The Etiquetteist: How do you handle a playing partner who’s getting too close?

Golfers social distancing on the golf course.

You are supposed to social distance on the golf course, but what if not everyone plays by the rules?

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So, the handshake is out. Ditto the bro hug and the leaping chest-bump, to say nothing of the full-blown, Eldrick-Earl embrace. As a growing number of golf courses reopen across the country, social distancing will remain the order of the day.

But the Etiquetteist knows it and so do you: somewhere, someone will not receive the memo, or act as if the guidelines do not apply to them. What should you do if your playing partner fails to give you space?

As a general rule, ordinary breaches of etiquette allow for polite, incremental responses. If, for instance, your partner is playing too slowly, you can first try to lead by example by picking up the pace yourself. If that falls through, gently coaxing words might follow. (“What do you say we play ready golf?”) Direct confrontation should only come after you’ve exhausted the other options.

Too bad we aren’t dealing with the ordinary here. In the face of a threat to your health and safety, there’s no time for beating around the bush. Proper etiquette allows — or better yet, requires — a clear and immediate response. That doesn’t mean you can’t start with actions before words.

Let’s say some potentially virus-bearing lunkhead starts lumbering toward you, bound to violate the six-feet of social distance we’re all supposed to keep. The Etiquetteist suggests you first take a page from the Aaron Rodgers playbook and employ a quick-footed quarterback back-pedal. Scramble mode!

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Such bold, evasive action is a gesture of self-preservation that should also get your point across. Then again, it might not. And if your doltish playing partner still won’t take the cue, you’ll need to ratchet up your response.

Holding up a sign that reads “WWFD?” (“What Would Fauci Do?”) would be a nice touch. But that’s probably too subtle. And besides, it would require time-consuming, arts-and-crafty advanced planning. Like it or not, blunt-edged communication is your best bet.

“Back off, buddy!” ought to do the trick, though the more musical among you might choose to channel Sting, circa 1980, by singing “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” — albeit in a more aggressive tone than the original. To punctuate the message, you could also adopt a fencer’s pose, driver in hand, with your arm extended (testing this method with a tape measure at home, the Etiquetteist discovered that the combined length of his arm and driver, extended end to end, was just about six feet, so that’s convenient) and declare, ‘En garde! This is my safe space, bubba. Keep away.”

Point is, it’s your right and your duty to make yourself plain, whatever it takes, even if it means some ruffled feelings. When course protocols go back to normal, we can go back to being polite again.


Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.