‘Bandit’. A provocative word that invokes passion at clubs countrywide. So why do we utter the word with such zeal? Despite being masked with sarcasm, a sense of hatred is real. OK, so hatred is a tad strong, perhaps bitterness is more appropriate. And this sentiment doesn’t just fester in solitary hearts. It breeds in the wider membership who hunt down and besmirch the latest spur-wearing Mexican, until their handicaps have been cut down so that they can no longer win. And therein lies a problem.

The CONGU handicap system produces three consequences. The first is to cut players who return scores better than their handicaps. Secondly it protects handicaps from rising if they don’t quite play to their handicap but manage to score within the so-called ‘buffer-zone’. The third and last is to pay lip service to increasing your handicap if you play below not only your handicap but also your buffer zone. Howeve, this increase is limited to just 0.1 for each round. You could play badly for months and only get one shot back on your handicap.

This system is flawed and breeds bandit haters consumed with envy. Envy because their time as a bandit has long gone and their scores restricted by the handicap system. Most new golfers improve; fast. Great scores come thick and fast and whispers of ‘bandit’ swiftly become shouts.

But the wheels of the handicap system start to turn inexorably until the bandit has been neutered and their success reduced to everyone else’s miserable level. Give it a couple of years and this ‘new’ member will hit a dangerous state of mind – apathy. Once you find your level in golf – whether scratch or 24 – you take up camp within the buffer-zone. Your handicap barely moves. The handicap system is skewed to cutting, its nirvana is to give a handicap that returns net par at best. Is it any wonder player’s eye bandits with envy as they record scores that, if the handicap system has done its job properly, they are unable to produce.

The system tries to level the playing field but does so by raising up just one end so that all players fall to the lower end. Surely it would be more interesting if they adjusted both ends of the field. If you are playing badly you should go up quickly so you can compete. This would re-invigorate members who bemoan that they cannot win before they’ve struck a ball.

What if a Cat 3 player shot three worse than handicap and went up 0.9? What if the only time you didn’t move was if you hit handicap? Other than that if you play one, two, three or four shots worse than your handicap then you go up 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 or 0.4 for each shot respectively depending on your handicap category, capped to a four-shot upward adjustment at most.

Your handicap would constantly be in flux, heightening excitement and keeping the scent of glory within your reach. This would release disenchanted golfers from prisons of mediocrity and have them digging out their old sombreros….

philchurchill.co.uk