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When It’s Time For a Golf Trip, I’m Flying Solo

Mar. 25, 2010     By     Comments (15)

Give me peace, quiet, and meeting new people over reminding my buddies each night that our 8 a.m. tee time will make staying until last call all the more painful.

Thrash TalkI made my long awaited (in my mind) return to the golf course last week. No press conferences. No media stakeouts. Just me, my clubs, and a balky putter. At some point there will be apologies to my wife and family since the next eight months I'll be sneaking off with my other loves (all 14 of them, with a few substitutes depending on my mood). I'd like to blame the layoff for by abysmal start to the year, not the distractions caused by my infidelity this winter (demoing irons and drivers for hours on end, leaving my current player-club relationships in serious jeopardy).

Unlike a certain big name golfer, I couldn't possibly wait for the Masters. But I did choose a controlled environment to kick off my season, and got away from my familiar surroundings, heading across the country for a solo golf trip in Nevada that reintroduced me to the joys of traveling and playing alone, with strangers, and (unfortunately) the rigors of being joined by my buddies after three days by myself.

One of the problems I run into as a golf addict is it's hard to find friends who want to build entire vacations around chasing the small ball. Sure, they'll play once or twice, but when I think of a golf trip, I want to fly in early enough to be on the first tee that afternoon. I want to play 36 because I hate to waste sunlight. And I want to fly out late enough to get in a farewell round before leaving for the airport.

As my group of pals has started playing more, we've gotten closer to planning actual golf vacations, we're just not there yet. So I've taken to the next best thing. Last week I headed out two days early, got in 18 straight off the plane, 36 on day two (plus six more holes before exhaustion caught up to me), then 18 with the crew before we embarked on four days of guy time in the casinos.

Playing golf and eating alone in a restaurant are two of those things many people just can't fathom. Maybe it was my years living away from friends and family and a desire to be left alone while I ate that broke me of the stigma (my wife would say it's that I don't like to be bothered, which I'll give her). My first solo golf trip was years ago when my odd work schedule broke in a way I had five straight days off and I hopped in the car at midnight and was on the first tee in Myrtle Beach at 9 a.m. That trip was completely spur of the moment, and it was great. I knew there would be many more in my future.

While some people might think it's anti-social - OK, it is anti-social - I just see traveling alone as a way to set your own course, and let golf be the focus. When you're hungry, you eat. If you want drive-thru tacos, you have tacos. If you want steak, you find a steakhouse. You don't worry about Larry who is a vegetarian, or Barry whose wife won't let him go to Hooters (he'll blame acid reflux), or Gary who's so cheap you know when you're short on the bill, he's the culprit. There might be time for carousing, but if I need an extra hour on the putting green, I'm not racing back so they can catch the last half of happy hour.

I see traveling alone as a badge of honor. It's also a double-edged sword in terms of tee times. Often the best deals come as a single, it just requires some calling around and having a strategy, and being flexible with your itinerary. You won't get in on all the golf specials, but honestly, you can normally do better booking them yourself anyway. It's also entirely my call where to play. There are no concerns about Larry shooting 125 and needing someplace ultra forgiving, Barry staying up way too late one night and blowing the morning tee time (or worse, making it, stinking of the night before for 18 holes, riding in my cart of course), or Gary's wallet unable to open far enough to enjoy anything more than the same muni we could have played at home.

But the thing I like most about heading out for three days of golf all by myself are the people I will meet. One of my favorites is being paired with a husband and wife, or parents and a kid. Since they're the most likely twosomes out there, it's fairly common to hook up as a single. There's a level of bonding that doesn't normally happen when you run into a couple of random hackers. Normally it goes like this: the dad is afraid his wife or kid will slow us down (and embarrass him) and try to convince me to find another group, or to play through. I'll talk him into it and he'll shank one off the first tee. I'll pound one down the middle, then the wife pokes one right out into the fairway. I make a comment about how sweet that swing was, the husband blushes, and it's like we're lifelong friends. That was the case last week, when I caught up to a threesome on an absolutely spectacular day at Coyote Springs, about an hour outside Vegas. I was floored after four or five holes when the mom told me their 20-something daughter had only been playing for a year. I told her she hits it better and is far more enjoyable to play with than the pals who would be meeting me in a couple days, swearing up a storm and racking up more thrown clubs than pars.

