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Should you be allowed to post a handicap score when playing alone?

Should you be allowed to post a handicap score when playing alone?

Stats guru Lou Stagner said rules requiring you to play with others to submit a score “only hurts honest players”. Has he got a point?

 

“You should be able to post rounds when playing by yourself.” Now there is a statement to get World Handicap System critics foaming at the mouth.

Lou Stagner, the golf performance coach at Arccos Golf and co-host of the Hack It Out podcast, took to X to call for a change in the rules, which require players to be in the company of another if they want to put in an acceptable score.

Widening his argument, as much as you can in 280 characters, Stagner added: “If someone wants to be dishonest about their handicap, this rule does nothing to stop them.

“They will find a way. They always do. This rule only hurts honest players. It needs to change.”

The discussion that followed suggested the rule, at least in the USA, was almost unenforceable – with plenty of golfers saying they still submitted solo rounds. A number weren’t even aware it wasn’t allowed.

Partly, that’s because it was once the case across the pond that you could submit scores when playing by yourself. It was only in 2016 that the USGA halted the practice.

Has Stagner got a point? Should it be fine to go solo and still put in a score, or is pairing up and verifying numbers one of the checks and balances needed to ensure WHS doesn’t completely fall into chaos? Let’s consider some of the pros and cons…

Should you be allowed to post a golf score on your own?

What do the rules say?

For a score to be acceptable, the Rules of Handicapping say it must be played “in the company of at least one other person, who may also act as a marker”.

It also says the round must be played “by the Rules of Golf” and, in stroke play, Rule 3.3b says a player’s score is kept on their scorecard by a marker and, when the round has ended, “the marker must certify the scores on the scorecard”.

Match play is not deemed an acceptable format for the World Handicap System in Great Britain & Ireland.

People who want to cheat will do so

And they do. Plenty of clubs, as well as chiefs at the various handicapping bodies, can give examples of players caught with their hands in the till.

But should the minority of people determined to be nefarious dictate how the rest of us engage with the system, or should we just do a better job of rooting out those who cheat?

Golf is a game built on honesty and integrity and most of us who play hold those values deeply. The Rules of Golf have also changed to reflect that.

You no longer call a partner over to tell them you’re going to take relief. The rules trust you to get on with it – as they do about knowing when you’ve incurred a penalty and recording it.

Why should it be any different for how we post a golf score?

On the other hand, for a system already mistrusted by some golfers – certainly in GB&I anyway – does the added security of having someone else publicly confirm your numbers, to the point where they must sign their name on a scorecard or app and be geo-located as being in the same place as you when it was played, add a significant layer of security?

Even then, WHS can still be gamed. But would loosening those customs further be a step too far?

World Handicap System

Isn’t this more about the culture of how we play our golf?

I don’t want to stereotype, but it’s widely believed that the culture of golf in the USA is less competition oriented than GB&I, where our whole club season is basically built around them.

That allows for things like Most Likely Score, which means players who don’t hole out for a valid reason can pick up and add shots to their score depending on how far away from the hole they are.

Imagine the howls of derision if such a feature of WHS was ever introduced over here?

So, Stateside, are handicaps at recreational level more about tracking ability and potential rather than a number that’s used to pitch against others in golfing battle for trophies and prizes?

If that’s the case, does it really matter if you’re trekking a solo path or in the company of others?

But for many of us in GB&I, and I admit to being among this number, a handicap is a badge of honour – our golfing identity.

It brings joy when it’s going well and causes anguish when it’s not. It’s there to be nurtured and, for some, to be protected. It’s often among the first questions we ask new golfers we meet.

England Golf head of handicapping, James Luke, has argued handicaps are an “ego thing” for too many of us. If we didn’t use it to define ourselves as players, would it then matter how we post a golf score?

The pressure principle

There’s an argument that playing by yourself is less pressured and so you can’t replicate the conditions, and the stress, of putting your handicap on the line when submitting a score.

I’m not convinced. I’ve been putting in all my scores this season and I can tell you the line between competition play and general play becomes blurred. That wouldn’t have been any different if I’d been in a group or on my own.

I’ve admitted I’ll probably go back to playing much more social golf when my experiment finishes at the end of October, but that’s because I’m a bit tired of every score counting – not that there has been any difference in the way I’ve approached those rounds.

If you look at my handicap record over the last 20 scores, you’ll also discover I’ve largely scored better in competitions. If this argument had any weight, shouldn’t it be the other way round?

world handicap system post a golf score

So what do I think?

Time to get off the fence. On the one hand, it does seem contradictory that a sport which keeps pushing a line of fun, growing the game, and opportunity for all then places restrictions on how people can engage with their handicaps.

A lot of people play golf on their own. They may do it for convenience. They may do it because they can’t gather their friends together when they are able to play.

Are we right to effectively say to those players, ‘you can’t be trusted to post a golf score as a single because you MIGHT cheat’?

I’m going to be arguing in a piece you’ll see very soon that golf spends way too much of its time worrying about the tiny fraction of ne’er do wells rather than focusing on the vast majority who play the game properly. Is this the perfect example of that?

On the other hand, you can also argue the necessity of company ensures the rules are being followed as much as possible. Would we record the short putt that hit the hole and stayed out? Would we even putt it at all? We never normally miss and we’re the only ones that will know.

It brings an angel and devil on the shoulder situation that the rules as they stand move to prevent.

I do think, though, that we should make this game as accessible to as many people as possible in whatever way they choose to engage with it. That includes handicaps.

It’s a tough call. The liberal in me says, ‘give it a try’. The emergence of the independent golfer and handicaps for non-golfers is the start of a change in culture in GB&I that is only going to grow louder. This could be a part of that.

But until there is a more fundamental shift in our relationships with competitions and handicaps, and as long as we primarily see them as a vehicle for playing in events, I just don’t think allowing solo rounds to count would work in GB&I.

What do you think of this post a golf score question? Should there be restrictions on how we put in scores for handicap, or should we be able to choose how we engage with them? Why not leave me with your post golf score comment on X?

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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