LET’S TALK HAND­I­CAPS, AGAIN

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Behind The Scenes - By Stu­art McLean, Ed­i­tor

Last year I played in a se­nior tour­na­ment in Bel­gium with the fancy ti­tle of the King Leopold Chal­lenge. It was 3 days of golf at Royal An­twerp, an out­stand­ing clas­sic de­sign from the days when golf was still a nov­elty in Europe be­tween the two world wars. Re­fresh­ingly, we played a dif­fer­ent for­mat each day – bet­ter­ball, green­somes and sin­gles.

It was a hand­i­cap teams event, and the South Africans were in a jovial mood. That is un­til we glanced at the draw, and no­ticed that each of us had had our hand­i­caps slashed. We were aghast, be­cause some had been cut by as much as four shots, while mem­bers of other na­tional teams had suf­fered no ad­just­ments what­so­ever.

On po­litely en­quir­ing with the Bel­gian or­gan­is­ers about this ill-treat­ment, we were firmly told it was their dis­cre­tion as to which hand­i­caps they gave us. We had no choice but to com­ply. South African hand­i­caps are not to be trusted, was the mes­sage they con­veyed. Our team cap­tain men­tioned to the new play­ers that he wasn’t sur­prised. We had romped home in the King Leopold Chal­lenge two years ear­lier, and the or­gan­is­ers weren’t happy with the scores.

South African golfers are a com­pet­i­tive lot; we’re play­ing for prizes and wa­gers two or three times a week at our home club, and many of us be­lieve that to be even more com­pet­i­tive you need a “good” hand­i­cap. In­ter­na­tion­ally, we do ex­cep­tion­ally well in cor­po­rate events. Our top am­a­teurs might fare dis­mally at an in­ter­na­tional level, but in 2013 our hand­i­cap golfers were all con­quer­ing, tri­umph­ing in the MercedesTro­phy World Fi­nal in Ger­many, and Audi quat­tro Cup World Fi­nal in Los An­ge­les.

There was a time when I used to en­joy play­ing in club bet­ter­ball com­pe­ti­tions. I al­ways felt there was a chance of be­ing in the prizes if my part­ner and I played well enough on the day. That was in an era when ev­ery golf club had its own hand­i­cap­per. But to­day you have to be in ex­cep­tional form to have even a sniff, when you hear 50 points called up to the prize ta­ble, and we haven’t yet got to the win­ners.

I don’t be­lieve South African golfers in gen­eral are “ringers.” Ad­mit­tedly, we do seem hap­pier when our hand­i­caps are go­ing out, rather than down, but the majority are hon­est with their scores. And the hand­i­cap sys­tem it­self is not at fault, although I would like to see the best 8 scores out of 20 count­ing, not the best 10. The prob­lem rests with the course rat­ings. All our hand­i­caps are be­ing in­flated by rat­ings that don’t re­flect the dif­fi­culty of our cour­ses. At my home course, the white mark­ers are 10 me­tres ahead of the yel­low back mark­ers, yet the rat­ing is 69 on a par 72. So ev­ery­one’s hand­i­caps are go­ing out, mine in­cluded, es­pe­cially dur­ing the windy sum­mer months at the coast.

The SAGA are in­tro­duc­ing a new course rat­ing sys­tem – eval­u­a­tions are un­der­way – and hope­fully it will have an ef­fect on curb­ing the out­ward creep of hand­i­caps. In my opin­ion the rat­ing should never be lower than the course par, ex­cept on way for­ward tees. This is the case in the United King­dom. In Scot­land I’ve played 6 000-me­tre cour­ses where the par is 72, and the rat­ing 73. As a re­sult, club com­pe­ti­tions in the UK are gen­er­ally won by nor­mal scores that would look poor by our stan­dards.

It’s time for the SAGA and Hand­i­caps Net­work Africa to sort this out, and re­turn our club com­pe­ti­tions to nor­mal­ity.

stu­art.mclean@me­dia24.com

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