The Hacker: Solo rounds need a lot of balls

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The Independent Online

One of the many facets of golf that help to make it unique among outdoor sports is that you can play it on your own. You don't need a partner or an opponent in order to enjoy a game. Indeed, if you can get rid of such encumbrances, a few hours of solitude on a golf course can refresh the soul and reinvigorate your game.

One of the many facets of golf that help to make it unique among outdoor sports is that you can play it on your own. You don't need a partner or an opponent in order to enjoy a game. Indeed, if you can get rid of such encumbrances, a few hours of solitude on a golf course can refresh the soul and reinvigorate your game.

With no one to distract them from their thoughts, or laugh at their errors, golfers can let their imaginations roam with them down the fairways, creating dramatic situations that require a great shot or conjuring up a cheering crowd when an approach lands near the flag.

Unfortunately, the solo player attracts suspicious glances. Generally, golfers are a gregarious bunch, and they don't always understand someone who not only prefers his own company but can keep his competitive juices flowing.

At Royal Porthcawl last week, an American happily strode out on his own for a round in the morning. A US naval officer stationed at Portsmouth, he had Porthcawl down as one of the UK courses he wanted to play while he was over here, and was happy to play on his own.

He had booked to play in the afternoon as well, and when asked if he'd like a partner he politely declined and said he was looking forward to trying to beat the score he'd made in the morning. That was a man at peace with himself and his golf and fired up with internal rivalry. His only problem would be collecting his winnings.

It is probably a coincidence, but most of those who play the Porthcawl links alone are Americans. I met one a few years ago who was on a world trip trying to play as many different courses as he could cram in. It's like trainspotting but a little more interesting.

After every round, he would send his scorecard to his club in the States so that they could plot his progress and keep his handicap up to date.

Perhaps the luxury of playing alone is not available in the US. Porthcawl is rarely crowded, but most courses in America and elsewhere in the world are so busy that individual golfers are frowned upon and are usually tagged on to a two- or three-ball.

Golfers are friendly people, but being saddled with a stranger who might be a lot better or worse than you is not a recipe for a relaxed game. Other considerations also discourage lesser players from venturing out on their own.

One advantage of playing with someone else is that each watches the flight of the other's ball. Good players tend to hit the ball straight and can generally find it on or near the fairway, but a hacker's effort can send it anywhere within 180 degrees.

Since poor players are urged to keep their heads down, the ball could be anywhere before they start searching the skies. Maybe this is the incentive a bad golfer needs to start improving his accuracy. Otherwise, if he wants to sample the delights of solo golf, he's got to have a lot of balls for it.

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