Should single golfers always expect to be called through?

Single golfers may now have equal standing, but a degree of common sense is still needed

The single golfer: equal standing now, but common sense still required
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Single golfers may have had no standing in the past, but although that has now changed, a degree of common sense is still required on all sides

For most, golf is a sociable activity where you spend as much time chatting as actually hitting the ball. But sometimes, out of necessity or choice, you may find yourself out there alone.

There’s little doubt the solo golfer’s lot has not always been a happy one, with the frustration of being stuck behind seemingly immovable players forming a potentially explosive chemistry with the group ahead’s irritation at having someone constantly up their backside.

The wording in the Rule book of yesteryear was unequivocal: “A single player has no standing and should give way to a match of any kind," probably best read in the voice of a bumptious colonel type!

Although that was essentially done away with in 2004’s revisions, a careful read of the ‘priority on the course’ paragraph in today’s Rule book shows it is not quite black-and-white: “Unless otherwise determined by the Committee, priority on the course is determined by a group’s pace of play. Any group playing a whole round is entitled to pass a group playing a shorter round. The term ‘group’ includes a single player.

So while the single player’s complete lack of standing may be a concept of the past, he or she is still at the mercy of the Committee.

It's good to head out alone sometimes, but singles and bigger groups don't always mix well

It's good to head out alone sometimes, but singles and bigger groups don't always mix well


In some ways, this get-out clause is a good thing, for while at many clubs groups of golfers arrogantly disregarding single golfers is now a welcome thing of the past, there is still scope to retain what many might see as a sensible degree of control.

From chat on our website forum, a number of clubs do, indeed, have byelaws effectively bypassing the new single player guidelines, but encouragingly, even at such clubs many members take a more common-sense approach.

After all, who really wants someone breathing down their necks all the way round? Given that this particular irritation is more or less equal to the frustration of a single player standing around waiting when the course beyond is clear, surely waving the single through is the best option for all on a relatively uncrowded course?

But when the course is busier, it’s not quite so straightforward, which is perhaps why the Rule book still allows a degree of autonomy.

A single player trying to pick off a string of groups all playing at a similar pace one by one - like an F1 driver working through the backmarkers - is rarely good for the mood of players in those groups.

The ‘pace of play’ paragraph in the etiquette section states that, “It is a group's responsibility to keep up with the group in front. If it loses a clear hole and is delaying the group behind, it should invite the group behind to play through, irrespective of the number of players in that group."

But given that groups of differing sizes often struggle to mix comfortably, surely it is incumbent on every golfer to exercise a degree of common sense.

Going out on your own immediately behind the final group of a busy competition may not be against club rules, but it almost certainly isn’t the shrewdest course of action, especially if you have Jack Russell-like tendencies, and are forever snapping away impatiently at the heels of those in front.

One final thought - a single player cannot, by definition, be playing a competitive round, so, any desire to put a score together for personal satisfaction notwithstanding, does it really matter whether you play a full round or all the holes in the right order?

The single player's lot is a much happier one than it once was

The single player's lot is a much happier one than it once was

I know when I’m on my own, I’m more than happy to skip across to other holes, often looking to see if there might be scope to then revisit the missed holes later if I’m keen to sample the whole course.

Some clubs may frown on such practices, but surely it’s better as a single to make it work as well as possible for you and others. A string of bigger groups constantly stepping aside to let a single through on a busy course is far from ideal, however much ‘right’ the single may have to be out there.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response