It’s often said that golf teaches you a lot about a person’s character. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Meet someone new on the course, or even play golf with a friend for the first time, and just over four hours later, you will know them as well as anyone outside their family.
It is obviously very easy to take the moral high ground sitting behind a keyboard, but golf’s No 1 enemy – the cheat – continues to live a charmed life, unpunished and untamed.
The sad reality is that almost everyone who has teed it up has come into contact with a cheater, either on a grand scale or just someone who cuts the dogleg ever so slightly.
The serial ‘meat prize’ winners continue to stroll in and out of Wednesday and Saturday competitions, as do the handicap ‘managers’ and the guys who feel it’s OK to improve the lie behind a tree or a thick bit of rough. There are those who ‘forget’ about that chip out of danger when yelling ‘par for me’ as they move to the next hole, or even let their reload off the tee fall from their memory.
Don’t get me wrong: if you are a new golfer or social player, go ahead and have as much fun as possible – ground your club in the bunker, play from where you think your ball entered the bush and then vanished, and don’t bother running back to the tee if you lose your tee shot. You’ll also pick up some great habits that will be ‘unwritten rules’ in the future – like not waiting for silence as you prepare to tee off, playing when you are ready, not waiting if you are closest to the hole and walking anywhere on the green (with spikeless golf shoes), provided you try as much as possible to avoid walking on someone’s line.
When you graduate to an affiliated golfer, you need to play by the rules – all of them. Ask for help, whether it’s from an experienced player in your fourball or your club pro – I am sure there will be plenty of people willing to help you figure out the many intricacies and nuances of this wonderful game.
Handicaps Network Africa (HNA) has put measures in place to try to get scores entered on the day, to avoid people entering fictitious scores remotely, which is a good start. A club where I played quite regularly has a special review committee checking on the scores of all repeat prize-winners and adjusting their handicaps accordingly when the case requires. These are both great efforts that will go a long way, but it takes more than that to win the war on scorecard corrupters. It takes every golfer to play their part in keeping the tradition and spirit of the game alive.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, there is so much ‘bending of the rules’ off the course (and I mean beyond the front gate of your clubhouse) that it might seem acceptable to let a few things slide. As frustrating as golf can be, it relies on honesty to keep itself in check. If the duo who played The Longest Hole across Mongolia (featured in our November 2017 issue) can play in those horrendous conditions in the spirit of golf, it should be manageable for us weekend hackers.
Familiarise yourself with the rules and play by them.
Once you take care of the little things, make sure the people you choose to tee it up with are also adhering to the rules.
You’ll have more fun that way, I can almost guarantee it.
– This column first appeared in our Big Issue magazine feature in January 2018