The Hacker: Late change in scoring means Keith and I have had our Chips

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The Independent Online

According to the latest survey, the game of golf is in a very healthy state and contributes to the European economy a total of €53 billion (£46bn) every year with a net profit of €14.5bn. More importantly, perhaps, are the other benefits they say golf brings to society, such as the enhancement of social, personal and environmental skills.

This evidence that there's some higher meaning to our miserable existence will hearten hackers everywhere, although it not easy to see the environmental advantages of millions of us threshing about the bushes looking for our balls on a daily basis.

The survey also claims that golf promotes integration and participation and creates a sense of belonging.

When a stranger walks up to the bar in the more posh clubs, a sense of belonging is the last thing he is likely to feel but I do know what they mean.

A close bond develops between those who play regularly together. The ribaldry, gamesmanship and the chortling when the bets are settled may give the impression of bitter rivalry but beneath it all lies a genuine feeling of brotherhood.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the unofficial competitions that take place every week in clubs. Known by a variety of names such as "swindle" or "fiddle", they are usually open to anyone who turns up at the appointed time and pops a pound or two into the kitty.

One of the most popular gatherings at our club is called the Chips, for the simple reason that the winner buys chips for all the losers.

Although it is principally an individual event, the balls of all the participants are thrown into the air and those that land closest together form pairs for a four-ball better-ball game.

I was once lucky enough to land next to the current hot-shot, who went out to score 42 points on his own. I didn't come in once but had a free plate of chips and £2.60 in winnings. Other experiences have, however, been much less successful and one of my least rewarding sights is the look of horror on the face of the owner of the ball that is juxtaposed to mine.

In the Christmas Chips last week, however, they drew for pairs in advance and I was partnered by Keith, a former policeman who was invalided out after injuring his back on duty and had four discs removed from his spine.

Despite having to take a regular rest on his shooting stick, Keith plays a mean game and was bang in form. After a bad start, I did well and scored 17 points on the back nine but, as is more important in four-ball better-ball, I dovetailed well with Keith.

I came in with a three or a four-pointer on the holes he didn't score much on and we came in with 44 points, which would have been well in contention for a prize.

Then they explained that we weren't playing better-ball but aggregate scores and his 36 and my 26 didn't amount to anything like a winning score.

Never mind. As befits a celebration dinner that starts at 5pm, we had a riotous night. What the survey didn't say was that there's nothing like a sense of belonging to create a hangover.