I like a roll-up. It’s a recipe for meeting new people with fresh takes on the shared passion of golf. There is a ‘dating game’ risk involved with committing four hours of your life to the company of a total stranger and very occasionally you know that a long-term relationship is out of the question even before you reach the 1st green. It was a bit like that with this Tom Irwin article (see link at the end of this blog) attacking the whole idea of handicaps. I made my mind up about Mr Irwin after the first paragraph.

Tom, if the biggest cause of stress in your life is a 0.1 handicap hike, you really need to get out more. Anyone that sees something ‘dystopian’ in the handicap system is maybe looking a little too hard. If golf without handicaps is your utopia, it is freely available in Club Champs and other scratch comps. There’s even a thing called the Open you can enter if you can get your handicap down to ‘plus’ numbers. Golf at elite level is purely about how many swings you take.

Golf at my level is about the four years of wonderful sporting pleasure, challenge and camaraderie I’ve enjoyed since I first took up the game… four years in which my handicap has come down from 36 to 18. During that time, I’ve played with and against men, women, juniors, seniors and even a few pros. Most might have given me shots, a few may have muttered about me beneath their breath but none have ever been less than gracious and supportive in victory or defeat.

As a beginner, I needed a high handicap for morale and encouragement. Now that I have reached a respectable standard, I not only aspire to lowering my handicap, I actually enjoy the test of teeing it up on a hole where I’m giving my opponent a shot. It focusses the mind. Tom’s mind appears to have been twisted by some bad experiences with ‘bandits’ at his club. He writes about the roll-up as ‘the Saturday swindle’, he describes the first prize on Captain’s Day as ‘a hideous, engraved tankard’. Sounds like you missed out on the tankard by a shot, Tom?

Worst of all, he calls the handicap system ‘elitist’ when it is the very opposite of that. Handicaps break down elites and devise a system that promotes a unique kind of competition within our game. If there are people cheating the system (and there are), they are not only cheating themselves but their reputations soon go before them. No sport is less forgiving of cheats than golf. A game that builds character can stain character if you take liberties with it.

Tom Irwin’s biggest ‘give away’ is his concluding argument that there shouldn’t even be a distinction between professional and amateur players. I dare say that he is a much, much better player than me but he isn’t getting anything like as much out of golf because he is so fixated with the last number he writes on his card. I’m bloody competitive, don’t you worry. I have cried on a golf course!… but I’ve laughed and smiled a lot more. And the handshakes and kisses I’ve exchanged on the final green are always warm and sincere irrespective of the result. If my opponents show a respect for golf, they will get it back from me in spades whatever their handicap.

Read Tom Irwin’s article in National Club Golfer here