Lead, follow or get out of the way


When I was getting an early start to my season a couple of weeks ago in Myrtle Beach, at a lovely course called Caledonia, I was part of a foursome that caught up to another foursome, somewhere around the fifth hole.  The foursome ahead had teed off at least  30 minutes before we had.  There was no one behind us, and no one ahead of them.   Our group was not playing particularly quickly, and we were in no rush.

At the fifth, we waited for the four guys ahead to putt out.  I was hoping and assuming that these guys would have noticed that we’d caught up, and would either let us through, or pick up their pace.

They did neither.

We proceeded to wait on every shot for the next six holes.  From the fairway, it was excruciating to stand and watch as these guys (all in their 20s or 30s, I would’ve guessed), lined up their putts from every angle, and gave or took no gimmes, like it was the final round of the US Open.  They couldn’t possibly have failed to notice us waiting, but it had no effect on their actions.

Finally, a course marshal drove by.  I called him over and told him the situation.  He said he’d go talk to them, which he did.  I suspect he said no more than “how ya doin’, guys?” and then drove on, because the guys did not pick up their pace or let us through.  We never saw the marshal again.  (We finally made our own gap by deliberately taking our time to look for one of our balls on the twelfth.)

A few days earlier, on a different course in Myrtle Beach, I was playing in a twosome, and we caught up to a foursome – two couples, who were, frankly, dreadful players.  They also refused to let us through, and we waited and waited.  I could see that they were deliberately not looking back to see if we were still behind them.  On a par three, where they were looking for their balls in a bog, I finally called up and asked if we could go through.  They rather sneeringly said, “Fine”.


Here’s a statement of fact – indeed, a law of physics — for everyone on a golf course to consider:  If a group or a person catches up to you from behind, it means they are playing FASTER than you are.

Now, here’s a simple rule of courtesy:  If they are playing FASTER than you are, you should either play faster yourself, or LET THEM PLAY THROUGH.

What is so difficult about this to understand?

If you’re driving your car in the left lane of a highway, and someone comes up behind you, don’t you pull over to the right to let them pass?  If you don’t, you’re a selfish idiot, and a menace on the road.

But my goodness, the number of people who seem to think the same principle doesn’t apply on green grass is far too high, and it seems, getting higher.  It’s as if letting people through, or being expected to play faster, is some kind of negative statement on your manhood or worth as a person.  Trust me, I don’t care what your testosterone or pride level is, just move out of the way and let me and my group pass, if and when you’re making me wait… and if and when there’s a clear hole ahead of you.

And even if there isn’t a clear hole ahead of you… if someone in your group has lost a ball, and you all decide to look for it, WAVE US THROUGH while you look!  It takes approximately five minutes for four of us to hit shots and get out of your way… but it may make half-an-hour of difference to us if you continue to make us wait for you.  It will also ruin the rhythm and enjoyment of our game, as you make us wait.  Not to mention your enjoyment, as you constantly look back and see us standing there, waiting.

When I’m playing golf, I am always conscious of who’s behind, how many there are, and whether the group I’m in is keeping pace with those ahead.  If there’s no one ahead, and people behind have caught up to my group, I will always suggest we let them play through.  Otherwise, I will be very conscious of possibly ruining their day… or ruining my own by feeling pushed.  Usually, the people behind will be very appreciative, and will be long gone by the time we tee off on the next hole.  Sometimes, they decline the invitation to play through, and that works out just fine, too.  At least we made the offer.

But one group playing through another almost always makes both groups happy, and respectful of each other.  The flipside is not nearly so pleasant.

And golf is, above all, supposed to be a pleasant game.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

5 thoughts on “Lead, follow or get out of the way

  1. Our group of 38 are heading to Myrtle on Apr.20th, for our 30th anniversary ! Over the years, our group has played most of the “high end” courses, including Caledonia. As golf should be a game of honour, respect and honesty, all of us try to allow faster foursomes to play through, or ask politely if we can play through a slower group. We certainly don’t want to be referred to as those bloody rude Canadians, do we ? Then again, it should be the marshal’s job to speed up play, and some do a better job than others. Having golfed for well over 60 years, I’ve run into all types of golfers. The bottom line is, many people don’t know the rules of the game, or if they do, they just don’t care.

  2. Jim,
    I agree wholeheartedly!
    I should add for readers, if my group let’s you play through, it isn’t an invitation to doddle. Move through as quickly as you can because there is a potential ripple effect of groups keeping pace behind yours that will be frustrated and concerned(& possibly confused) when they arrive on the next tee to see a group they’re not familiar with seeing. Now they’ll have to wait on us to tee-off because your not moving.
    If a group ahead of mine let’s my group play through, with me knowing the group behind us is playing within a reasonable distance, we’ll tee-off, rush to our ball(s) and hit quicker than normal just so there isn’t a ripple effect of backed-up groups. I guarantee I would hesitate letting group(s) through next round if I had a bad experience.

    Jim, I hope you had time to stop at the clubhouse after your round to discuss your experience with slow play and the behaviour of the Marshal


    1. To answer your question, CW… no, I didn’t have the time, and the Pro Shop was closed (we were the last group out there). But normally, yes, I would… in a polite, constructive way. Thanks for your message, and valid points!

  3. It doesn’t matter if you are a Canadian or a Yank! We are golfers who speak the same lingo.
    Marshals should take the responsibility away from the players and create a clear path for faster play. Some people just don’t get it but let’s all hope that they will eventually.

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