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Three years ago I had an All-Star roster of people to golf with. We were all within five strokes of each other in skill level, had similar senses of humor so the shit talking was never awkward or too harsh, and all of us were always willing to throw some cash down every time we teed it up.
Fast forward to now and thanks to graduations, jobs, marriages, and life, my regular foursome has moved away and now I’m left deflecting invitations (unsolicited accompaniments) from members to join me because being one of the pros at the course means everyone thinks they ought to get to play with you or just watch you play. So if you’re like me and you’re in the rebuilding stage of your golfing organization, here are some tips to vetting potential golf buddies.
Avoid directly asking to join someone.
Directly asking to join someone is like directly asking if you can eat some food off their plate. If somebody is the type of person that wants other people to golf with, they’ll ask you. For some, golf is a social sport and they like to be surrounded by people every time. For others, golf is the only element of silence in their lives, in which case it’s precious. It will be rare that they invite someone to try and disrupt that silence.
You won’t know which type of golfer someone is until you play with them, so asking if you can join their weekend round without them inviting you is a very high-risk situation. You’re essentially saying, “Hey, my presence is so desirable I just know it’ll make your golfing experience even better despite the fact that you’ve been golfing enjoyably without me for years.”
If you’re right and they do like your company then great. Your gamble paid off and you’ve secured a second invitation, but if you’re wrong not only have you killed the potential to play with them again, you’ve probably ensured they’re going to try to avoid you in other situations now too. This isn’t dating. You can’t have a shitty time, call them up and apologize and say you’ll do better next time. This is your one shot and you have to make it count.
Instead of directly asking to join someone, plan an outing and ask them to join you.
If there is a new golfing buddy you’ve had your eyes on, let them know you’re trying to get a group together this weekend and ask them if they want to join. Be vague about the details of the round, keep it in the planning stages, but be sure to have a day and course locked up. Tell them you want to play Saturday at Course X, and if they say something like, “Oh nice, what time? I could do something in the morning” tell them you’ll call the course and see what the tee sheet looks like.
Taking the lead on planning the outing lets them know their company is desired and makes the round that much more enjoyable because all they have to do is show up. If you’ve got the budget, pay for them to join you. After all, you did invite them. If they are unable to make the tee time still go through with the round, that way when you see them next you can tell them about the enjoyment they missed out on, and incentivize extra effort between the both of you to make a round together happen. Be patient, you don’t want to look desperate.
Be extra careful about choosing to add family or coworkers to your group.
This should really go without saying, but people you are obligated to have relationships with like coworkers and in-laws probably aren’t the best pool to pull from when choosing new golfers. These people are, at a fundamental level, forced to have a relationship with you. It wasn’t their choice and unless that relationship is so good that both of you forget that detail, adding golf (which is stressful and frustrating) can only serve to further remind both of you that it was neither of yours’ choosing to have the other in your life. Plus, picking people that are already in your life by mandate as your new golf buddies is just sort of lazy.
If you do pick family or coworkers, cultivate a deep relationship before adding golf.
For someone such as myself who works at a golf course this is a little impossible, but for the rest of you, forge good relationships with your coworkers and your family that you know will survive the stressors of a round of golf. Make damn sure you enjoy being around these people in multiple environments doing multiple different activities before you decide you want to spend the next four hours sitting an inch away from them in the summer heat, possibly having the worst round of your life. I recommend waiting years.
Gender and age differences are nothing to be afraid of.
One of my favorite people to play with is my boss. He’s almost exactly double my age, but we play once a week and it’s one of the most relaxed rounds I can play. We don’t discuss work, and if we do it’s never in a stressful context. Despite the age differences, we still compete without having to give each other strokes. A woman I taught quite a bit of junior clinics for is one of the best, most enjoyable golfers I’ve ever been around. She’s got fresh insight to the game every time we play, her knowledge of the mental aspect is invaluable, and she’s long enough that teeing from two different sets of boxes escapes both of our observation.
Good golf is good golf, regardless of whether someone is your junior or senior or whether they’re playing the forward or back tees. If there are differences between the two of you like generations or genders, that just gives you different opinions on any topic and makes the conversations more robust. Don’t be afraid to join up with the single digit handicap senior club champion who makes every putt he looks at, or the women’s golf association ringer who got a full ride to a DI school. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t throw cash down for the first wager.
I’m someone who can enjoy just playing, but can also enjoy playing for somebody’s first born too. Keeping that in mind, make the first competition something easy that they won’t mind losing like lunch or drinks after the round. It lets your partner know that you like competition, but you’re not so aggressively cut throat (yet) that he’s afraid you’re going to be threatening him in the parking lot if he doesn’t pay up on a $20 bet. You can always up the stakes if he tells you he doesn’t get out of bed for bets that small, but it’s hard to take away the awkwardness of a situation where you say $10 a hole and he looks at you like you’re trying to steal his kidney.
Be the first to concede a putt.
If on the first hole the guy you’re playing with putts it to a foot and a half, tell him, “that’s good by me,” and see what he does. If he picks up, then you know you’re okay to not see every ball drop into the cup. If he doesn’t, then he’ll probably give an explanation why he likes to putt out, but since you were nice about offering he won’t mind if he sees you pick up one that’s in the leather or bump a fairway lie every once in a while.
Music is reserved for the driver.
This is like the aux cord rule. If you’re driving and you have a Bluetooth speaker you want to play, I’m all for it. I’m not so serious that that’s going to distract me nor am I so good that it will either. If you are the driver, ask what kind of music they like. If it’s something you both agree on, see how they feel about adding it to the round. I recommend anything you’d hear at a 4th of July barbecue. John Michael Montgomery or Mark Chestnutt Pandora are a couple of my personal favorites during a round.
Buy the first drink.
If you’re trying out a new regular golf buddy, you’re essentially taking this person on a golf date. Wine them a little, see what sort of golf drinker they are. Determine if they’re the type to institute a chulligan rule or if they think alcohol is the only thing standing between them and the Tour. If they decline your offer for a beer offer them a Gatorade instead and never play golf with them again. Just kidding. Kind of.
While there’s no universal formula for finding the Palmer to your Nicklaus, or the Nelson to your Hogan, with these guidelines you can hopefully navigate the already awkward situation of creating a new golfing relationship with someone with no more awkwardness than required. Good luck..
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