Twelve months on from the introduction of the radically altered handicap system that changed all our golfing lives, what do we think now we have had a chance to live with it?
Judging by emails to this address, the initial fury that such a convoluted change was introduced at the height of a pandemic has been replaced by something more considered, albeit with limited enthusiasm.
Claire Bates, director of handicapping at the R&A, acknowledges that it is a ‘significant change’ and that golfers are taking time to adjust. ‘I think they are getting to grips with it the more they use it and are enjoying the benefits of having a current handicap reflecting their demonstrated ability,’ she added.
Handicap rules have changed but the old system was superior to the radical one
As it happens, I have got a couple of friends who head up the handicap committees at their golf clubs and so have been at the coal face grappling with those considerable changes.
Their conclusions? While the new system has merit, the old was more robust in determining an accurate handicap for the vast majority who play mainly at one club. The new one throws up some weird handicap numbers, favours high handicappers, leaves people feeling confused and is open to fairly flagrant abuse.
Under the old system, handicaps would go up and down following each competitive round, with an increase of 0.1 for a poor score and a decrease of at least that amount for every stroke under par.
Now, handicaps are calculated from the best eight rounds out of the last 20 played, with a slope rating to take into account a course’s difficulty. Golfers now have a handicap index and a playing handicap, which will rise or fall depending on the toughness of the venue.
Let’s look at some areas of contention regarding the new system:1. Why does it favour high handicappers?
Here is an example from my own course, a difficult links. I have a handicap index of 6.1 and a playing handicap of 7. But, because of the slope rating, someone with an index of 19.1 has a playing handicap of 23.
In an effort to address the obvious inequity, you have to play off 95 per cent of your handicap in competitions