Irish Golfer Magazine: April 2019

With the new World Handicap System (WHS) set to come into play in 2020, Paul Gallagherlooks closer to home to see how and when golf clubs are running qualifying competitions

We’re back at the starting line. A shiny new season full of promise lies ahead. We’ve come out of a winter slumber and now every shot counts again as qualifying campaigns across the country come into play.

All those handicap graphs on our HowDidiDo apps will cease to flat line like corpses lying in the morgue. Those with lines heading up the North Face will undoubtedly have woes of where it all went wrong (better to steer clear of that conversation in the bar), while others have graphs that plunge the depths and will have eyes only for another shot coming off the handicap.

It’s a personal snapshot of our game at that moment in time; a weekly self-assessment straight to your smartphone. For some that exact handicap is critical. At elite level, it could mean the difference of getting into a championship such as the season-opener West of Ireland, while for others making the Jimmy Bruen or Junior Cup squads rely on those all-important numbers.  

Club golf is obviously played for fun. Livelihoods don’t depend on it. But one thing is certain, when we return to qualifying competition, there is no hiding place and that’s what gives it the edge when compared to non-qualifiers.     

There has been much debate at our club this winter regarding qualifying competitions. We are fortunate that Mourne Golf Club members get to play their competitions on the championship course at Royal County Down. Typically, it’s a measured course all year round, played on full greens as opposed to temporary greens or tees, so technically we could (and perhaps should) run qualifying competitions all year round?

Conversations and questions that began casually were channeled to the powers that be. In turn our Council correctly took advice from GUI Ulster Branch to see what the options were. Winter golf is unquestionably different to summer golf. Conditions, especially the elements on a links course, come into play. Competition Standard Scratch has the ability to ensure a level playing field. In our case, it’s worth noting mats were in place for a time at key landing areas on the fairways this winter.

Not all courses in Ireland will be able to have qualifying competitions in winter. Heavier conditions under foot generally means preferred lies, or temporary greens are in play at some parklands to protect the putting surfaces.

Ultimately, the question is; if you’re home course is playable (measured) all year round then should qualifying competitions be played for 12 months of the year, accepting certain extenuating circumstances may prohibit this? 

And then there’s the new World Handicap System (WHS) to factor in from next year. With much homework still to be done on this topic, the bones of the new “unified” handicapping system by the R&A and USGA will be applicable to any course; would include daily revisions and could take into account course and weather conditions. The plan is for both competitive and social/recreational rounds to be counting towards your handicap. 

The aim is to make golf more appealing but to also provide golfers in any country with a “consistent measure of playing ability” according to the R&A.

In our case, a bunch of us got together this winter to play stroke play every Friday on the Annesley Links. The sole aim was to try and remain competitive through the short days, while keeping a card in hand. It was a heady mix that included former European winner Simon Thornton and former Ireland international Reeve Whitson plus a bunch of other, mostly, single handicappers ready to state their case. 

It was healthy competition at a good time of year. For this individual it was also a good learning; to see how the better players plot their way round the course and remain competitive, even when they didn’t have their A-game.  

A casual bounce game is a world apart from one where every stroke counts. The simple nature of finishing every hole requires a completely different mindset. The art of scoring takes skill and practice. 

At club level it doesn’t matter how it’s done, it’s how many? In fact, that counts for every level of the game. Ironically, it’s probably the tour pros who are more accepting of that notion than club golfers. They know every shot can’t be hit pure, it’s the numbers on the card that count, so why are us club golfers so unforgiving of ourselves when we possess a fraction of their talent?

In some ways, it feels as though the season is already upon us. Some of that will be due to the revamped scheduling of the Players’ Championship, brought forward to March instead of the traditional May slot. 

However, the ultimate season-opening marker is when the flora and fauna down Magnolia Lane comes into focus. That’s when you know the season is up and running and one of the ultimate qualifying tests of all is upon us.

April 2019

To qualify or not to qualify…

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