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  • Alistair Tait

New handicap, same old game

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

So much for the new World Handicap System revolutionising golf. It didn’t feel that way yesterday as I played my first round at Woburn with my new handicap index.

It took all of about 30 seconds to figure out my course handicap off the yellow tees on the Marquess course. If you don’t know the system by now it's take your new handicap index, multiply it by the slope rating and divide by 113. Presto, you get your course handicap for the tees you’re playing off. The other guys did the same, we figured out the shots for our fourball match combined with keeping individual stableford scores for bragging rights with the group in front and off we went.

My new, lower handicap index didn’t help me hit the first fairway on the Marquess course. I managed to miss the fairway right as a 10.9 index just as I usually did when I was 13.0. I also took five, bogey, down the first. Same old. (By the way, Izzy's handicap index hasn't changed – she still plays off scratch.)

The only difference was my new handicap index meant I had to play off 12 on the Marquess – 12.44, to be precise – and that meant no shot on the par-5, 2nd hole. My par there meant I only got two stableford points instead of the previous three.

Ce’st la vie. To be honest, getting three points there previously felt like robbery.

I hit about the same number of fairways during the round, six, as I did under my old handicap index, and hit a measly three greens. I had 31 putts. I had my usual assortment of slices, hooks, pulls, pushes, duffs, thins, even topped one fairway wood, found the water off the tee on the 12th hole and limped in with 31 points as my partner and I won 3&2. Not bad considering we played through biblical like rain and wind on two occasions during the round.

Bottom line? It didn’t feel any different to my previous round despite the R&A saying:

“The introduction of the WHS marks a considerable change for golfers in GB&I.”

I don’t see a “considerable change." Yes, I’ve dropped 2.1 shots but, with the slope ratings, I’m still playing off 13 from the yellow tees on the Dukes and Duchess courses. I suffer one lost stroke on the Marquess, which I always play better on anyway given it’s wider off the tee.

I have no problem with my new handicap index, but some others obviously feel differently. Some are wondering why they’ve gone up, others why they’ve gone down. As with all new changes, there will be the inevitable teething problems which should hopefully come out in the wash.

The best thing about this new handicap system is you can take it to any course and adjust it based on the slope rating. The old system didn’t allow that. Playing, say, Carnoustie or Muirfield and being expected to play to 13 in my case was always a bit of a nonsense since those courses are obviously slightly tougher than what I’m used to.

The slope system made perfect sense to me a number of years ago when I was in Florida. I was lucky enough to play Seminole. I was playing off 11 at the time and nervous about whether my handicap would hold up to the course Ben Hogan used to practise on to prepare for the Masters. A board on the first tee allowed me to check my handicap against the slope rating to find I was allocated a course handicap of 13. I praised Dean Knuth on that occasion for inventing the slope system, and have been praising him ever since. It’s a brilliant system. Adjusting your handicap up or down depending on the course you’re playing makes perfect sense.

I have no grumbles about the new system. I like the fact that I can take my handicap index to other courses and adjust it to the tees I’m playing from that day.

Here’s the rub, though, it’s the same old game no matter what your handicap index: you still have to find the fairway, hit the ball on the green and get the ball in the hole. And, as we all know, that isnae as easy as it sounds.

#JustSaying: “The terrible thing about a missed shot in golf is that the thing is done, irrevocably, irretrievably. Perhaps that is why golf is so great a game; it is so much like the game of life. We don’t have the shots over in either.” O.B. Keeler

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