Hacker: At last, time for golfers on the fringes to enjoy the fairer way

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The Independent Online

'Hackers of the world unite – we've nothing to lose but our balls.' That's the title of a book I've been intending to write for some time, but it will do as a clarion call for the time being.

Fated to plough a lonely divot on the outskirts of the game, unsung and uncared for, we hackers haven't had a lot going for us through the years. But our cause has been championed by a bunch of white knights who go under the name of Congu.

Governing bodies in sport don't usually attract praise but Congu, whose task since 1924 has been to direct scoring and handicapping systems at clubs in Great Britain and Ireland, decree that lower-handicap golfers haven't been giving enough strokes to higher-handicappers when they play them.

Confirming golf's reputation as the most honest of all games, Congu have decided that instead of giving three-quarters of the difference, the better players should give the full difference.

Considering that those making this decision are low- handicappers themselves, it was a brave call, and one that has resulted in a controversy that has been chronicled in this column over several weeks.

There have been heated arguments in clubs throughout the country – and, as my colleague Sue Montgomery revealed in this space last Sunday, among the lady golfers too – with indignant golfers refusing to enter singles knock-out competitions because they don't think it is fair to have to give extra shots to opponents.

Terry Marston, the competition secretary at Perivale Park golf club, is one of the latest to email me on the subject. He writes: "They are saying that it is almost impossible for a five- handicapper to give 18 shots to a 22-handicapper and have any realistic chance of winning unless he plays out of his skin."

But the Congu men I spoke to are convinced that after their long study of playing statistics the three-quarters allowance was "enormously favourable" to the lower-handicappers, and that even the full allowance still favours the better player.

One of the main architects of the new decree is Bill Mitchell of the Scottish Golf Union, who has been a single-figure handicapper for most of his playing career. "I once won our singles matchplay championship for five years out of eight and I felt then that the three-quarters allowance was unfair," he says.

"Since then I have studied it in many ways and over many years, and if you accept that the object is to give everyone a fair chance there is not a decent counter-argument against giving the full allowance."

Hackers everywhere should appreciate the work that has been done on their behalf, but the battle is by no means over. Most clubs still operate an 18-handicap limit. Although Congu say it is against the spirit of the system they are reluctant to interfere in club traditions.

It is up to hackers to keep fighting this at their clubs. If they are not allowed to play in competitions with their officially recognised handicap, they should demand a reduction in their annual subscriptions.

If you want an idea of what proportion of the subscription hackers should pay, how does three-quarters sound?