WHS is fine. People are the problem 

John Craven
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It’s been a tough few weeks for the integrity of sport. There I was minding my own business, smelling the roses and gazing at stars, only for my world to be rocked by the first of many scandals… 

It was a case of Fisherman’s Blues for two men caught cheating – hook, line and sinker – after heavy objects fell from their catch at the weigh-in of an Ohio fishing tournament. Now I’d heard of scaling fish but nothing like this; the pair caught tipping the scale in their favour in an attempt to take home the $30,000 first prize cheque. 

I’m not naïve. I realise corruption in sport is nothing new. Be it dodgy judges ruining boxing, juicing cyclists stripped of titles or drugged up horses jumping out of their hooves, the spotlight of the law has shone on many sports, but fishing?  

Safe to say I was left reeling, wondering if there was any sport still sacred out there at all, when good lord of the dance didn’t more drama surface, this time in a sphere much closer to home. 

Yes, apparently the jig is up for a dozen Irish dance teachers whose screenshots asking for, or offering to, fix competitions were leaked to Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha. It’s reported that a dance teacher and a competition judge were even exchanging sexual favours in return for higher scores. And here I was thinking the hornpipe was a type of dance… 

Unfortunately it seems that as long as people draw breath, rules will be manipulated and legality stretched, which means the sport of golf, self-policed with its rules regularly upheld by the integrity of its participants, has long been ripe for the picking, but particularly since the introduction of the new World Handicap System.  

It’s a pity, because although I realise it’s not a popular opinion, I believe WHS provides a more accurate representation of one’s playing ability. I love the casual rounds element, allowing me to get competitive with my handicap outside of traditional competition times that often don’t suit. And I enjoy tracking my progress on the Golf Ireland app, watching the ebbs and flows of the graph illustrating my topsy-turvy game.  

I like the new system because my goal is to play my best every time I tee up and reduce my handicap as low as possible. But would you believe – and I hope you’re sitting down for this one – not everyone plays the game this way? 

Yes, the anecdotal evidence of people duping the system is now plain as day; digital records depicting players – in great detail – returning casual round scores in the hundreds and bloating their handicaps only to turn up at the club’s biggest events and put the competition to the sword… the lengths some people will go for a McGuirks voucher, eh? 

Only, I shouldn’t joke. There are names of individuals being written into the annals of history as major prize winners at their respective clubs who shouldn’t be there, and as things stand, there is neither the recourse, nor the will, to stop them.  

It’s got so bad that these people aren’t even trying to hide their manipulation because they know, even though it’s staring honest players in the face, these things are very hard to prove. And with the threat of defamation lawsuits dangling, few will call it out for what it blatantly is. Cheating. 

So, what can we do? Well, a player’s handicap can be reviewed by the Handicap Committee, but does the need for human intervention defeat the purpose of a system? And even if you spot a handicap discrepancy, good luck implementing that change because golfers will go to even greater distances off the course to protect their handicaps.  

What’s even more frustrating is that according to data collected by Europe’s largest network of golfers on HowDidiDo, WHS has largely levelled the playing field. Even in the face of these “exceptional scores”, average stableford scores in competition have actually shifted from significantly favouring players in lower categories to being almost equal. Furthermore, there’s just under two points between the average totals scored by players in all categories, down from an almost 13 point difference pre-WHS. 

You see, the system is working, for the most part, but these rotten examples of what should be unachievable scores are a cancer capable of corroding golf to its core. Honest players will be turned away thinking they don’t stand a chance. Members will stop joining clubs, income will be hit and the entire ecosystem will suffer. Which is not only a shame but a total embarrassment because if a minority of golfers could just be honest with themselves and others, then there’s no reason why WHS in Ireland can’t prove to be the success it is in most countries around the world. 

It’s a people problem, not a WHS problem. Hate the player, not the game. 

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3 responses to “WHS is fine. People are the problem ”

  1. Harry Smyth avatar
    Harry Smyth

    Article generally accurate but in a way also pointless as it offers no solution to the difficulty that it identifies. Writer points out WHS is fairer and better than what went before despite the fact that it makes it easier to cheats to succeed. Without a solution to that problem it can neither be considered fairer or better.

  2. Gerard Maher avatar
    Gerard Maher

    Your article reflects the feelings of most honest golfers in the country.

    I believe the only fair way to protect the integrity of the game is for Golf Ireland to carry out an annual review of all club handicaps.
    Handicap secretaries are at a disadvantage as they will be ridiculed by those cheats they seek to cut for obvious manipulation of the WHS system.

    Golf Ireland have all the data on players in Ireland at their fingertips. A 10 handicapper in Limerick with over 20 rounds of golf will have a similar playing record with a 10 handicapper in Cork or Dublin. It is very obvious comparing WHS records which of the players is manipulating the system to win prizes or interclub pennants.

    Golf Ireland need to take on this role and write to clubs cutting the culprits based on the evidence.

    This would also make the national championships fairer with similar playing ability golfers competing rather than a 15 handicapper playing Jimmy Bruen and winning matches against an honest 6 handicapper.

    I know that Golf Ireland will not take on this role but if they are serious about the integrity of our game they need to support the amateur volunteer handicap secretaries across the country.

    The only other way to protect honest golfers is to limit the WHS handicap increase to 1 shot per annum.

  3. Bill Guy avatar
    Bill Guy

    I have got to agree with Gérard here. The concept of casual golf may appeal to some but is being heavily abused by others. Golf Ireland need to address this by showing how handicap builders can be identified and dealt with within a club without fear of litigation/costs.

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