A few months ago, the handicap police paid a visit to the humble golf course I call home.
It was the culmination of some chuntering in the bar from members unhappy with having to give shots away when visiting other clubs. Inevitably, however, bringing in a stranger to re-rate the course caused more harm than good.
The findings were that the fairways were too wide, the rough was too short and there weren’t enough hazards. Paradoxically, of course, those are the main three reasons that most of us like it just the way it is.
There is a bunker that guards the left edge of the 18th green and a great view of it from the balcony of the clubhouse. With a cold beer in hand, the members are not shy to offer instructions to those toiling within its depths. Most afternoons of the week you can watch respectable rounds fall apart in that bunker, so don’t tell us there aren’t enough of them.
The fairways are indeed wide, but that doesn’t mean that we hit them on a regular basis. Or, if we do, we hit them in the wrong place, meaning the next shot is compromised.
Our course has one mighty defence and it is arboreal in nature. To be specific, trees. Mature trees. Trees that have stood the test of time. Trees that have stood the test of being shouted at by irate golfers, some of whom, last Christmas, asked Santa to bring them a chainsaw.
These trees are the reason that our rough tends to be less penal than at other clubs. The fact of the matter is that if you hit a shot sideways at our course, the next shot, stymied as it is by leafy beasts, will also have to be sideways, back on to the wide fairways.
The problem with the handicap police, as I see it, is that they don’t include any real golfers. By which I mean people who aren’t very good. It’s all very well for a scratch golfer to parachute in and tell us that our course is too easy.
To him or her, all courses are too easy. For the full golfing experience, however, you must ask someone who, when they take the club back, hopes for the best but expects the worst.
It is these people who make the golfing world go round. We (you see what I did there?) judge a course by entirely different criteria. If you miss one fairway, can you approach the green from the adjacent one? Is there water? Are there hills? Can you find the next tee box easily? And most important of all, when you finish, are the beers cold? I suspect that none of these things appears on the radar of the handicap police.
Ultimately, whether we gain a stroke or lose a few in the algorithmic jungle, nothing really changes. To misquote F Scott Fitzgerald, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly by our lack of anything resembling a golf swing.
– This column first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.