The Etiquetteist: Should you go easy on your children in a golf match, or keep the pedal down?

In this special edition of The Etiquetteist, our resident golf-manners guru responds to a pressing query from reader Ken Chaisson, of Massachusetts:

Dear Mr. Etiquetteist, 

I play golf with my two sons, ages 26 and 30, numerous times each year. Our indexes are close, but we don’t play matches. We simply compare scores at the end of the round.

One of the occasions that brings us together is an annual Ryder Cup-style tournament, a high-stress, no-putts-given competition that is talked about for the entire year. Historically, this event has pitted one family against another. But this year, we are changing the format to Young Guys vs. Old Guys, which means that for the first time I could be up against my sons in a match.

If this happens, what is the proper fatherly thing to do? Does etiquette allow me to beat them, a la Tiger Woods, in a stomp-on-their-neck-when-you-have-them-down fashion?

I think about my own father (long since passed but who taught me the game). If I were playing him, I would want his best, and if he beat me 7 and 6, so be it.

Similarly, if my son beat me with a good round against my good round, I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Still, though, it seems odd to play my children and give no quarter.

What is the polite course of action?

*****

Dear Ken,

As a father myself, I have always felt that I owe my kids three things: a roof over their heads, warm clothes on their backs, and gimmes on everything inside the leather.

At least until they get through kindergarten. At which point, the circle of (familial) friendship shrinks dramatically. Sorry, squirt, but I’m going to have to see that one.

I jest. Sort of.

This was our most read etiquette tip in 2020 at GOLF.com
By: Luke Kerr-Dineen

Point is, your sons will always be your offspring, but they are no longer children. By now, just as they have likely come to terms with the cold, hard truth about the Tooth Fairy, they are also old enough to handle any number of life’s other harsh realities, including the possibility that their dad just whooped them on the course, and good.

I’m not suggesting that you pull a Great Santini and strive for conquest at all costs. This is still golf, and etiquette requires that you play fair and square. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also play your hardest, even if that means trouncing your own flesh and blood. 

Think of your own father and your long-ago matches. If he’d gone easy on you, you would have known it, and you wouldn’t have liked it. You wanted his best effort, not a hollow victory. Your sons no doubt want the same from you. You owe them that, but not any other special treatment. 

On the flip side, given your many years of sacrifice for them, they should definitely buy the beer.

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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.