Move over HSE. NPHET. CFJ. There’s a new acronym in twitter town, and the people don’t like it.
In truth, the new World Handicap System was never going to be a quick sell. Unless you’re Barack Obama, change is often greeted with scepticism; an attitude of ‘We’ve a way of doing things around here that has served us well since the dawn of time. Why rock the boat?’
And although the last system was far from smooth sailing, if you were to read the thoughts of the twitter-sphere on the current one, the Titanic has already hit the iceberg.
The WHS was heralded as the great unifier: a universal handicap system to provide all golfers with a consistent measure of ability no matter where they are in the world. And to its credit, it’s united a fair chunk of Ireland firmly against it.
I’ll be honest with you, I wrote an 18-part how-to-guide prior to its official launch and came away from the keyboard with PTSD. Like most things maths, I trusted that someone much smarter than me had figured out the equation and after a period of transition, the Irish would take to WHS like they have to craft beer, avocados and that lad on the telly who replaced Eamon Dunphy. Sadly, the period of transition looks destined to extend into a second year.
For many, the teething problems still being experienced are more like cavities and they need extracting. At the heart of the problem is perceived handicap manipulation – players using casual rounds to bloat handicaps to go after big prizes. Where banditos of times gone by had to work hard for their .1s back, the new system is altogether more generous.
Far too generous, in my opinion, when it allows a golfer to play off a maximum handicap of 54. 54! I’m all for making golf more accessible and growing the game, but who benefits from getting a 54-handicap? Are we supposed to congratulate someone for shooting 40+ points if they had three shots on every hole? You’ll have golfers parading about the place like those round one X-factor contestants convinced by their family they can sing before Simon Cowell spits in their faces.
That’s not to say beginners aren’t welcome – of course they are – but if 54 is your level, then the score is irrelevant. Golf needs to get quicker and I make no apologies for saying I don’t want to play with someone for five and a half hours only to watch them hole out on the last for an even par round of 126. Play off 28. Pick up when you’re out of a hole. Learn the game and calculate what you need to do better to play to your mark.
Now last time I checked, my handicap index was 8.5 which, from my reading of twitter, sentences me to purgatory when it comes to aspirations of winning anything. I’ve played very few competitive rounds this year anyway, and I hold the fiver we play for in my regular fourball far above all else, but I completely understand why proper competitors are disillusioned by inflated scoring across the board.
I played with a lad off 9 not long ago who was going well… kept his spirits up when putts were missing… cheered him to the line with the chequered flag in sight. 41 points on a breezy day was a hell of a score. 47 won… on countback!
It seems this has been a theme in many clubs across the country. It’s deterring those lost souls in handicap purgatory from entering competitions altogether and it’s putting a big onus on handicap secretaries to ensure everything’s above board.
It was @Veron_mc who became the latest golfer to raise his WHS concerns on twitter, highlighting a 36-handicapper cleaning up all ’round ’em in big club competitions this year. And amongst the avalanche of empathy under the post was one handicap secretary who confessed he had enough.
“I was hcap secretary at Galgorm Castle for the past 3.5 years & have resigned as there was so much admin to do, mainly chasing casual round scores,” wrote @normanreid3. “Members everywhere using casual rounds to increase their handicaps to a level where they can win the big prizes.”
not sure if golf clubs can get involved in handicaps under the new system but when someone shoots 45pts off 36 to win president day after also winning 2 of the last 3 medals most likely now winning #GOTY it needs to stop @gregallenRTE @IrishGolferMag @IrishGolfDesk @GolfIreland_ pic.twitter.com/MlTedWSQWM
— Jason mc Dermott (@Veron_mc) October 26, 2021
It’s a bit rich in my view to be overworking a volunteer because of an undercooked system, but what’s really sad – and this isn’t a WHS thing, but a people thing – is that as long as there are big prizes to play for, a minority of golfers have always been willing to cheat the system to get them. And to be clear, I don’t for one second believe players new to the game are deliberately taking advantage. They’re just playing the cards they’ve been dealt, and my guess is that new members playing off lofty handicaps wouldn’t be too fussed if they were told the max handicap for competitions was 24 (as an example) from the outset.
Clubs have power here to create separate categories. Determine eligibility markers and promote a culture amongst the next generation of golfers where the number one goal – fun aside – should focus on cutting your handicap as much as possible.
Forget about protecting handicaps, a culture that existed long before WHS. Aim to obliterate them in a movement that, with a bit of luck and planning, could take handicap manipulation down with it.