Handicap manipulation: It takes two to tango 

John Craven
John Craven

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It wasn’t all that long ago that I had the displeasure of playing with two cowboys on my first visit to a Dublin golf club. A friend and I took advantage of a cheap evening green fee but didn’t bargain to be grouped with two others when we arrived on the first tee.  

Now I understand a bustling club tight on tee-sheet space will often pair players together to fill a line, and great friendships can be forged on such chance encounters.  

Sadly, enemies can be made too. 

I was quite encouraged when our new playing partners suggested a fourball match for a friendly fiver to make things interesting. Not ones to back down from a challenge, we agreed. 

Of our opponents, one of them hit the ball 300-yards and claimed a dubious 12-handicap, while the other, a high-handicapper, struggled to keep his ball on the property but always remained in play. 

By the turn we were playing well, and three down. 

Call me naïve but I hadn’t considered anything to be amiss. We were only playing for a fiver after all, and well, what sort of person cheats two strangers out of the price of a pint in a meaningless midweek game? 

“That lad’s dropping more balls than an all-boys primary school,” my mate, fairly new to golf, exclaimed as we made our way down the tenth fairway. I brushed it off, caught between disbelief and not wanting to believe it. Then he hit one right, going right on 11 only for his ball to appear like the Virgin Mary two yards into the rough. There I was thinking Lady Luck was on his side; this chap had more balls than a juggler. 

We shadowed his every move from there on in, and sure enough, balls that went awry went missing. We halved the match on 18 and no money changed hands, but what I should’ve done is call the miserable git out for cheating, and when it comes to ongoing WHS debacles, the good news is, you can too. 

I wrote about issues regarding handicap manipulation with the new world system in this very space for our last edition, declaring that people are the problem. Thankfully we can also be the solution. 

Far be it from me to hurl abuse from the backbenches, comfortable in opposition, spouting idealistic endpoints without highlight steppingstones to reform. Well how about this one?  

Stop playing with cheaters. Stop signing their cards. Avoid them like the plague and quit allowing a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. 

Maybe it was my disbelief, or lack of cojones that stopped me calling out that pair of rogues, and given how people could react, I don’t blame anyone for being hesitant. But with WHS issues, stopping manipulation at source is much easier, and far less confrontational. In fact, you can do it on your phone. 

We’ve all heard stories of players ballooning their handicap only to turn up at the club’s biggest prizes and knock twenty shots off their previous average score. My question is simple – who’s attesting the bloated numbers?  

I’ve heard cries of how casual rounds are killing the game but when I rock up to the club and create a round for submission on my Golf Ireland app, I’m required to send it to my playing partner to attest. And there’s no friend of mine who’d sign for a score if they had the slightest inkling I was protecting, or inflating my handicap. 

Some of this makes me laugh though. Like what if I didn’t play that round at all? What if I arrived to the club to satisfy the geo-code requirements, created the round for submission, sat in the clubhouse and enjoyed a two-hour lunch before later entering a phantom score to be attested without ever swinging a club. Now because I have a life, I won’t do that, but if I did, I’d still need someone to attest that score.  

There’s no doubt in my mind that WHS entrusts golfers with holding up the integrity of the game even more so than the last system, but it takes two to tango. So unless someone is going to tell me that people have gone to great lengths to set up burner Golf Ireland accounts to dupe the system, then it’s not just the notorious spin doctors at your club who are guilty of manipulation, but those attesters complicit in the act. 

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