The Etiquetteist: How to avoid feeling guilty when excluding a golf buddy

Don't let guilt ruin what should be a memorable round.

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Scott L. from New Jersey writes:

I play golf with good friends in a regular foursome. Recently, one of our guys got a sweet invite to a prestigious private club. The catch is, the invite is for three players, meaning one of our posse won’t be able to join. The guy who got the invite has been torn up over how to handle the situation. Should he alert the dude who is getting left out, or leave him in the dark and hope he doesn’t find out?

Dear Scott:

The dilemma you describe is what we ethical scholars think of as golf’s version of a lifeboat scenario. There is a group of survivors floating in the ocean, but only so much room on the dinghy. It’s sink or swim. For the good of the many, someone has to drown.

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Except, in your case, not exactly.

You make it sound as if your friend who got the invite has only two options: deliver bad news to one guy in your group, or hide that bad news from him. When you frame it that way, it’s no wonder your friend with the invite is feeling torn up.

Option 1 means telling a member of your foursome that he’s the George Costanza of your contingent, the loser deserving of the short end of the stick. Maybe that’s not how you all feel about him, but let’s be realistic. That’s how it’s going to come across. Which makes option 1 an unpleasant choice. 

Not that option 2 is any better. This alternative involves lying to a friend (or actively concealing the truth from him), which is inadvisable. We’ve all seen that sit-com episode. We know how it ends.

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The good news is, there’s a third way, and it’s simple.

Your friend with the invite should fill everyone in on the situation. There are four of you, but only three of you can play. At which point, you should all draw straws. Or pick numbers. Or have a putt off. Or go through some other equitable selection process. It doesn’t really matter. So long as everyone feels as if they had a fighting chance.

The odd-man-out will be disappointed. But assuming that he’s a functional adult worthy of your friendship, he’ll understand. He’ll have no right to feel lied to or insulted. If, on the other hand, he throws a tantrum, at least he’ll have helped clarify matters. Then you’ll know that he really is the Costanza of your group.

Josh Sens Contributor

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.