So it’s finally happened – I have my first official handicap. After innumerable telephone calls to various golfing administrators I arrived at the first tee on Sunday the proud possessor of a mathematically convenient 18 handicap.
Confusion regarding starting times meant I was nearly late. From the car park I could see my playing companions standing on the first swishing confidently, and rather impatiently. However, less than three minutes after my arrival I played my first shot as a handicap man.
Conventional wisdom suggests that, with no time to settle myself, I would play abysmally. But, with a perversity that is perhaps the hallmark of my golf, I began by playing the best golf of my life. By the 7th I was two-over the card and the silent envy of my high handicap playing companions.
I think that if they had just kept on being silent, all might yet have been well. But no, they commented. And worse, they made complimentary comments. “You must be lower than 18”, “What a lovely touch around the green”.
And so the trouble began. In most other sports I’ve played, a compliment is easier to accept. I think that has to do with the fact that golf is, to use one of my friend’s epithets, a cruel mistress. She is never more likely to teach me a (further) lesson in humility than just when I am playing moderately well.
So, as a general rule, I regard golfing compliments as if I am a visitor in a beautiful house and they the alarm that may wake a sleeping dog. Whilst sometimes that dog, when woken, will be friendly, invariably it’s just angry. In short, I prefer the alarm not to be sounded during my visit.
The spell was broken. An eight at the par-5 9th saw the dog open one inquisitive eye, a five at the 12th and he was giving a large yawn, stretching and having a scratch. By the par-3 16th, where I took a six, he was well underway and snapping at the seat of my proverbial plus fours.
Having finished, I repaired to the clubhouse with my fellow players, who, you will be relieved but perhaps unsurprised to learn, had stopped paying me compliments shortly after the 9th. However, imagine my surprise to find that playing to my handicap had earned me my first ever golfing prize, a bottle of wine.
I drove home with a warm glow of satisfaction. I had a handicap to which I had played, I had received some, albeit short-lived, compliments about my golf and, into the bargain, won a nice bottle of Shiraz.
It just goes to show you, I suppose, that every dog does have its day.