The Etiquetteist: When should you feel obliged to let a single play through?

single golfer waiting

Should singles always be allowed to play through?

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Roger from Sacramento, Calif. writes:

I was playing as a single my local muni recently when I caught up with a twosome who wouldn’t let me through. They said there were groups ahead of them so it didn’t make sense. I could also tell they didn’t want me to join them, so I was left waiting behind them all day. Seems like poor form on their part. Am I wrong?

Dear Roger, 

I see you’re writing from Sacramento, not Scotland, which makes sense. If it were the latter, there would be no question. Singles have lowly standing in the ancestral home of golf. There is zero expectation that a Johnny NoMate be given the right of way.

Here in the U.S., it’s a different story. Waving a solo golfer through is fairly standard practice, and it’s not uncommon to see a lone gunslinger attempting to leapfrog group after group until there’s no one left to pass.

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That’s another way of saying that in this country, etiquette suggests that when a single comes up from behind, you offer them the option of playing through. Of course, the calculus is different if it’s jam-packed up ahead, with every hole stacked from tee to green. In that case, there is no point in giving way to the single, as you’d just be swapping positions: frustrating for your group, and embarrassing for the solo golfer now stuck just in front of you. 

So, how crowded is too crowded to warrant a wave through? There is no hard rule. But a good baseline is that if there’s a hole or more open ahead, the single should be granted the right to pass.

So, should that twosome have let you through? It’s impossible to judge whether they were being reasonable without knowing exactly how congested the course was that day. What can be said for certain is that they were being rude. They should have invited you to join them, even if they were “playing a serious match” or “just felt like playing as a twosome,” or some other justification that unfriendly groups sometimes offer. Tournaments aside, golf is meant to be a social pursuit, and the cold shoulder they gave you runs counter to the spirit of the game.

In Scotland, they might not wave you through. But they’d almost certainly welcome you in. Maybe that’s another sign that they get what golf’s about. Just because they grant you low priority doesn’t mean they like to see you playing alone.

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