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Foreplay

Finding someone who loves the game (and you)? There's an app for that

August 2014

Finally, I came across a photo I could connect with. After mindlessly left-swiping through hundreds of mundane Tinder images (a left-swipe means, "Nope, I'm not interested"), I stopped at a photo of a guy standing on the seventh tee at Pebble Beach. Right-swipe. Match! That meant he'd seen my photos, too, and he was intrigued. I messaged him first: "Seventh tee at Pebble Beach! Jealous you've played there." He was stunned I could identify the hole. After a few messages back and forth (he was funny and sarcastic and wrote in full, grammatically correct sentences), we agreed to grab a drink.

Golf, the only apparent thing we had in common, compelled us to transition from exchanging messages on a mobile-only dating app to clinking beers in real life. "It's been shown over and over that people who have shared interests and do lots of activities together have higher satisfaction rates," says Dr. Galena Rhoades, a psychology professor at the University of Denver. "What might make golf a more important match than other activities is the amount of time that it can take up in someone's life. It's a serious commitment."

The rise of online dating has, among other things, made it easier for people to narrow down who they're looking for. Want to find someone who's tall enough? Easy. How about someone who has at least a master's degree? Done. Or a person who prefers dogs over cats? You got it. Tinder, a mobile-only app that has generated more than one billion matches, helps singles sort other singles by location. Other sites, like Match.com and OKCupid, allow you to winnow your search based on religion, political affiliation, interests, etc.

Limiting the field of potential dates, however, isn't always the key to finding that perfect person. "People think they might know what they need in a partner, but those needs can end up being quite superficial," Rhoades says. "Limitations can narrow the field too much. That said, I wouldn't consider golf a superficial quality, mostly because of the time commitment it demands. It's smart for golfers to find someone who's a golfer."

Samantha, a 26-year-old Californian-turned-New Yorker, agrees. The last nongolfer she dated was back in high school. "Golfers are just who I'm attracted to," says Samantha, who has a 1.4 Index. "Looking for golfers doesn't make dating easier, but your options are better. They're higher quality." Samantha learned to play golf when she was 14 and says that one of her first memories of the sport is going to the range with her mom. "Look at all these golfers," her mom told her, sweeping her index finger across the practice tee. "These guys are nice, and they have manners." Over time, Samantha has learned that Mom was right.

As a young single female who'd recently moved to a city that values a metropolitan lifestyle over an outdoorsy one, Samantha knew her chances of finding an avid golfer in Manhattan were slim. But she was hopeful. She frequented Chelsea Piers (a four-level, high-tech driving range on the Hudson River) in part to keep her game fresh, but also to meet guys. After flirting with several men there but never converting those exchanges into dates, Samantha turned to Tinder. She considered only guys who made mention of the sport, whether it was through a photo they'd posted or a reference in their short bio. On a cold day in February, she came across a guy with whom she'd flirted at Chelsea Piers in December. "I was trying to hit on him, and he wasn't having it," Samantha says. "Turns out, he had just come out of a long relationship and wasn't ready to date. But he went home that night and told his brother all about me. He even tried to find me on Facebook and Google." In time, each right-swiped the other on Tinder, and they've been dating since. Samantha competed at a Division I university, and he played for a Division III college. "We talk about golf on every single date, but it doesn't dominate the conversation. He just really likes that he can talk to me about it."

Foreplay

This sentiment is common among golfers who date other golfers. One woman in her late 20s, whom we'll call Elizabeth, got stood up on New Year's Eve in 2010. She turned to Match.com to find a serious relationship, making up a whimsical user name that contained the word "golf." Many men were immediately interested. "The first messages I got were always about golf," she says. "As a woman, golf is a huge differentiator. Most women just say, 'Yeah, I love to eat and drink and have fun.' So golf really sets you apart."

After using Match for several months and going on more than a dozen golf dates, Elizabeth was growing increasingly unenthused with the online-dating scene. She received a message from a guy whose user name was a famous golf resort. The subject line, "Nice Posture!" didn't impress her. Four days later, he sent a follow-up email with the subject line, "Taking a Mulligan." In more than 400 words, he explained why they should either "hit balls at Chelsea Piers" or play at a private course he'd recently joined.

The two played 18 holes on their first date. "I got into a total stranger's car, which in hindsight probably wasn't the smartest idea, but it was a full day of getting to know each other, and it didn't feel forced," Elizabeth says. "It was way better than going to dinner. Golf is such a nice launch pad for getting to know someone."

Though a four-hour first date might seem daunting, it can be far less awkward than a typical first date. Sitting across a table from a stranger in the corner of a dimly lit bar while forcing conversation over alcoholic beverages is hardly an ideal way to meet anyone. The awkward pauses inherent in those conversations (and in any conversation) feel far less awkward outside and on a golf course, where a shared experience and outdoor stimuli provide for natural talking points.

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July 28, 2014

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