There’s nothing quite as meaningful in golf than teeing it up with the people you love: reunion-based buddies’ trips to bucket list destinations, caravans to undiscovered locales with your partner and kids. For most of us though, these trips don’t mark the calendar often enough—we end up dragging our clubs to the local muni every week to fine-tune our game, or let off some steam. And unless you have a solidified weekly foursome, it’s always a roll of the dice to see who you’ll get paired with on the course.
It’s natural to make strong assumptions about our randomly-paired playing partners—you’re about to spend at least four hours with these strangers. I’ve surely resembled a hawkish Tyra Banks, judging scornfully from my pedestal on the first tee, as my playing partners amble timidly down the catwalk to join me. This dude’s got iron covers? Are you serious? Uh oh, here we go, this lady’s rockin’ like twelve woods in the bag. Are these face-judgements helpful for anyone involved? Nope. Because in all likelihood, both of those people are good folks, just looking for the same thing as me: to take a walk outside and get a tiny bit better at knocking a little ball around the grass.
I ask that you make the effort to put aside that primal urge to judge your random playing partners on the first tee box. To keep your mind open about what these people could stand to teach you—about themselves, or about yourself.
For one, playing with random partners gives you the opportunity to make new friends. In COVID times, the golf course is one of the few remaining strongholds where you can socialize at a distance and meet new people.
Take this as an opportunity to iron out your storytelling chops—namely, your own story. The first few holes for a randomly-assigned grouping will typically yield an all-too rare chance to share your life story with a complete stranger. What are the moments that stick out to you? What’s worth sharing? You’ll learn a ton about yourself by paying attention to what you choose to reveal to a new face.
In the same vein, put your interviewer hat on and ask some questions. What’s the most memorable golf experience you’ve had? What motivates you? What do you think about golf course dress codes? In a time of armchair intellectuals and hot-take mongers, everyone’s looking to share their opinion on the issue of the month.
Arguably, more interesting is meeting people you have fundamental disagreements with. We’ve all been confronted with political or social conversations on the golf course—lean into those discussions, if you’re compelled. Debate is healthy, as is exposing yourself to new and different perspectives. At the worst, you’ll likely never run into them again. And, at the very least, you can agree on one thing: that you enjoy playing golf. That’s not a bad place to jump back to, if the chat takes a nosedive.
My first round of golf in 2020 was at Real Nuevo Club Golf Basozabal in northern Spain. I showed up to the course, snagged my rental clubs, and was paired with three people in their 70’s, who had been playing together every week at this club since they were teenagers—imagine the life changes and swing changes this course had witnessed from these folks over the past 50-odd years.
I asked how they’d managed to stick together for so long, and if anyone else was originally part of their group. They told me there had been a fourth, but that he’d passed away a few years back. That didn’t deter them from playing together every week as a threesome, the fourth spot remaining vacant but ready to accept any new face who wanted to join for a game and conversation.
Joining a public golf club is another way to meet new people from all walks of life, and organizations like the SCGA offer thousands of clubs that anyone can be part of. Most public clubs give members a regularly-scheduled grouping to play with, and the opportunity to forge lifelong connections. And with new members easily and regularly coming into the fold, these clubs provide boundless new faces and perspectives to play with on a steady basis. At a SCGA public club, you might even create a group like my friends in Spain: invested in one another, but always welcoming to a new adventure.
Playing golf with random people is an opportunity to engage with new perspectives. We’re living in a time where asking questions and actively listening to people from different backgrounds than your own is vital to enact positive change in our communities. You never know who you’re going to meet when you roll up to the first tee, but they might change your life. So embrace the random—make a friend, have an argument, and say “good shot” to remind yourself how lucky you are.