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  • Alistair Tait

A Handicap Head Scratcher


The Rules of Golf are crystal clear when it comes to holing out in stroke play competitions. Rule 3.3c, Failure to Hole Out, states:

“A player must hole out at each hole in a round. If the player fails to hole out at any hole:
The player must correct that mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning the scorecard.
If the mistake is not corrected in that time, the player is disqualified."

There is a caveat to the above rule in the form of Rule 21.2, Maximum Score, which says:

“Maximum Score is a form of stroke play where a player’s or side’s score for a hole is capped at a maximum number of strokes set by a committee, such as two times par, a fixed number or net double bogey.”
“A player who does not hole out under the rules for any reason gets the maximum score for the hole.
“To help pace of play, players are encouraged to stop playing a hole when their score has reached the maximum.”

However, what about failing to hole out when a player has not reached maximum score, and then submitting the scorecard? Where do you stand on gimmes being allowed when scorecards are returned for handicapping purposes?


Have to say it’s a real head scratcher for me.


The new World Handicapping System introduced on 2nd November last year has seen an explosion of general play cards submitted via apps for handicapping purposes. I spoke to one golf club administrator who said his club processed 27 supplementary cards submitted in March 2020. A year later, 486 cards were submitted under the new WHS system. Those were actual score cards. Imagine the time spent entering those scores into the system.


New technology means players can enter their own cards into the handicapping system via their smart phones. The MyEG app through England Golf is an easy system to use, and golf club members throughout England are taking advantage of the system to record scores on a more regular basis.


I like the new system, even though I know many, especially lower handicap players, have reservations. I like that club golfers are better able to keep a handicap more reflective of their ability. The old system of a minimum of three cards per year just didn’t cut it for me.


However, I have reservations about short putts being given for general play scores presented for handicapping.


Anecdotal evidence suggests not all players are holing out even when they can score on a hole, but still returning scorecards for handicap purposes.


Many groups in most golf clubs who play stableford golf on a regular basis allow short gimme putts to speed up play. Should those same groups be submitting scores for handicapping purposes?


A discussion with a couple of close friends recently produced interesting responses. Not the most scientific of surveys I grant you, but it pointed to a trend that’s perhaps occurring not only at my own club, but at others throughout the country.


Both friends said they didn’t see a problem with submitting cards even though short putts were being conceded. Their argument was that it was needed to speed up play, otherwise rounds would take too long and that would turn many people off the game. They did add the proviso that all putts should be holed in competitive golf.


The obvious sticking point is the rules don’t allow gimmes. Claire Bates, the R&A’s Director of Handicapping, when asked about gimmes before the WHS system came into force, said:

“For a score to be acceptable for handicap purposes, you need to have played your round of golf in accordance with the rules.”

To speed up play, the norm in any group I’ve played over the years is for putts in stableford bounce games to be given inside the metal, i.e., from the base of the putter to where the grip starts. But not all putters are created equal. My current putter measures 21 inches from the putter base to the grip. I grabbed a batch of old putters from my garage, and the shortest distance from the putter base to the grip is 20 inches, with an old blade putter coming in at a very welcome 25 inches. The others were 22, 23 and 24 inches in length.


Don’t know about you, but I’m quite capable of missing a putt from 20 inches, and even more capable of missing the hole entirely from 25.


Hale Irwin whiffed a two-inch putt in the 1983 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale that might have cost him victory in the game’s oldest championship. He lost by a shot to Tom Watson. IK Kim’s missed a 14-inch putt on the 72nd hole at Rancho Mirage denied her a major championship, the 2012 Kraft Nabisco. Craig Stadler’s miss from a similar length on The Belfry’s 18th green in the 1985 Ryder Cup lost him and Curtis Strange a half point. Scott Hoch and the 1989 Masters, Doug Sanders and the 1970 Open are just a couple of others in a plethora of examples to throw in the mix.


And all of the above were putting on greens that were probably far better than those the majority of golfers play on a regular basis, especially at certain times of year when bumps and indents can throw putts off line.


I have every sympathy with my friends’ reasoned pace of play argument. I’m all for quick golf. However, gimmes and general play handicaps cards don’t sit well with me.


Where do you stand?


#JustSaying: “Half of golf is fun: the other half is putting.” Peter Dobereiner

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47 Comments


Emanuel Guerreiro
Emanuel Guerreiro
Mar 09, 2022

Let the gimme count. Most golfers only play amongst their friends, under the groups agreed rules. It only really hurts them when they play in club tournaments and come to find they’re not as good as they thought. Golf is a hobby for 99.99% of us, make it fun.

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Ant M
Ant M
Mar 10, 2022
Replying to

If you're playing social golf without handing in a card, you're free to play whatever rules you like. To keep our social rounds moving, we treat all lost balls as lateral penalty areas, one stroke penalty, move on. It's a concession to make the day more enjoyable.


If you sign a card for handicapping, that's different. Your signature is a statement that you completed the round fairly and according to the full R&A rules, to the best of your knowledge. If you don't putt out, move balls out of divots, take mulligans, etc, you shouldn't submit the card It's cheating. And sometimes people then can't cope with playing according to the rules in club comps, and carry on cheating.


FFS…

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Adam Frost
Adam Frost
Mar 05, 2022

Other than match play, Putt it out. I've never agreed with gimmes. The amount of golfers I know that can't putt two footers... Finish the hole people! It hardly speed's up the game

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Steven Herbert
Steven Herbert
Mar 01, 2022

My group gives putts inside 1 foot and does save significant time. As far as handicaps go, gimmies don't help someone with their handicap.

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Ant M
Ant M
Mar 10, 2022
Replying to

If you're in a club comp, stop cheating and hole your putts. All of them. Did you see John Rahm miss a gimme length putt last week?


And, obviously, it affects handicaps. If you miss a short putt every round, your handicap will be one more than if you pick up your ball instead.

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Rod Simonson
Rod Simonson
Feb 19, 2022

Your concern makes no sense, in either the short or long run. If a player turns in a card that includes "gimmees", he is possibly hurting his own handicap, but no one else is being harmed. If he, later, competes in local or club contests where no puts are given, he risks being hurt rather than helped by the possible under recording of his scores. Any short put he misses in tournament play is a stroke and a half compared to his actual score reporting competitors. The only lower in turning in scores with given putts is the player turning in the scores.

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daniel degnan
daniel degnan
Feb 01, 2022

I’m glad the rules here in the UK are different from the USGA rules. We do not concede putts in any formal stroke play competition ! Only in matchplay.

Also we can only count strokeplay rounds for handicap. It’s just absolutely ridiculous to count match play games with gimmes for handicap. !

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Ant M
Ant M
Feb 06, 2022
Replying to

The idea of writing in 'the most likely score' in matchplay is ridiculous. You put a ball in the water on a par 3. Your opponent hits to tap-in range and you concede. What's your score? 3, 4, 5, 6? Any of those are possible.

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