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Why are golfers so reluctant to embrace different formats?

Change it up or stick to what you know? Steve Carroll wonders why we are fixated on the same old formats week in week out
 

My Captain’s Day was coming up and I’d had a novel idea for the format. A bogey competition. It’s a mix of stroke play and match play, with holes won or lost depending on how players score against a fixed target. The player, pair, or team, that ‘wins’ the most holes gets the trophy.

Neat, right? But when I loosely presented this idea, people looked at me as if I’d just experienced a psychotic episode.

It was explained to me, as gently as possible, that this would not be the victory lap I had anticipated. That, instead, there might be much grumbling and, worse still, probably a dearth of entries.

I reluctantly accepted defeat, held a pairs’ betterball Stableford, and a great day was had. But sometimes, when I look back on my year of office, I have a tiny regret I didn’t make any effort to stand my ground.

Club golfers, in my experience, are a pretty conservative lot when it comes to embracing different types of golf. I’ve known players who’ve sulked and refused to enter competitions that veered from the traditional medal and Stableford format.

They’d bleat that they didn’t trek to the club after a hard week at work to only play half the shots in a foursomes, or be limited to a couple of sticks in an off-the-wall once-in-a-blue-moon flight of fancy.

They wanted to play every shot. It’s how they wanted their membership to be – not messing about trying to make sure the right spaces were filled in on a scorecard.

I like to think I’m open minded about what I play, though I’ve written before about my complex relationship with Stableford. I struggle to truly embrace a stroke play game where you don’t necessarily have to put the ball in the hole.

My favourite format – and not just because I’ve won plenty at it – is greensomes. Both partners hit a drive, pick the best, and then play alternate shot from there.

I suppose it suits my strengths. I’ve never been a great driver of the ball but I’m an above average iron player for my handicap. Put me in the fairway and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t find the green.

I do find myself getting a bit worn down in mid-season if we’re negotiating a relentless catalogue of stroke play events. It can get pretty repetitive rolling from monthly medal to midweek Stableford, to board comp (a pairs medal or Stableford) and a trophy event (also almost inevitably medal play).

I get it. It’s what players like. It’s what a lot of competitions have traditionally been and it’s worked well. If it ain’t broke and all that.

But there are so many different variations of the game to try, and club players can be open minded when it suits them. Most of us can get stuck into a Texas Scramble, right?

In our From the Clubhouse podcast, my co-host Tom Irwin also wondered if there was a “class divide” permeating what we were drawn to when playing golf.

He asked if foursomes was a game traditionally played more by old school and private members’ clubs, where fourball was the mark of a more modern establishment.

He contrasted his own experiences of university and county golf, which were always foursomes and singles – never fourball – and how alternate shot is embraced at his own club.

“It’s got that amateur pedigree and background that fourball doesn’t necessarily have,” he explained. “When did fourball becoming a thing? Because, like so many things in golf, it seems we had a system of doing it that worked perfectly well and then we’ve added to it.”

What do you think? Are you happy to be adventurous on a weekend, or do you enjoy a fixed diet of formats?

I’ll still push for that bogey comp. And if I’m ever captain again, maybe I’ll subject you to a day of maximum score. Or what about three-ball match play? I’m unlikely to back down so easily.

Are you strictly a stroke play and fourball player, or do you like to mix it up with a different golf format? Let me know with a tweet.

Listen to more on the From the Clubhouse podcast

Tom and I chat more about our views on foursomes, fourballs, and every golf format in between on the From the Clubhouse podcast, in association with TaylorMade. Listen in the player below, or on your preferred podcast player.

What’s your favourite format? Is medal, Stableford, or fourball the be all and end all, or do you enjoy mixing it up on a weekend? Let us know with a tweet.

More podcasts from National Club Golfer

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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