It’s an understatement to say that the first year of the new World Handicap Scheme (WHS) in Ireland is being widely perceived as a major disappointment. Results in club domestic competitions published in the provincial press and commented upon on social media would have one believe that WHS has been the reason for an avalanche of unprecedented, low scoring that has caused a groundswell of discontent that could bode ill for the club game as traditionally played in Ireland?
Golf Ireland and the R&A, who are responsible, have been adopting a wait and see stance because they feel it will take (at least) one more year for the new system to bed in properly. A recently published comment by a Golf Ireland spokesperson in the Irish Times stated that 54% of Irish golfers have less than 20 scores on their record and therefore do not have a fully developed Handicap Index.
90% of 2.3million submitted scores are said to be from Competition rounds with 10% from General Play – that’s 230,000 casual rounds submitted, the vast majority of them (I am convinced) with the intention of giving themselves ‘comfort strokes’ and the means to take an unfair advantage over their fellow club members and friends. It’s a pathetic attitude that deserves more than mere hand-wringing by rules makers who foisted WHS upon us. A golf handicap is intended to be the great equaliser, now it seems to be the great divider.
I would like to know how many of the competition scores were 9-holes returns and how many golfers returned two 9-holes scores on the same day? How many resulted in cuts would also be useful information. I would guess the number of casual score cuts is a tiny proportion and (in my opinion) recorded by scratch or plus golfers endeavouring to achieve eligibility to enter a championship.
I have been playing golf for over 60-years and until relatively recently every golfer I have ever known regarded his handicap as a badge of honour and the lower the better. The attitude was too many handicap strokes makes one a worse golfer. Who sets out to become worse rather than better?
As far as I know I am one of the few low-handicappers who regularly plays with 20+ handicaps. Last week, I played with an 18 and two 28s. All three were a lot lower once and said the more shots they have the worse they play and are embarrassed to have handicaps so high and would prefer if the limit of 24 was restored. They said: If they have a good score they are labelled a cheat and if they have a bad score they are also labelled a cheat for not trying. It’s all very unsatisfactory and reduces their enjoyment of the game.
A discernible decline in the numbers playing in the domestic competitions – particularly amongst ‘cliques’ of the clubs’ lower handicapped members is now widely apparent. That hits a club’s morale as well as its income. It could also signal the first step, without realising it towards the beginning of the end for lifetime golfers.
Two years from now, it could well be that a small but significant proportion of the once ‘lifetime committed’ may have allowed their handicaps to lapse (as a result of not playing in competitions or not returning casual scores). Having no handicap almost certainly means playing less, especially at weekends, followed (in due course) by resignation from the club and giving up golf altogether.
Golf is a very easy game to give up. As soon as one becomes used to filling one’s days without golf, it can be difficult to find enough time to fit it back into one’s lifestyle again.
It would appear that the majority of golf club committees have adopted a laissez-faire approach to WHS – not because they believe it will settle down but because they are overwhelmed by the extra volunteer work involved. But, handicap-manipulators cannot be allowed free rein even in the short run. Surely, the ‘honour of the game’ and a ‘fair deal’ for honest golfers requires a level playing field?
IT rules the world today. It seems to be dominating golf too and too many handicap administrators have been content to let ‘the computer decide’ what a member’s handicap should be instead of being pro-active in maintaining a sense of ‘fairness’ and applying general play rules.
The drawback in using a computer for any purpose is ‘garbage in, garbage out’ as the IT savvy manipulate their handicaps as they wish. Under WHS’s self-reporting procedures it is easy to create any handicap (high or low) one would like. It’s a cop out to blame a system that has worked reasonably well in other countries. The blame lies squarely with the manipulators. Somehow the courage to deal firmly with them must be found.
If every golfer played the game honestly, there would be no problems with WHS. In Ireland that seems to be a presumption too far. Perhaps the chart (below) created to deal with rogue scores in the USA could be operated here? Scores in the yellow columns result in instant disqualification and one’s handicap is adjusted accordingly.
Being a volunteer on a golf club committee is thankless. Handicap convenors are over-burdened and (too) often dictated to, sometimes threatened or even intimidated, (not to mention being overruled by the General Committee). If there are zero volunteers or wholesale resignations from committee work, the club will suffer. Giving greedy and mean-minded golfers the ability to manipulate their own handicaps has been too much of a temptation for some but, without a fair handicap system administered properly – club golf cannot function.
Before I finish I’d like to make a few suggestions: Nominal, token prizes in ALL club competitions, which should be played in categories (rather than strictly off handicap) with appropriate (different) tees and appropriately adjusted competition standard scores (for different handicap purposes) As a 70+years old golfer the difference between my playing off the back tees and forward tees on my home course could be as much as five shots but the CSS differential is only one stroke. Putting 40+ handicappers and 70+ year olds off the back tees is daft. It is within the rules of WHS for a club to set a handicap limit in any of its domestic competitions and it should be done more often. Categories, different tees, and different CSS’s should be used rather than all handicaps competing against each other off the same tees.
The WHS handicap limit of 54 is farcical and anti-golf. Rewarding incompetence is not the way to build a competitive sport. 36 is more than enough (including ladies) If you can’t play to it – practice, play more golf, and take lessons. Give all (male) beginners 18 (as was the case until 1983) Let them learn how to play to it. If, after two years it is obvious they will never play to 18, incrementally inch them up to 36.
Note to Golf Ireland – please take a forensic look at the standard of golf being played in the final stages of the Pierce Purcell, Bruen Shield and Fred Perry competitions. It’s obvious that many, if not the majority, of players in these competitions are miles too good for their handicaps. Why? It’s long overdue GI did something about it because it devalues these competitions?
Finally, may I make this heartfelt appeal to those whom the cap fits and were tempted by the false perception that casual score reporting was an opportunity to get shots back that you do not really deserve: everyone knows who you are and are trying to figure out how best to deal with you. In the meantime, please be assured that you are despised as the lowest of the low – a cheat. One last dig: There isn’t the same problem with handicaps and outrageously low scoring in ladies golf. Why?