Golf stands alone, or at least sits in the rare company of events such as swimming or archery on the list of sports that you can play all by yourself.
For an honest-to-goodness football scrimmage, you need 21 other people. A batter can toss a baseball in the air and swing at it, a practice known as hitting a fungo, but it is nothing like the game’s intrinsic hitter vs. pitcher matchup.
You can shoot baskets, but it is not the same as if someone were guarding you. Aiming a soccer ball or a hockey puck at a goal loses something if there is no goalie in the way. Even the individual sport of tennis, it takes two to have even a respectable warmup.
Golf is completely different. At its essence, it is a matter of player vs. the course, regardless of whether the player is in a foursome, a match or a major championship. And that essence does not change if the golfer is out there solo. In some ways, a singular round of golf is exhilarating and liberating.
To be sure, there are drawbacks and pitfalls in playing golf alone. On busy days, the course is very unlikely to let you go out by yourself. There also is the matter of figuring out what to do while waiting for a foursome ahead to get moving—or of dealing with the rushed angst of “playing through” and getting out of a group’s way. Getting acquaintances to believe that you’ve made a hole-in-one also can be a problem. Still, playing golf as a single offers many positive possibilities.
You can carry your bag, push a “hand cart” or zip around the layout in a motorized cart. In any case, if the course is not crowded, you can go at your own pace. Nothing can stop you from hitting an extra shot here or there for practice without having to worry about inconveniencing anyone. You can concentrate on your shots as much or as little as you’d like without feeling the need for small talk (2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed usually plays his pre-tournament practice rounds alone).
A solitary golfer can be free to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the trees, birds and grass. Plus, he or she can sharpen the inner discipline and self-honesty that golf inspires: “Yes, I really am going to record an `8’ on my scorecard for that hole.”
As novelist and humorist P.G. Wodehouse once put it, “The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.”