Ever the contrarian, Tom Irwin is on unusually charitable form as he basks in the company of an old friend, forward tees, and the new 54 handicap limit
I have a friend. I have had him for a while. We met in GCSE geography and have stuck with each other for better or for worse ever since.
If you were going to choose a friend to have for a long time you would choose Richard. (We will call him Richard, for that is his name.) He is thoughtful, funny, interesting, and generous.
He is also loyal, not just to me but also to his employers having worked for the same company for 20 years.
No longer though. He has cut loose, taken the plunge and moved company. Thankfully he still enjoys mine. So while he was making the most of some extended time off we arranged to meet up.
Like many of my non-golfing friends, he assumes, quite rightly, that my preference on days off – and on – is to play golf.
However, what he forgets, or should I say what he doesn’t understand, is quite what a privileged, precious so-and-so I really am.
He doesn’t know that any time someone who doesn’t really play says ‘we should play golf’ my heart sinks. I know I am in for a five-hour round, I know we will not be discussing the intricacies of my last set of Trackman numbers, and I know that after about 12 holes we will both have had enough really.
It is not that Richard can’t do it. It is just that he doesn’t do it in the same way that we do. A competent individual in normal life, like many part-time golfers he takes leave of his senses when presented with a golf course. He doesn’t know where to stand or where to leave his bag, and he can’t count – why can none of them count?
Despite these misgivings, we arrange to play at my golf club, Alwoodley. It is really hard. There is heather, there are forced carries and it is too much for many regular players let alone once-a-year warriors. We are there because it suits me. It was ever thus.
At the 11th hour – by which I mean the 1st tee – it struck me that we could play off the green tees. We have four sets of tees at Alwoodley: blue (twice-a-year championship, don’t-even-think-about-it nonsense), white (for when you want to get beaten up and kid yourself that an extra par 5 will help), yellow (more than enough for most), and the oft-overlooked green (viewed, sniffily, as ‘for the seniors’).
In reality, the green tees are a starting point for an excellent short course which is also allegedly the original layout. Richard could then legitimately play off a 54 handicap. What ensued was absolutely brilliant.
As we marched forward to each tee, passing acre after acre of intimidating heathery carries, Richard pinged off one competent drive after another. Tellingly, his only fails came on the two holes where forced carries remained.
The tee shot in golf is like the serve in tennis – apart from you only get one chance instead of two. It is really hard for the novice. Once you have got your serve away you can merrily topple it back over the net to form a passable rally. So it is in golf – if you can reliable nudge it forward off the tee, the game becomes much more enjoyable.
Buoyed by this, the rest of Richard’s game improved as well. He walked a bit taller, the game felt doable and he was playing golf more than he was hacking away in the heather.
We played a match, I gave him three shots per hole and we did it properly by keeping score and holing out. Richard enjoyed the game of his life. He had a gross birdie for goodness sake.
I was enjoying trying to drive par-4 greens and having the occasional look at birdie for the first time this year.
So there we were enjoying the competition – and yes that is what it became – one man who plays on an annual basis and another who breaks out in a cold sweat if a single day passes without club striking ball.
It was only possible because of the new handicap limit. Given that 0 to 54 is about as big a gap as you can get, it was also a win for the new rule.
He won the match 6&4 and before you thumb “BANDIT!” into your phones let me tell you that he played as well as I have ever seen him play in quarter of a century.
I shot a 2-under-par 68, which sounds good but is two worse than the standard scratch and, in reality, over my handicap. I can also tell you that my failure to birdie the par-5 8th was the turning point. If I had won that and got him back to two then blah, blah, blah, you know the rest.
The best bit? We teed off at 11 and were back, 5,300 yards later, for a late lunch at 2.15, meaning we were both home in time to feed our toddlers.
What is the point in me telling you this tale? Well, I have three…
Firstly, golf courses are, in the main, far, far too long. If you have the opportunity to play off forward tees, take it. You will enjoy it more and it will take much less time.
Secondly, the forward tees are not ‘too easy’. You have a handicap ergo you need help.
And finally, if you are moaning about the new 54 handicap limit then stop. They are a 54 handicap for a reason. If they beat you, it is most likely your fault. Do better.
Remember, golf is your hobby. It is something you do for fun and it is an opportunity to spend time with friends, ideally really good, old friends like Richard. The cheating, sand-bagging, competitive, little upstart.
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