Golf presents a broad array of ethical dilemmas, but none might be thornier than this: Is it OK to back out of one golf invite in favor of an even better golf invite?
Those who answer “Of course!” show such disregard for common decency they shouldn’t count on golf invites in the future. The rest of us fall somewhere between “Probably not,” and “Well, it depends,” and might even have examples of our own to defend. As a golfer you know ours is a civil game, and that civil people don’t savagely break commitments in favor of a better offer. But a golfer also might recognize life is short, and while golf friendships might last, invites to Cypress Point do not.
Although I normally caution against consulting the staff at Golf Digest for real moral quandaries, here I sought the input of a handful of colleagues to determine when opportunism trumps decorum. The Slack exchange below is lightly edited for clarity.
Sam Weinman: Is the old "switcheroo” of backing out of one golf invite because you get a better offer ever OK?
Chris Powers: I have countless examples.
Powers cited a time when he was invited to play Quaker Ridge, but bailed at the 11th hour when a spot opened up at Baltusrol closer to home. No, he’s not a member of either. Yes, you’re allowed to hate him.
Powers: Balty > Quaker.
The 14th green at Baltusrol's Lower Course.
Technically he’s not wrong. According to Golf Digest rankings of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Course, Baltusrol’s Lower Course is ranked 45th and Quaker Ridge is 81st. But should this actually matter?
Luke Kerr-Dineen: I feel like it's always OK to back out if you have an invite at, say, a top-5ish course in the state, but only if you haven't played it before and the course is private.
Powers had played both courses plenty of times before, so that didn’t matter. But Baltusrol is indeed way closer to home.
LKD: I feel like that may fall under some kind of family/geographic exemption which is the only other time it's OK.
In Baltusrol and Quaker Ridge, we’re talking about two elite A.W. Tillinghast courses. Other than a longer drive, you couldn’t go wrong with either. Perhaps a more understandable dilemma is between two distinct options.
Alex Myers: [Name of Golf Digest employee redacted] bailed on a couple buddies a few weeks ago because he got invited to [name of exclusive private club redacted], when they were supposed to play at [name of local muny redacted]. The one big golfer completely understood, the newbie didn't.
Shane Ryan: They'll get over it if they're a good friend or a potential good friend. A one-time bail-out if you're honest with them shouldn't leave anyone bitter. You should do a token "I tried to get you in" (if you can't actually try to get them in) and that should be plenty. I would never get mad at a friend for this as long as it wasn't a special occasion or a tournament or something.
Joel Beall: When it’s OK to back out:
When you discover you’re supposed to play with a miserable prick.
When one course’s greens are aerated.
When you find out a course is [name of bad golf course architect redacted] design.
Here I mentioned the all-time bad guy move, which I admittedly came close to doing this summer.
Weinman: The REAL switcheroo, which I promise I've never done, is to invite someone to your own club, and then you get an offer to somewhere really choice, and then you bail on them.
Myers: That would be an all-time d—ck move.
Weinman: Maybe, but if it was Fishers Island, I'd drop you all, no remorse. I would literally leave you at the first tee wondering where the hell I was.
Myers: If it's a top-10 course you've never played before, fine (Fishers Island is ranked ninth).
Beall: No joke I once had someone drop out of a round because they were worried the course in question was going to lower their handicap and wanted to preserve it where it was before a club tournament. As I type this I realize this could have been an elaborate lie.
Weinman: We probably need to also account for the “who” part of this equation. For instance, I am invited by someone I play with all the time and I’m frankly a bit bored by. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call this guy “Luke Kerr-Dineen”. Then someone I haven’t connected with in ages reaches out. What’s the call here?
Beall: Even if you're ditching a classy joint for a goat track, you have to go with the lost connection. However, that is assuming the lost connection and yourself no longer live in the same area. If you and the lost connection do live in the same town and just have not crossed paths, that's on both of you, and you have to hold the original tee time.
Powers: Also, it it’s a tee time planned months in advance, and everyone’s looking forward to it, you are an asshole of the highest order of you back out for a better last-minute invite. If it was a spur of the moment time and another spur of the moment time pops up, fair game.
Beall: One thing I’d add: If you’re canceling on one game, it also helps to offer a potential substitute. Because most of the time, the pain in the behind of having someone cancel on you is not that your robbed of their presence, but now you have to start frantically searching for someone to fill the spot. Feel like naming an alternate helps make good on the switcheroo.
LKD: Also, what is the minimum acceptable time to cancel on a tee time? Like a week in advance seems like not a huge deal. Morning of is absolutely out of order.
Beall: Anything less than 8 hours can get the f-- out.
Powers: I think the penalty for that is just the person never gets invited again.
Let this be a cautious tale against bailing last minute on a tee time...