"A singleton has no rights," wrote Tom Chiarella in the excellent Thursday's Game. I remember thinking of this as an antiquated, headstrong belief. Now I realize Chiarella was not opining; he was telling it like it is.
I've always been prone to playing solo; a move away from friends and family has made single golf my new norm. Taking on a course alone has its advantages: An in-tune experience with the outdoors, more practice time, quicker rounds, an opportunity to develop tempo and a more leisurely environment, to name a few.
Unfortunately, this past year has reinforced Chiarella's observation. Singles aren't treated like first-class citizens. Hell, we're barely above caddies.
To explain our plight, here are the eight worst things about playing golf alone:
Fewer tee-time options
Many courses won't book a single until the day of, if at all. This is especially true of online tee-time services. In short, if you're solo, you are S.O.L. on reservations.
You're on the practice green, glancing around at the partner prospects. You notice a mid-50s couple skulling chips, clearly new to the game. Hmmm, not sure why they're laughing at those shanks. Is the guy really standing behind and holding her hips? Oh, matching ensembles; that's cute. C'mon guys, a first-tee selfie? I need to join a countr...
Starter: "On the tee, the Cunninghams and Beall."
(Begins to cry.)
Unable to input score into GHIN handicap system
Golf is trying to make the game more accessible and inclusive, which is why the USGA ruled that scores recorded when playing alone are disqualified for your handicap. Oh wait, that's in direct opposition to the sport's welcoming initiative.
Something odd about calling yourself a game of integrity, only to turn around and say, "But yeah, you need an observer for your round, because we don't trust you."
No witnesses = no believers
I've had three aces in my life. All have come alone, unless we're counting the grounds crew at Pound Ridge and a lady walking her dog near the 10th tee at Devou Park. True, the only person you need to prove anything to is yourself. Conversely, it's only human to want good shots or scores validated by your peers.
The soul-sucking stare downs
At best, groups look at singles with utter confusion: "What's that? A person playing by themselves? Can you do that?" Often, going solo elicits gazes of disgust, as if we just TP'd someone's front lawn.
When out on my own, I try and give groups as much distance as possible. Part of it is to allow some breathing room; no one wants to feel like they're being pressured or rushed on the golf course. Plus, this helps mitigate any confrontation from your "dastardly stunt" of playing golf by yourself.
Stubborn, ignorant etiquette
As a single, you should never expect to play through. That's the rub. Nevertheless, there are times -- such as a foursome isn't keeping pace of play, or they're the only ones keeping you from an open course -- that a pass is warranted.
Alas, many golfers view someone going through as an affront to their manhood. One of the reasons I love golf is it exposes a person's true character and colors. The upshot: Apparently a lot of us have unresolved vulnerability issues. Along with recalcitrant players, there's the uneducated crew, those that simply are oblivious to the plight of others.
How I keep finding myself behind such groups is beyond me, although I'm convinced I must have been an awful person in a previous life and this is my penance.
The nerve-racking shot after getting waved through
You desperately want to prove to them that you're worthy of their generous offer. Instead, you dribble one off the tee, feeling the group glancing at each other in skepticism and you move onward, head drooped in shame.
The dreaded sandwich
If I'm stuck behind a group, I'll throw down a few balls for practice. But if I'm in the middle of foursomes, it's suddenly a crapshoot. I don't want to be breathing down the neck of the group in front of me. On the other end, I don't want the people behind to see me hitting multiple shots and surmise that a single is holding them up. It's a no-win situation, one that I find myself in too often.
"A singleton has no rights." And in moments like this, no hope.