I'm not one for getting deep into the lives of new playing partners, but it's fun to get a snapshot. Where they're from, how their trip is going, what trick did Mr. New Golf Friend use to convince Mrs. New Golf Friend to pick up the clubs. I have to admit, it's often more enjoyable and always more relaxed than running into and joining up with three guys on the back nine who are about to finish an 18-pack of what must be lukewarm Coors Lights and grinding over their $3 nassau, with Mr. Callaway irons holing out from the fringe for a six to surge ahead after Mr. Rental Set's three-putt snowman.

Of course then there's the beauty of playing 18 alone. I did this at Paiute Resort in Las Vegas, where I was the first off the tee in the morning and took my sweet time, knowing I had another round coming in the afternoon and expecting to run into foursomes. Pretty sure I've never been able to take three hours and change to play a round solo, but I just went with the flow, took a bunch of pictures, scribbled some notes as I went, and enjoyed the sun. On that day, the goal was to soak in the golf course, it wasn't about racing through 36 holes in record time.

Just like the rest of the trip, out there alone, I got to do things the way I wanted. And in the end, what better way to spend a few days golfing than in the company of new friends, old friends and simply no one else at all?

Discussion

  1. Ryan says:

    I played a round alone last year after my buddies at my local course with no one ahead or behind me and I can confirm it was a very relaxing experience (as opposed to shooting it out with my usual 3/4-some). In fact, as expected, I shot a very good round with no distractions.

  2. Robert says:

    I agree. I play alone alot. My work requires a fair amount of travel (mostly by vehicle). I take my clubs with me. It can be very relaxing to get in 9 (sometimes 18) at the end of the day.

  3. pcsmith says:

    My previous job meant a lot of overseas travel - and there's no better way to acclimatise to time zones and changes in season (being from Australia) than getting in a day or 2 early and playing 18 or 36 - either as a single or joining a group.

    Have met some fantastic people and had memorable rounds (good and bad) around the world - in the US Pebble, Spyglass, Sawgrass, The Canyons, Spain, Thailand (how can those caddies accurately club you after just 2 holes??), China, Hong Kong.

    The funniest was my first time to Pebble Beach. Played with a couple who were "Hollywood producers" and a guy who bought his girlfriend to watch him (and she was extraordinarily beautiful). He took a 16 on the first hole - so that showed what we were in for! He played out every hole - lucky there was such amazing coastline views.....

    The camaraderie of friends, connecting with strangers or the solitude and expanse of the course - it really is the reason we play. Isn't it?

  4. Steven says:

    I like the story, and I'm sure all golfers that are even half as addicted as I am, will identify with it!

    As I travel from my home in the Netherlands to California quite a bit, and like to get up for an early game of golf, I also play alone some times.

    Although it does have its advantages to play alone, there is nobody to admire that super 300yd drive with you, and telling others about it just isn't the same..

    I guess it's all about your buddies. There are two kinds; 1) Golfers that became friends, or 2) Friends that try to play golf (but nowhere near your level of addiction).

    I find that on the European golf courses, the 'club feeling' is more present, and due to some 'forced' pairings at my local club, I have a few type-1 buddies. The latent type-2's realize they cannot match type-1 and we just go for other trips/outings (no golf the next day ;) ).

    My advice; find type-1 buddies!

  5. Dylan says:

    Excellent article. I've been wanting to take an actual golf getaway for some time now. I figure I'd head down to the south of Adelaide, Victor Harbor, where 3 of the top 100 public courses in Australia can be found.

    Absolutely everything you've said in this article is true. Golf is a true friend-maker. Even today with the pest inspector who came this morning to do his annual check.

