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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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