Most golfers in the UK have relatively few opportunities to play against handicap. Is this something that needs to change?

Ask amateur golfers across the UK what their main golfing objectives are and, more often than not, a response will be, “to lower my handicap.”

The majority of keen golfers are striving to improve and handicap is the primary gauge of progress. But at most clubs there are few opportunities to play against, and reduce, handicap – one weekly competition, perhaps fewer. This also affects golfers whose handicaps are climbing. With infrequent counting rounds and an increment of 0.1 a time, it can be slow going to find a level. Wouldn’t it make sense then, for more rounds to count towards handicap?

In the UK, the CONGU Unified Handicapping System uses scores returned by players in competition. So, is the answer for clubs to hold more competitions? Some clubs could certainly look to put on more weekend and midweek comps. But it’s an extra administrative burden and, in some cases, it simply might not be possible to block off more slots for competition, potentially losing vital visitor and society income.

In the U.S. a player must post a score for handicapping for every 18-hole round completed, so long as 13 of those holes are played in accordance with the Rules of Golf. Effectively then, every time a player tees it up, their handicap is on the line.

This seems extreme, but could a modified version be introduced here? Many clubs now have electronic systems storing players’ handicap and scoring information. Wouldn’t it be possible for a player to go into the pro-shop or clubhouse before a bounce round and declare, “this one will be be against handicap,” sign in as they would for a Medal, play by the Rules of Golf against SSS, then post a score into the computer after the round?

An argument against this is that the pressure of the Medal round and a player’s ability to deal with competition conditions contributes to their correct handicap. Would too many have a handicap unrepresentative of their true ability if scores were posted from friendly games? The fact a five handicapper from the States is generally no match for a five handicapper from the UK suggests that might be the case.

What we think:

Golf clubs should hold as many competitions through the season as is practicable, affording keen golfers the maximum number of opportunities to play against handicap. It’s only in proper competitive conditions that a player’s true ability can be determined.

  • Tim Kelleher

    In South Africa every round is for your handicap – the only exception is when clubs play against each other in leagues because the format is match play. The round is ‘opened’ when you pay in the pro-shop and you are expected to enter your score at the completion of the round. Failure to enter a score after 72 hours will result in a penalty score being automatically entered (being equal to your best score entered). While there are still score manipulators, it is more difficult to ‘cheat’ than in other countries.

  • Fish

    I thought you could always go into the pro when not playing in a comp and declare a supplementary round before going out at least 10 times per season, so the facility is there already, isn’t it?

  • louise aspden

    You can put in supplementary cards outside of competitions, but how many people actually do?

  • Fergus Bisset

    Good points there guys. Your club has got it sorted Martin – three qualifiers a week is great! And, i agree, with computer systems doing most of the leg-work, it’s not too taxing to run the counting events.

  • Martin Hardwidge

    Open competitions are regularly spoiled by people, often known around the ‘circuit’ as pot-hunters. They play their three qualifiers a year and hang on to stupidly high handicaps. I have thought for a long time that we should insist on 10 QF rounds a year for an open competition. At my club, we have two, and often three qualifiers per week, and people can also designate any round as a ‘qualifier’ if they are trying to get their handicap down, as long as another member is there to mark the card. Every Saturday we have close on 200 members playing in the weekly comp. Stan, our Comp Sec, does a great job with the Pro, though the computerised system does most of the donkey work and he is generally able to get results out within 24 hours. There’s nothing to stop people getting proper, genuine handicaps.

  • Irish Golf Review

    I agree with the points made. I’ve been playing golf for 3 years. I was given a handicap of 18 to start and have moved out to 21 over the course of the past few years. I have spent all winter working on my game and have shot my best scores ever. Only a few weeks ago I shot 8 over. Yes 8 over of 21. Last year I was playing some good golf but once I put a comp score card in my pocket I fell apart. I’m now starting to put some good scores in even in competitions but handicap yet to get cut as there has been placing. In the UK and Ireland we spend a lot of time playing off winter tee boxes with placing which means it will not effect your handicap. I’m not sure what the answer is but I also know there are many golfers out there who don’t play in many single competitions and keep their high handicap for team competitions which they also don’t get cut for.