  6. Brian says:

    I'm with you. I've played as a single from Dubai to Bandon to Kohler and I have been paired with some of the most interesting people. Just like you said, husbands and wives or father and son. It was very pleasant and I had a great time. It makes you realize how similar we all are and how kind others can be. Everyone should give it a try.

  7. Brian says:

    Couldn't agree more with this article. I've recently joined a private club, and am enjoying it. However what I miss the most about my previous, semi-private resort course, was the fun of showing up alone, and getting hooked up with a visiting two-some in town on vacation. Always gave me a new perspective on thwe joys of my home course, rather than the constant complaigning about this and that from my fellow members.

    One question, when I play a round entirely by myself, can I post the score if I played by the rules of golf?

  8. Ralph says:

    I had 3 days in early summer 2007, on the Big Island, playing the Ocean Course at Kona Country club, with nothing but my spare set of old Titleist Tour box blades, my 8802, and a Driver stuffed into a Sunday bag. They let me walk it for next to nothing. Didn't see a sould because it was so hot and humid. Back nine was total bliss. Still think about it.

  9. Very good article.

    Nothing beats playing solo and getting to soak it all in.

  10. golf4fun says:

    another advantage to playing with "locals" is their course knowledge. and insights for local food places, or place of interest, etc. if I a solo, I have a hard time playing one ball . . . especially when that water hazard magically appears after what I thought was a fine shot . . .

  11. Michael Shindler says:

    The more I think about this article, the more I like it. Thankfully, the friends I've gone on my only group golf vacation with are type-1 (as Steven puts it).

    Brian: absolutely, you can post it. You're trusted to be your own referee, whether or not anyone else is around. I've played as a single, frequently in groups with others arbitrarily paired, and I never ask someone to track my score or attest.

  12. Ken says:

    I have played more as a single than with a group of friends. I have met many interesting, funny, slightly crazy people, too. One round of golf and then never see them again. I don't mind it at all. ... I have played alone often, too. Best is with about 2 hours of sunlight left on a Saturday in the summer. Go out and play as many holes as possible before sundown. Play 2 balls, too. Good practice. Very relaxing.

  13. Foz says:

    Not only have i enjoyed reading your article about traveling solo, but I wish I long for the time to do it.

    I used to visit my Mom a couple times a year, taking my clubs, and playing the course I grew up on in central Kentucky. Wow, how the memories would return as I played Juniper Hills. I started caddying for my Grandfather when I was 8. I pulled his BagBoy cart all over the course. Juniper Hills opened in 1959 and my Grandfather was one of the first members. he had a regular 4some every Saturday morning. then they would play cards while listening to the Reds baseball on the radio. I would caddy, then practice my putting or go to the municipal pool on the other side of the parking lot. I learned how to play from watching my Grandfather.

    My problem now is my Mom has passed, and i live 900 miles away, so i don't get to go back much.

    I really miss playing there and hope I can plan a trip this summer to play again.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Jason says:

    Best "unexpected alone" golf I ever had was when I went to a conference in San Diego and had an early arrival on a Sunday. The hotel concierge told me all nearby courses were booked and rain expected. I was not deterred and a local pulled me aside and said Torrey Pines is worth a drive over just in case..."nicest people there ya know?" What can I say, 3 hours later I had got in 12 holes before the rain set in, had a great afternoon with the driving range manager who had just returned from the winter off, and I got to play one of the most famous South courses ever made. He told me of the tour pros he knows, how Phil bogeyed the par 3 I managed a par on, and I got to see the lengthened par 5 tee box built just for Tiger. Apparently, the year before he put it to shame with a 6 iron approach second shot so they put that silly tee behind the electrical tower darn near in the ocean. Two more steps back and I'd be off a cliff? I still have the pictures and appreciation for the gracious host I was paired up with by dumb luck and the best day of alone golf I ever played. Great article.

  15. Mike says:

    I 100% agree with this article. Though playing with ppl you know is always fun, playing alone or with complete strangers allows you to gain insight into your own game. It offers a far more relaxing atmosphere and you are just open to become a part of the surrounding vistages. I love playing on my own from time to time to just reconnect with nature and the game.

    Thanks.

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