Opinion: Golf's new handicap system on the way - Ivan Morris

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Opinion: Golf's new handicap system on the way - Ivan Morris

Ivan Morris

GOLF may have a universal language understood everywhere and be played by the same rules in all parts of the globe but, the 'culture' of the game is discernibly different wherever you go.

Golf in America, for instance, is radically different to the way we in Ireland go about enjoying the game. I am not confident that the World Handicap System which is due to come into effect in 2020 will achieve its goal of: “providing greater enjoyment for all that play the sport by enabling as many golfers as possible to establish and maintain a handicap.” It may do the opposite!

Handicapping is one of golf's greatest assets but, it is also extremely difficult to manage (fairly) and I see no justification for introducing a maximum handicap of 54.

Having got that off my chest, I'll be the first to admit that the CONGU handicapping system in use currently is far from perfect also and devising an equitable handicap system that is completely fair and cannot be manipulated by self-regulation is almost impossible to achieve.

If golfers want to cheat, they will and, they do - especially in America where the attitude to the rules is very slack.
That only eight scores out of the previous twenty submitted will establish one's WHS handicap on a rolling basis is sound. I have been keeping my own records using this methodology for several years and my WHS handicap never differs that much from what it is under CONGU rules. 5.5 (WHS) against 5.2 (CONGU) Makes one think, why change at all?

A golf handicap is supposed to put everyone on an equal footing, ensuring that players of different skillsets and abilities can compete on an equitable basis but, surely, a handicap of 54 will allow players with little ability or experience to clog up competition timesheets and make the scourge of slow play even worse than it already is? I can think of no quicker way to instigate a mass walkout by committed golfers who have been devoted to the game for most of their lives than playing 18-holes becoming slower than it is already.

One good thing that WHS will promote is to allow scores for 9-holes to be used to set and adjust handicaps. Some golf courses are too difficult for some players and are impossible to complete 18-holes in a reasonable time. Playing 9-holes is an excellent alternative provided counting one's score (for handicap) is nominated in advance.

I do not know how it will work but part of the plan is that the USGA's Course Slope Rating System will be incorporated worldwide under the WHS umbrella and players playing from different tees will be able to play, it is claimed, an equitable competition with different competition scratch scores on the same day.

One solution (which I have explained in greater detail previously) would be to do away with handicaps altogether and play all competitions off scratch in flights (off different tees)

Before you faint, allow me to clarify: Any golfer perceived to be 'too good' or not good enough for his/her flight, by winning too often or always finishing near the bottom of his/her category, would be either promoted or relegated.
Everyone would (surely?) like to achieve a promotion (at least once in a golfing life) and nobody would want the indignity of relegation, thereby changing the mindset that bedevils much of club golf in Ireland.

I have suffered the 'shame' of relegation myself. A Category One golfer (0-5) for over 50-years, I was 'banished' to playing off 6 last year, which prompted thoughts of retirement.

I wasn't happy to be supposed to be content to play my golf for 'fun' (whatever that is?) without worrying about maintaining my (high) standards. To be honest, I couldn't care less about winning, especially with a puffed up handicap.

But, I would still like to do my best and play as well as I can. That approach seems to have worked and lo and behold I recently returned to Category 1 - for how long remains to be seen but it has allowed me to banish thoughts of quitting for, at least, one more year.

Ireland may be the only golfing culture that fosters the likes of a Mick Cashman, JB Carr, Fred Perry, Pierce Purcell, Jimmy Bruen and Junior Cup competition on a national scale.

In the USA, one of the major golf countries, the vast majority of golfers play without a care in the world for an official handicap.
An American's handicap is usually fiction! In the USA, the vast majority of golfers do not even belong to a golf club.
It seems to me that WHS will only have relevance to elite golfers who make up an infinitesimal percentage of the total playing the game and, anyway, most international amateur competitions rely on World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR) to decide who can play in events these days.

If WHS means approving of situations where you rush out to your club on your own for a quick 9 holes and post a score that will count for handicap exactly the same as if you were playing in the Irish Amateur Open, it's lunacy!

Handicaps based on unattested scores outside of competition are a nonsense.