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 At the 19th

Handicaps: a pesky activity
As golfing offences go, it may not rank up there (down there?) with cheating, but the author has found himself in a hugely embarrassing position at his golf club – he is now officially Inactive

Although I’m not suggesting that you travel all the way to East Sussex to confirm that what I’m telling you is true, if you were to do so you would see a nasty little asterisk next to my name on the list of members pinned to the notice board at Dale Hill. If it indicated that I was caught cheating or, worse still, had failed to pay my annual subscription, it couldn’t be more embarrassing. What in fact it is revealing to the whole golfing world is that my handicap is ‘Inactive’.

For those unfamiliar with this particular phenomenon, let me quote what no less an authority than the English Golf Union have to say on the subject. “As of 1st January 2010 all members (men and women) of an English affiliated club must have submitted at least three scores per calendar year in either qualifying competition, supplementary scores or nine hole qualifying events to have an Active handicap. Those that have not will have an Inactive handicap.”

Leaving to one side the vexed issue of what the hell is a ‘supplementary score’ (a subject I might return to in a future column), you may have noticed that the initial letters of both Active and Inactive merit upper case, which means the matter is Very Important.

The EGU goes on to say: “A Club may…impose conditions within some competitions whereby those with Inactive handicaps are prevented from entering the event or from winning prizes. Clubs wishing to impose such restrictions, however, should give all those with an Inactive handicap every opportunity to return the stipulated number of qualifying scores required for an Active handicap by competing in qualifying competitions. Restricted them from winning prizes would be permitted.”

To be fair to lovely Dale Hill, they have given me every opportunity to enter qualifying competitions but I haven’t taken them. They haven’t withheld any prizes but, there again, I haven’t won any. That asterisk, which I confess I thoroughly deserve, has erupted next to my name quite simply because I no longer enter competitions. I don’t enter them because they don’t, for me, add anything to the enjoyment of the game.

What I love about golf is the scenery, fresh air, exercise and the fiendishly difficult business of trying to hit the ball straight and, eventually, into an absurdly small hole. Although perfectly content to golf on my own, I enjoy the company of others but don’t really understand the need to always play a match. Maybe my competitive juices have all dried up but I just love knocking it round with others in a carefree kind of way without the need for any winners or losers or, even less, for money to change hands afterwards.

Although I haven’t played in any qualifying club competitions or posted any supplementary scores, if that’s what you do with a supplementary score, because I’m a golf journalist I am from time to time invited to play in proper, well-organised competitions. And, together with my Inactive handicap, am perfectly happy to do so.

My worry when asked if I would like to participate in the Great Irish Links Challenge was that it sounded horribly serious. My fear was that it was one of those proper competitions that distribute A4 posters that get pinned to club notice boards next to the lists indicating which members have Inactive handicaps. You know the sort of thing – ‘The East of England Over 50s Scratch Matchplay Knock-Out’.

They attract serious golfers with Active handicaps accurate to at least two decimal places who get their rocks off on full-blooded, no-nonsense, testosterone-fuelled, competitive golf. Since I’m clearly not one of them, I worried whether the Great Irish Links Challenge was really for me. What persuaded me to put aside my misgivings was the mouthwatering appeal of the three great venues – Ballybunion, Lahinch and Doonbeg, the last named of which is, after White Hart Lane, my favourite place on earth.

It wasn’t long into the trip before my fears about the determined character of my fellow competitors were allayed. At 7.30 on Sunday morning, I bumped into three Americans at Shannon Airport who were very evidently solely interested in having a good time. In the bar at Doonbeg that evening, I met dozens of others equally determined to have fun.

The wind was whistling Dixie rather too loudly the next morning at Lahinch, delaying the start of the first round of the competition for a couple of hours for the 14 teams commencing their Great Irish Links Challenge on this magnificent course. In what was effectively a twoball, better-ball, stableford format, each team was split into two pairs partnered with two pairs of another team. At the end of each round, the two scores of each team were aggregated. Are you still there? By my own very modest standards, I played moderately well in extraordinarily difficult conditions and together my partner, Neil, and I racked up what I considered a hugely creditable 27 points off four-fifths of our handicap. The best score was 32 and the other pair in our team managed 23. Our combined total of 50 left us in a surprisingly lofty 11th position in a field of 44.

In much calmer conditions at Doonbeg on the second day, Neil and I recorded a magnificent 39 points while our partners managed 35 pushing our team into fifth. The wind returned in force on the final day and our respective 33 and 31 points clearly wasn’t enough and we slipped back to finish equal seventh overall. But – and here’s the thrilling news – although we obviously didn’t win the whole thing, our second day score was the best and we each collected a beautiful glass vase. Competition? Bring it on!

July 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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