One of my friends, Phil who has only recently taken up golf aged 60 asked me “can you golf by yourself, I often have spare time and I’d like to play more, but is that ok?”
So can you golf by yourself? The answer is yes you can golf by yourself but not every golf course will allow you to, especially at peak times. Busy courses will usually pair up lone golfers into a two ball. Very busy courses will pair up two balls into four balls. There’s a lot to be gained from playing by yourself though, where possible.
When I first started playing golf, I often played on my own as well as with others. Sometimes, in summer, I’d be up around 4.30am to play at 5am with the intention to get a round in before starting work. I would usually see around a dozen other golfers out on the course at this early time, with the odd two ball but mainly lone golfers.
I’m self employed, which means I can switch around the hours that I work to an extent. My regular golfing partners are all employed, most of them with early starts, so they weren’t able to join me.
That said, I was happy to play on my own. it’s different from playing in a group obviously with pro’s and cons. I treated it as on course practice since I was already hitting a significant number of balls at the range.
For example, there is one particular par three that I always struggled on. Around 150 yards to the centre of the green from an elevated tee. There’s a valley in between tee and green, so anything shot but straight rolls back down the hill and means playing a blind flop shot to make the green. Short right brings some woods into play and usually a lost ball, and short left means hitting one or more trees leaving 100 yards to the green.
The front of the green is protected by a long bunker. Hit your tee shot on line but 5 yards short of the green and you’re in it. A yard shorter and you’re back down the hill.
Long left has a bunker to catch the bailout shot leaving a tricky up and down to a green that slopes away from you. Knife it out of the bunker and you’ll end up at the bottom of the valley playing your third.
Long right requires a shot out of rough over a swale to the sloping green. Same problem as long left. You have to play positively, otherwise you leave a similar but shorter shot. But knife the ball or hit it too long and you’re down that hill again.
The green is long and narrow and at 90 degrees to a straight shot. Left to right it’s around 40 yards and it’s about 10 yards top to bottom.
So hitting the green with your tee shot is paramount, but I just couldn’t do it. and that got stuck in my head. I nearly always messed it up when playing in a group and a 9 on my card at this hole wasn’t uncommon. A mis-hit tee shot would often result in a lost ball, as in addition to the difficulties on this hole I’ve described above, a topped shot, deposits your ball in thick undergrowth.
The perfect tee shot is a 6 or 7 iron fade for a right hander (or draw for a left hander) missing the valley on the left hand side; landing on the left portion of the green and rolling right towards the flag.
150 yards is a perfect 7 iron for me, except I naturally draw the ball, so I have to aim right of the flag, out over the largest drop and towards a wooded thicket.
So one morning, playing alone, I arrive at this hole which is the 4th.
My first and second tee shots flew off in various non helpful directions, as did my third and fourth. But I nailed it at my fifth attempt. Obviously, nobody has that luxury when playing in a group. amd each successive provisional only piles on the pressure.
But playing alone isn’t pressurised and providing you’re not holding anyone up, allows you time to work out problems that otherwise would remain an issue.
Next round in company, I landed my tee shot on the green and from then on that hole stopped being my “bogey hole”. Well, most of the time.
Another thing I’d do when I was learning and desperate to get my handicap down, was go play 9 holes on my own on a summer evening, alternating front 9 with back 9. When the weather was good, I’d do that 2 or 3 times a week.
I work from home, so getting out of the house after finishing work when the nights are light was a great way for me to relax and wind down.
Playing a full round on your own can be a bit boring and it becomes easy to switch off and then mistakes creep in. But playing 9 holes means that you can keep concentration levels high. Sometimes, if I was playing well and enjoying it, I’d stretch it out to 12 or 14 holes.
What I found was that there were very few groups teeing off at say 7pm but there were quite a few solo golfers. Often I’d get chatting to them on the putting green before starting my round and they’s ask if I’d like to join them. I always said yes, partly because I wanted to see how other people navigated their way around the course. But also because I believe that golf should be fun first and foremost and meeting new people also meant that I got into conversations in the Clubhouse. That all adds to the enjoyment of the game.
And that’s a great tip if you have no one to play golf with. Go to your course in the early mornings or late evenings. The majority of courses have a practice putting area close to the first tee. Go practice some putting and if nobody asks you, just ask other golfers if they are going out and could you join them. I did that a lot and got to play with some interesting people. If we didn’t get on particularly well, I simply wouldn’t ask them again.
So what I liked most was the freedom to play a second or third shot. If the shot I’d played didn’t work out how I wanted, but I knew it could have done, I’d just drop another ball and take a “second serve”. That applied to all shots from driving to putting.
And you’re practicing in live circumstances. I don’t care how hi-tech your driving range is, you can’t simulate a ball sat down in grass, below your feet there.
If I did get stuck behind a group, I wouldn’t pressurise them, I’d just hang back and play two balls a hole. Often they’d ask me if I wanted to play through when our paths crossed and occasionally, they’d ask if I’d like to join them. I always did.
Current Circumstances don’t allow me the time to play on my own in addition to my regular group outings, but as soon as I’m able, I’ll be back playing 9 holes or more as a solo golfer.