It’s five to four on a Sunday afternoon and I’m stood in the middle of a golf course. It doesn’t matter which one it is as, from my experience, it could be any golf course.
I’m on my own and there isn’t anyone behind me for at least six holes and, just ahead of me, are two other men.
I first spotted them when I was on the 4th green when they were two and a half holes ahead. Now, with me on the 8th green, they are on the adjacent 9th tee. We are so close we nearly break into conversation, a chat none of us want to have as I just want to be playing through and they just want to pretend they haven’t seen me even though I’m the only person on the planet within a mile of them.
I finish my putting and, bizarrely, then have to watch them tee off. I’m now almost close enough to perform some sort of Leadbetter-like swing massaging about their person when they just walk off.
Only 45 minutes earlier I had watched a fourball do something similar. This time I had got within 20 yards of them by the time they had left the tee which was partly explained, 10 unnecessary minutes later, in an embarrassed, almost inaudible mumble by one member of the quartet that they were always going to cut in at the next hole so hadn’t said anything about me playing through.
If you’ve played golf as a junior then you will be well versed in this whole process. You might well be quicker, better and more polite than other players on the course but you’ll still have to spend large, pointless chunks of your day stood on a tee either swishing a club around or pondering what other sports you might fancy giving a go.
Fast forward 35 years and your teenage bonhomie will likely have turned to a raging hatred of your fellow golfers. I like to think of myself as a fairly well-adjusted character who lets most unimportant things go but when behaviour as simple as this goes on I turn into some sort of wannabe Charles Bronson vigilante.
Playing through should not be an issue. How hard can it be to just step aside for 30 seconds while I fan one into the right intermediate? You want me out of your hair, I’m in a hurry so have no interest in joining you, which you were never going to offer anyway, and so we’re all winners.
The absolute perfect time to let anyone through is on the tee – anywhere further down the hole and things get increasingly awkward with too many waves, head nods and thank yous across the fairway and, should you do it on a green, there’s sure to be a horrible charade of trying to three-putt in the quickest time possible before one final thank you.
Get it done on the tee where there’s every possible chance of splintering off in your own directions the second the last drive has taken place.
You could then re-take the moral high ground and take things a step further by repaying the compliment and, brace yourself, let your new mates also hit to the green/knob one up the fairway so they don’t think they’re getting too bad a deal out of it.
On a busy Saturday morning my playing through plans might hit the buffers a bit as there are more people and therefore more opinions but it can still be done.
By just putting your head down the problem isn’t going to go away and it will only get worse as characters like me only become even more passive aggressive and will be right up your arse until you finally relent. Which, in this case, was one hole.
And, god forbid, never ever hide behind the old routine of “we’re in a match” as, outside of your little sphere (your own head) nobody on this planet, even your opponent or partner and definitely your other half, gives a monkey’s that you’re playing in the Rabbits Knockout and, even more so and without any prompting, that you’re now 2-down.
We’ve all got lives to live and stories that should be kept up our sleeves and, rest assured, when I and others like me step into the rarefied air of a club knockout then we too will step aside if someone quicker is playing behind us.
A single player has no standing, and must always give way to a properly constituted match.
This was written in the Rules of Golf in 1899 – so 120 years ago. The reason for this was that singles were presumed to be practising and not competing.
It took until 2004 to remove this nonsense from the rule book and the emphasis was changed to how fast a ‘group’ was playing on the course. Four years later it was clarified in yet another revision that a single did actually constitute a group.
All of which is as tortuous as to how things can still play out.
An interesting footnote to all this is that on the 2nd hole of the same round it took a woman and her two young sons less than 10 seconds to see that I was on my own and promptly waved me through.
I drove off, they continued to play the hole, pleasantries were exchanged and we were out of each other’s way within a few minutes.
Golf as it should be.