The Hacker: Change to the three-quarters rule but that's not the full story

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The Independent Online

For years, hackers have been systematically robbed when they've played in matchplay competitions against players with lower handicaps.

In fairness to the lower handicappers, it must be stressed that they didn't know they were committing robbery. They were just conforming to a handicapping system that has now been exposed as "enormously favourable" to the better player.

The system has long been praised as the best in any sport, allowing players of varying ability to play against each other on more or less equal terms. Now we're told it was a damn sight less fair than it should have been. For as long as anyone in the game can remember, the higher handicapper would receive three-quarters of the difference between his handicap and that of his opponent.

That has now been changed by the Council of National Golf Unions (Congu), who adminis-trate the game in Great Britain and Ireland and have decreed, after much study of statistics, that in the interests of equity the higher handicapper should receive the full handicap difference. What we want to know now is where the figure of three-quarters came from in the first place and when it was imposed.

I was prompted to write about the change last month when I discovered that low-handicap players at my club did not enter our matchplay competition because they considered it unfair to have to give extra shots to the likes of me.

Apparently this reluctance was reflected in clubs all over the country, and Congu have seen fit to put their full and fact-based case for the change on their website.

They started their exhaustive investigation into the allowance with the fact that nowhere could they find any reference or reasoning as to why the three-quarters rule was introduced.

Others are just as puzzled. Dr Steven Reid, a past captain at Royal Lytham St Annes and a keen golf historian, emailed me asking if I could throw any light on where the three-quarter figure came from. "I've tried Peter Lewis of the golf museum and various members of theR & A," he writes, "but no one knows where and when it originated." What he did find out was that in the US there was a 90 per cent allowance in the 1920s. "If you become aware of its origins let me know, as it is bugging me big time," he says.

All Congu know is that three-quarters of handicap for singles matches appears to have been used nowhere else in the world. I'd be delighted if anyone can help find the source of a decision that has added to the uphill battles of hackers for what may be 100 years or more. High-handicappers everywhere ought to ensure that they are receiving the shots they are entitled to by official decree.

And while we are on the subject, I and my fellow high- handicappers at our club were shabbily treated in a Stableford competition the other weekend. There was a handicap limit of 18 but full allowance for everyone of 18 or less. So I had to give up six shots before I started. The better players didn't lose a shot.

It is clearly against the Congu direction, but I haven't put in an official complaint. I don't want them to think I'm a moaner.