress...  

Playing on your own might not be ‘normal’ or the greatest advertisement for golf as ‘a social game’ but it has made me enjoy the sport more and I know for a fact that it has made me a better player. Surely that’s not something we should look to discourage?

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