The Etiquetteist: Is it okay to play two balls in the same round as a single?

two golf balls on green

Are two balls one too many?

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Tom from Pawtucket, R.I., writes: When I’m playing by myself on a busy public course, and there’s nowhere to go ahead of me, I like to drop two balls and play them both. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Dear Tom, 

Ah, so you’re one of those guys, eh? Mr. Tommy Two Shots. The Etiquetteist is well-acquainted with your type. Almost without exception, the rationale golfers of your ilk offer for playing two balls is the one you have provided here: You enjoy it, so you might as well, since there’s as group in front of you anyway.


While the Etiquetteist understands your argument, he’s not going to let it fly. Instead, he will refute it on three fronts: social, economic and — for lack of a better term— spiritual.

Let’s start with the social. As in, your social obligation to play at a reasonable pace. Playing at a reasonable pace does not simply mean “keeping up with the sluggish group ahead of you.” Just because they are proceeding at a snail’s rate does not mean it’s okay for you to do the same.

Think of it this way. If you had a neighbor who raked his leaves into the street, clogging the gutter, would that entitle you to rake your leaves into the street as well? It would not.

Something similar applies on the course. It’s on you to do what you can to improve the pace of play, not make it worse by futzing around. And let’s be clear. Playing two balls as a single is futzing around — a selfish form of slow play made all the slower by the fact that you can’t play ready golf.

single golfer waiting
The Etiquetteist: When should you feel obliged to let a single play through?
By: Josh Sens

Then there’s the economic argument. When you pay your greens fee, you are paying for a single round of golf, not two. By dropping a second ball, you are, in essence, playing a second round of golf, adding wear and tear to the course, increasing maintenance costs, and so on. You don’t get two burgers for the price of one at In-N-Out. Why should you get two rounds for a single greens fee? You want to play a second ball, okay, fine, so long as there’s no one behind you. And provided you pay the replay rate.

Lastly, as if the Etiquetteist hasn’t come across as enough of a fuddy-dud already, there is also what we’ll call the spiritual argument. Playing golf is a challenge. Part of that challenge is executing the shot the first time around. That’s the maddening beauty of it. When you play two balls, you are depriving yourself of that experience.

One might even argue that you are no longer even playing golf anymore. You are practicing. In golf, there is a place for practice. It is called the range.

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.