The playing partner conundrum: How many is ideal?

The Scoop

In this week's Notebook, Mark Townsend finds himself more flustered than ever in trying to work out how many people he'd like to play with

This is much like the ideal weather to play golf in, given that most of the time it’s too cold, on holiday it’s too hot and, for about three rounds of the year, it’s just right. No need for a jumper, ideally a pair of shorts and maybe just a breath of wind to keep you honest.

In terms of the right number of playing partners I still can’t settle on things even after 32 years of playing. This might be to do with my ability to search out a negative when there isn’t one or, more likely, that it doesn’t exist.

So I jotted down some pros and cons for every group size from one to four…

Oneball

Pros: You’ll be round in two and a half hours at a canter so you’ll be more popular at home. Plus you can still work on various elements of your game – like hitting three chips on every hole – and you can be yourself.

By which I mean you can comment on all your shots out loud, you can do your favourite impressions – “Be the right club, TODAY!” – and nobody will be any the wiser over how big a weirdo you actually are.

You can walk in putts and then fall to the floor when they come up three feet short and be more affected than ever.

Do that little JT pre-shot set thing? Oh yes.

Stand there drumming your fingers over a compartment of irons before pulling, with purpose and intent, the 6-iron? Oh yes.

Play the right club more often and not throwing yourself at it in a pathetic display of vanity? And finding it works more often than not? Not enough.

It’s great, you’re young and you’re free and it’s just you, your clubs and the course.

Silhouette of a golfer

Cons: It can be so boring. I’m crying out for a bit of chat, looking for your own ball in a cluster of gorse is a terrible way to spend your time and you spend even more time on your phone than usual.

And, however good the initial intent is, you never putt out properly and always fudge your score by a couple.

Twoball

Pros: I think this might be the one. Either mano a mano or simply marking one another’s card things rarely get too out of hand with just the two of you.

Got something to talk about? Relax, there’s plenty of time, it will happen.

They will have to help you when you’ve fanned one into some junk and you will do likewise so it’s all perfectly acceptable.

The better player on the day generally wins, you learn a few things and there is a nice pace to the whole experience.

Twoball

Cons: Oh god, I’ve got three and a half hours of this. They want to talk about their new swing thoughts, why they’ve switched ‘coach’, how they just ‘smoked’ their 5-iron and why they can’t get enough of Paul Casey.

They can’t keep score, they insist on writing everything down even though it’s matchplay, they say things like ‘no pictures on the scorecard’ after making a bogey and they’re taking up all my ‘me time’ for the next fortnight.

They stand behind me when I’m putting, their shadow is over the hole when tending the flag and they’re showing up all my intolerances without even knowing it.

For 18 holes I play under the shadow of hating myself.

So how does Mark feel about threeballs and fourballs? Article continues on the next page…

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