The Hacker: Stableford system and a few drinks are just what the doctor ordered

Click to follow
The Independent Online

We paid our annual homage to Dr Frank Stableford last weekend. This involved travelling to Wallasey on Merseyside, getting hammered on the course and then in the bar.

This was a few days before the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a grim warning that people over 65 were drinking too much, decreeing the limit was three and a half pints a week. It's a sobering thought that a hacker's ration will barely last two hours after finishing a round.

I'm not sure of the good doctor's view on the subject. But as an army surgeon who saw action during the Boer War and World War One, he probably had a more lenient view.

And, as the man whose name has been blessed by untold millions of golfers, I'm sure he wouldn't look unkindly on golfers seeking solace after a game. On visits to Wallasey we need plenty of solace because it is a tough links course which we find difficult to master, particularly in the high winds we had last Sunday.

But it is all in the good cause of helping to honour the memory of one of golf's greatest benefactors. The Stableford points system takes the harshness out of the game, especially for the higher handicappers.

It was at Wallasey in the early 1930s that he perfected the format. But 13 years ago, while writing the history of The Glamorganshire Golf Club, I discovered he was a member and found a faded newspaper cutting which revealed that in 1898 he asked his fellow members to experiment with a new method of scoring.

It was the same system now in use but was played off scratch and a third of your handicap was added at the end. No further mention of the trial can be found until he resurrected it over 30 years later at Wallasey.

He used the same format, apart from adding your full handicap at the end, but it was only when he utilised the stroke indices and scoring hole by hole that the system took off and became the world's most popular.

Dr Frank was a very good golfer, attaining a handicap of plus one, and after moving to Merseyside he became a well-known local figure, driving a yellow Rolls Royce and sporting a bright bow tie. Sadly, he was forced from the game he loved by almost total blindness and he shot himself at the age of 89.

When we held a tournament to celebrate the centenary of his first experiment, Wallasey sent down two teams. In the convivial aftermath that lasted until dawn, strong bonds were formed and the clubs exchange visits every year.

With captain Geophrey Holcroft to the fore, Wallasey welcomed us with their usually generous and aggressive hospitality. At dinner we wore specially designed bow ties, toasted Dr Frank's memory extensively and the following day played for the bronze Bow Tie Trophy.

Martin Price and myself played last year's captain, Paul Andrews, and Eric Williams and, faced with a billowing wind coming across the Mersey, we were even more buffeted by them and were three down after five. We were still three down after nine when I miraculously parred the next three holes to turn the tide.

We were all square at the 18th, which is a superb hole, made all the more enticing by the sight of the clubhouse bar above the green. We didn't play it well and Reg needed a four-foot putt for the win. He missed by a suspicious distance.

"You did that on purpose," I said. They smiled and shook hands. "It was a fair result," said Paul.

As it happened, Wallasey won 4-1 to retain the trophy they won at our place last year. It was a great weekend and despite its excesses we comfort ourselves with the thought that Dr Frank would approve.