LET’S TALK HANDICAPS, AGAIN
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.