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  • Alistair Tait

Handicap heaven

There was joy and consternation in the clubhouse of Woburn Golf Club yesterday as fellow members discovered their predicted handicap on November 2nd under the new World Handicap System.

Pete was confused. He’d dropped from 20 to 16. That was surprising:

“How can this be? I’ve never played to 16 in my life.”

Paul had dropped from 11 to 9. He was one happy golfer.

“I’m back to being a single figure handicap again.”

I dropped from 13 to 11.8. That was a bit of surprise. My first reaction was that whoever devised this new World Handicap System has obviously not seen me play recently. Maybe whoever made the calculation thought there was a chance of me getting back to my low of 7.5. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Of course, we were all looking at indicative handicaps. Some figures may change as of November 2, but just to get an idea of the new index was welcomed by those who’ve spent weeks wondering what they’ll be playing off once the new system comes into effect. I was predicting 15 for myself given my disastrous form recently.

Arguably no subject gets golfers more worked up than handicaps. Try playing slightly better than your handicap index and then wait for the reaction of your playing companions. I experienced that pre-lockdown. For the month of February, I seemed to have morphed back into my old 7.5 days. “Bandit” is about as polite word as I can pen in this blog. Of course, that purple patch didn’t last. I seemed to have had an arms transplant during lockdown – the arms of a 24 handicapper!

The beefs over handicaps obviously won’t stop because of the new system. Aspersions will still be cast. The new method certainly isn’t perfect inasmuch as I think more scores have to be posted and there’s still the danger of golf club members holding two handicaps: their official handicap and the one they’re forced to play off in the company of the regular group(s) they play with. However, the new system is far more preferable to the old.

A global handicapping system is long overdue. I still remember the days when good Australian amateurs couldn’t get into the Amateur Championship because their handicap system was different to ours. I remember watching players who were supposed to be plus 4 who couldn’t break 80 around Prestwick. Yet amateurs I knew couldn’t get into the championship because their handicap wasn’t low enough. It’s the reason the R&A went to the World Amateur Golf Ranking as the main criteria for entry into the Amateur Championship.

As for average golfers, it makes perfect sense to adjust your handicap to the difficulty of the course you’re playing on the day, and what tees you're using. We have Issette Pearson and Dean Knuth to thank for that. As Knuth writes on his website:

“The first course rating system was developed by the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) under the leadership of Miss Issette Pearson in about 1900. Robert Browning in A History of Golf says of the LGU, ‘Their biggest achievement was the gradual establishment of a national system of handicapping ... No doubt it was uphill work at the start (1893) but within eight or ten years the LGU had done what the men had signally failed to do – had established a system of handicapping that was reasonably reliable from club to club.’"

Knuth took Pearson’s idea a step further and came up with the slope system, which means we can take our new handicaps anywhere in the world. (I highly recommend a visit to his website for everything you need to know about the slope system for rating golf courses and other matters relating to handicaps.)

Pete’s new 16 index obviously won’t mean he has to play every course off that new handicap. He’ll adjust it every time he plays depending on the tees and slope rating to get his course handicap. It’s a simple enough formula: he multiplies the course rating by his handicap index and then divides the total by 113. So Pete’s course handicap for the yellow tees on all three Woburn courses will be 19.26 on the Duchess, 18.97 Dukes and 18.26 Marquess. So he won’t have to play off 16.

My course handicap for the yellow tees on all three courses works out at 14.20 Duchess, 13.99 Dukes and 13.47 Marquess. That’s about right.

As I said, it’s not an entirely perfect system but it’s far more preferable to the old one. A handicap that can be taken to any course in the world is handicap heaven as far as I’m concerned.

#JustSaying: “Golf is based on honesty. Where else would someone admit to a seven on an easy par three.” Jimmy Demaret

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