At the humble golf club I call home, spring arrived with a thud. That’s the sound made by dozens of us hitting the ball fat because we’ve got used to hard, fast fairways and minimal rough.
The club head naturally slides through impact over the long, rain-free, winter months, but in spring it sticks in the grass as newspaper adheres to marmalade.
Those of us who battle to hit the ball with a fast, steep, descending blow have become accustomed to putting the wedge away in winter. We flap at the ball with a 7-iron that allows it to skip across the concrete-hard sward separating us from the green, a daily reminder of Barnes Wallis and his amazing bouncing bomb.
And here’s the point: we can hit the ball 140 metres and vaguely straight like that, which we certainly cannot do with a wedge.
And so, holes that cannot be reached in two in mid-summer, can be negotiated with a certain amount of aplomb in mid-winter, especially with the extra distance the hard ground gives us off the tee.
Someone who duffs it off 24 in summer, can play to an 18 in winter. The long par fours are now driver, iron, instead of driver, 3-wood, wedge.
The downside is that bunkers placed for proper players are actually in play for us now, but the mere thought that the trap you are standing in is 250 metres from the tee is enough to pour balm upon the three shots you took to get out of the damn thing. And that goes double for greenside bunkers.
So the question arises of seasonally adjusted handicaps. For the committed (and I know a few who should be), it’s irrelevant, of course.
They play twice or thrice a week and their handicap reflects pretty much what their game was like last month. But for someone who plays half a dozen times a year, the handicap system is far from ideal. Imagine the conversation on the first tee:
‘What are you playing off?’
’23? But you shot 87 last time we played. How can you be a 23?’
‘Well, it’s November. I shot 87 in July.’
This is how friendships are rent asunder. The mere fact that the 23-handicapper may proceed to shoot 95 will not mend the fence.
So what is the answer? And don’t say, join a club, play in the weekly comp and get a proper handicap, because for the vast majority of golfers that is simply not possible.
You could try moving to a town with winter rainfall, or, better still, no rainfall at all. Dubai for instance, or Timbuktu. But that seems rather like putting the cart before the horse and anyway, the wife might put up a fight.
Better to simply let nature take its course. I am reminded of a story told to me by Denis Hutchinson who was playing in the World Cup with Gary Player, against the great Argentinian, Roberto De Vicenzo and his partner, Fidel de Luca.
Hutchy was concerned at De Luca’s habit of bashing his mallet-headed putter down along the line of his putt, a tactic that helped him reach the turn in 33 blows.
He persuaded Gary to have a quiet word with Roberto, who reassured the South African team that Fidel’s form was temporary and the golfing gods would find a way to balance things up. And it was so; Fidel came home in 42.
– This column first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.