Golf is an individual pursuit. Unless you’re an elite player with a caddy, you head out onto the course without assistance. Standing on the first tee, it’s just you, a bag of sticks and a, seemingly, very, very small ball. It’s a great appeal of the challenge – you are in control of your sporting destiny for the day. You have the chance to succeed even if, more often than not, you will fail.
Effectively then, you play golf alone every time you go out. But not really – Most days, you’ll have your trusty playing partners with you, willing you on to hit good shots and play well… Yeah right.
But they’ll be there at least, to keep you company and share some well-meaning banter. Normally, you play in either a two, a three or a four. You might be playing an individual event where only your score counts or you may be playing a match – perhaps just against one another or maybe, if you’re in a four, a pairs game where you and a pal take on the other two in the group in a game of fourball, foursomes or some other wild and whacky format.
Can I play alone though?
You can, of course, go out on the course by yourself. In fact, it can be a hugely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. If the course is quiet, you can head out for 18, or even just a few holes with just your thoughts for company. It’s a peaceful and sometimes cathartic experience to expunge negative thoughts in the fresh air, smacking the sense out of a little white orb.
Playing a one-ball is perfectly allowed but beware – it can be slow going. Unless it’s quiet or the groups in front are in particularly generous mood, you could be doing a lot of standing around waiting.
The good news is that the etiquette of the game changed a number of years ago to give single players the same standing on the other course as any other group. The Player Behaviour guidance in The R&A’s Pace of Play manual simply says, “If a group cannot keep its position on the course for whatever reason, and is delaying the group behind, then it should invite the group behind to play through so that group can play at the pace it is capable of.” It doesn’t matter if that group behind is a one, two, three or four.
Can I play alone in a competition?
Yes and no. The Rules of Golf (3.3b(1)) state that a player must be accompanied by a marker for the entire round. Generally speaking that “marker” will be a playing partner so, normally, in a strokeplay competition you will be playing with at least one other person.
However, if your playing partners didn’t turn up, or if you’re so unpopular that nobody wants to play with you, you could play alone with a “marker” (acceptable to the committee – so probably not your mate Dave who has never played golf in his life,) who doesn’t actually strike a shot but walks with you the whole way round and keeps your score. You can play alone in a competition then, but you can’t actually be alone.
Can I put in a general play score playing on my own?
No. Under the World Handicap System (WHS) you are encouraged to enter General Play scores whenever it is possible for you to do so. However, one of the criteria for the General Play score to be legitimate is that you “Must play with at least one other person.” You can’t put in a general play score if you’re playing on your own.
Nobody’s doubting your integrity, they’re just doubting other people’s integrity.
Playing on your own can be a great way to let off steam, to work on your game or just to get a bit of exercise. You can absolutely play golf on your own, just not in an event where you could either win something, or get your handicap cut.
Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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