Well, it’s golf’s big day next week – not the US presidential election on Tuesday, between two keen golfers, that’s bigger than big but the introduction of the new WHS on Monday.
The initials stand for World Handicap System and it’s taken years to thrash out and implement, the holy grail of a system that will be truly universal, ensuring that golfers will be competing on an equal footing wherever they’re playing, against whomsoever. I think that’s a reasonably accurate summation but there are no guarantees when you’re relying on a woman (me) who never managed to come to grips with the buffer zone, which, even for members of Whittington Heath, has nothing to do with railway lines.
Handicaps are a very important part of golf because they ensure that good players have to play well, often enough, to beat not-so-good players and give the nsg’s a fighting chance of turning a match into a proper contest. Not the most elegant summation perhaps, so I rooted out my copy of The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms by Peter Davies (no relation; according to the blurb he is (or was) “a classical scholar, linguist and lexicographer….A superb natural athlete and games enthusiast, his prowess as a golfer is in some dispute….”)
Anyway, the origin of the word was “doubtless borrowed from horse-racing” and as a noun it’s defined as “a compensation in strokes assigned to players on the basis of their past and current performance, designed to enable players of different abilities to compete together on approximately equal terms.”
As a definition that stands up pretty well, surely and one of the people we have to thank for the notion of a standard handicapping system is the redoubtable Issette Pearson, first honorary secretary of the LGU (Ladies’ Golf Union), founded in 1893 now defunct), a woman once described by a disgruntled/discombobulated journalist as “as despotic as the Czar/Tsar of Russia”.
I have, after some stumbles and a few swear words, managed to sign up to England Golf and all the joys of the new handicapping. I have my new index – 10.4 I think, which seems ridiculously low – but I got distracted, so didn’t carry on to multiply that number by WHGC’s slope (non-golfers don’t have to go there) rating off the red tees, divided by 113 to find my new handicap. Since it’s of no real interest to anyone else, at this late hour I’m not going to bother attempting to remember my CDH (short not for congenital diaphragmatic hernia but for central database of handicaps) number and root out my new password – that’s an excitement for another day.
One friend, who works with numbers, cracked, “If I sit here long enough trying to work it out, I’ll be off 36!!” In fact, she’s gone from 18 to 21 – apparently. Another friend, who has, presumably, done her sums correctly or read the appropriate list with her glasses on, plays off 30 at the moment but her index number is 35, so from Monday on, for a while at least, she’ll be off 41 on her home course….Yikes. Her nickname’s already Two Shots, she’ll be Three or Triple now, unbeatable and unbestable.
Mind you, in so-called friendly matches, handicaps are negotiable. J.P. McManus, financier, racehorse owner, restorer of Adare Manor, is a handy golfer but not in the same league as Tiger Woods, yet the Irishman devised a system that enabled him to beat the great man when he was in his prime, if not in full-on major-winning mode. If I remember rightly, it involved Tiger hitting two drives, then J.P. designating which one he should hit and so on and on. If Tiger didn’t play well, he didn’t win.
At the moment we here in England are still able to play golf, no, let me re-phrase that, we’re still able to go to the golf course and play. In Wales and the Republic of Ireland, golf is off limits again – for reasons that escape most of us – hence Mo’s stay-at-home tips. We probably don’t quite appreciate how much we can do to improve without setting foot on the course or the driving range. This is the perfect time to give it a go.
Someone asked Maureen for a list of books to read when we’re either banned from the golf course or deterred by the weather and I piled up a few of my favourites but in truth the list is nearly endless – anything by Henry Longhurst, Bernard Darwin, Peter Dobereiner, Dan Jenkins, Lawrence Donegan, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, Bob Rotella, Harvey Penick, Stephen Potter. There’s instruction, whimsy, biographies/autobiographies, club histories, fiction, whatever, thousands of books to choose from.
In my collection I discovered a tatty paperback from 1969: Play Better Golf with John Jacobs, based on the Yorkshire Television series and it’s full of sound advice. He finishes by saying: “Remember that golf is a game of how many, not how; that people may often be interested in what you scored, but rarely in how.
”Finally, I would ask you to do what sounds quite a simple thing but is, in fact, very difficult: to try your utmost on every shot. Golf can be the most frustrating and infuriating, as well as the most satisfying and elating, of games; but if it has one cliche that cannot be denied it is that the game is never over until the last putt has been holed.
”So, don’t give up – ever. Think about what you are trying to do, which is to make a good impact. Think about what will help you to make a good impact, which, to put it as simply as I can, is correct aim and stance followed by two turns, one to get your body out of the way while you aim the club, and one to get it out of the way while you swing the club through the ball. Think out the shots before you play them, then think of one key factor to help you to swing as you have planned.
”There’s never been a greater game for triers.”
To end on an even more upbeat, happier note, many congratulations to Bethan and Tristan Jones, two of the LET’s stalwarts through thick and thin, who’ve just had their first baby. I’m still beaming from ear to ear, so heaven only knows how they’re feeling. Love and hugs (virtual, of course).