I play at a small golf club in the South. We’re lucky to have a beautiful Donald Ross course circa 1916 which is on the National Historic Register. Who would have thunk it, but we have a bit of a handicap controversy. Maybe you’ll recognize your own club in my little story.
The short version is we don’t have a cheating problem at our club. We may have a few players who are suspect from time to time, but the vast majority aren’t that competitive. Being our average age is fairly high, golf here is more about fun and comradeship.
The most competitive golfers play on the weekends in our dogfights and these are self-regulating as a golfer’s points goal is changed every week based on last weeks play. Don’t tell anyone, but if you want to make money your better served being closest to the pin or winning the birdie train. So what’s the problem?
We have a Handicap Chairman who seems to take delight (why else would he do it) in challenging players who signed the play log but did not post a score. It doesn’t matter that they don’t play in competitions or may be 85+, he wants to know what you’re up to. As you might guess this doesn’t go over well with most of our members. In fact, there are very few willing to even play with this guy.
Mind you, he doesn’t really care that you play knowing the rules or how to take a drop from the cart path. He doesn’t get it that most of our golfers handicaps are too low because they don’t count all their penalty strokes. This is not because they are cheating (who cheats to have a lower handicap?), it ‘s because they don’t know the rules.
Most golfers at our course use their handicap as a gauge to whether they’re getting better and want to see it go down. All of which led me to do some research about golf handicaps and when they should be reported. You see, our Handicap Chairman wants you to write ‘PR’ (for practice round) on the tee sheet before your round if you aren’t going to post the score to your handicap.
What I discovered is that the Rules of Golf make no mention of ‘Practice Round’. There is no such thing, so writing it on the tee sheet means zippo. What the Rules of Golf do mention is that there are two types of rounds; those played in accordance with the Rules of Golf and those played not in accordance with the rules. Posting a score to your handicap is very straightforward. If you play according to the Rules, you must post your score. If you don’t play according to the Rules you can’t post your score. That’s it – the whole enchilada!
The USGA seems to get the point. They encourage golfers to respect and abide by the Rules and play accordingly. They also realize that there are times when you are not going to follow the rules, for instance when you are playing numerous balls or not putting out every hole.
When might you do this? When you’re trying to sharpen your game. The pros do it and I expect every golfer has done it. And, the USGA realizes it’s one of the ways to actually get better. They also realize that getting better keeps amateurs in the game and helps grow it as a sport. The USGA even has guidance for this; your rounds played in accordance with the Rules should be considerably more than rounds not played in accordance. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
If you have a wayward Handicap Chair at your course you might show them this article. Golf has always been about policing your self. If your ball moves when you try to clear a twig away, you are probably the only one who’s seen it. It’s up to you to call the penalty.
There are handicap cheats, but my experience is that they are few. Handicap Chairs are important for a club, but they must apply the rules with understanding and in a way that makes sense for their membership. Harassing golfers only drives more from the game and doesn’t really address the few folks who manipulate their handicap.