Confessions of a handicap bandit

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Most of us have come across a bandit. Players with dubious handicaps who take full advantage of their extra shots by sweeping up competition prizes – much to the despair and frustration of their bona fide opponents. Well, I’ll freely admit that’s me.

My “dodgy” handicap has helped me win a whole host of stunning prizes, including trips to Florida, the Algarve and Dubai and sets of expensive clubs. Of course, I’m not going to tell you my name. All I’ll say is I’m an experienced golfer based in the north east who enters competitions off between 12 and 18 to give myself a better chance of winning. 

I have been doing so for many years and I am well aware of England Golf’s new handicapping rule (see separate story), brought in to outlaw the bandits and drive them out of the game for good. I don’t think it will make a scrap of difference. It’s a toothless guard dog made to frighten those who are considering this sort of banditry. But it won’t affect the serious bandits, like me. It’s riddled with holes.

That doesn’t surprise me, though. The ineptitude of the governing bodies, both locally and nationally, won’t affect help with the enforcement either.

I am not breaking any rules, just bending them. And who hasn’t bent the rules now and again? It still takes skill to win an event, even if you’re playing off the wrong handicap, but there are things I’ve done to stack the odds in my favour.  

The first is to frequently move clubs, enabling you to get a higher handicap.

Also, make sure you maintain a playable handicap in the 16-18 range – any higher and you get too many complaints, though moving home clubs regularly stops those complaints from being seriously investigated.

Find a new national tournament with a big prize each year, march in, win the prize and then don’t crap on that doorstep again the following year. 

I have willing accomplices who are happy to join me as fourball betterball partners.
I rotate these to shift the appearance of any wrong-doing, though I have one partner who is close to me and fully “invested” in maintaining silence. 

Google is my friend in identifying new tournaments and events to enter, though it could also be my enemy – it staggers me that none of the organisers, or the golf unions, bother to Google winners’ lists from the “major” events – the CDH (Central Database of Handicaps) doesn’t change, and nor do surnames and serial winners such as myself and my partner. 

Being a senior has also helped my cause, because most of our competitions are from the yellow tees or non-qualifying, so any that I win generally have limited “general play” adjustments which I can normally play back with a few poor rounds – midweek and weekend comps and some Opens can deal with this. 

Also, taking out a points system membership with a leading UK golf resorts operator enabled me to fly under the radar of the handicap system for many years. The scheme was run by the club pros for the management of the group – neither of these entities have any interest in losing annual membership fees, so they’re happy to look the other way when complaints are made. 

I’m not a blatant cheat. No way. I have seen enough of that. I’m not that desperate. I’ve no regrets whatsoever and at the end of the day I’ve still got to play well and score well in order to win. I’m just giving myself a head start. The key is not to get too greedy, and it’s important to cover your tracks. National tournaments with big prizes are commonplace now. They’re run by enterprising individuals who want to make a profit from entry fees and the last thing they want, or need, is a scandal.

Therefore, I operate a simple plan – enter tournament, win tournament and don’t enter again for a while. Or if I do, I crash out early and move on to the next new event. That way, even if they recognise me, they prefer to avoid scandal by allowing me to do my thing. 

It’s human nature, especially in men’s golf, to try to win – often at whatever the cost – and I suppose I am a case in point. True, honour is in short supply these days, and bad sportsmanship after losing is a major issue in competitive golf; people can’t just beat you, they must have cheated to do it which may well, or not, have been the case. 

At the end of the day, I invest a lot of time, effort and money into this and it’s important that it is being rewarded. I’ve got a nice little Florida prize in my sights... Sawgrass next year, here I come! 

Sawgrass

Bans await those who get caught

England Golf is coming down heavily on golfers found guilty of playing competitive golf with a dodgy handicap.

Last year an offender got a 10-year ban for “manipulating his handicap while playing in a competition” – he allegedly used somebody else’s name and handicap… A number of others have received bans ranging from six months to two years from their county unions. 

England Golf’s Gemma Hunter told TG: “Previously we weren’t catching these players, but now we’ve drawn the line and are not standing for it any more. Now we’re collating lists and provided we’ve the right evidence, we will take sanctions.

“There is always someone trying to push the bounds of the system – but we want to make it as difficult as possible for them. We want to make it clear that if we catch players involved in this, they will be bought to discipline and sanctions including, where possible, the returning of any prizes which they may have won.

“Genuine golfers can help out – if they have concerns about certain golfers they should contact their county unions, who will discreetly look into the matter.”

Card

The bid to stop banditry

England Golf are trying to put a stop to dodgy handicaps... but our anonymous whistleblower says it doesn’t go far enough

A new handicapping rule has been introduced for members of English golf clubs to stop rogue players manipulating the system.

In recent years, there have been a number of cases of players who protect inflated handicaps, only to repeatedly collect high-value rewards when playing in competitions away from home.

“We’re not talking about a sleeve of balls,” says Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s Handicap and Course Rating Manager. “These are big prizes including luxury trips overseas, sets of clubs and electric trolleys.” But our anonymous bandit reckons England Golf’s new handicapping rule has more holes than a sieve and is convinced he can continue to beat the system... 

England Golf says: Everyone playing in non-qualifying comps away from home must return their scores to their home club. Players who ignore this could, as a last resort, have their handicap suspended. 

He says: “This was an option for unions to ask for last year and it should have been insisted upon years ago.”

England Golf says: England Golf has introduced this clause of the CONGU handicapping system to provide clubs with evidence to support handicap reviews. “It’s essential to do this to protect the integrity of the system,” said Gemma. “We can’t sit back and let people manipulate the system, but without evidence, clubs can’t take any action.” 

He says: “The trouble is that at club level, they do ignore individuals who manipulate. Having mates on the committee is the normal way to avoid censure – I’ve seen no end of seniors doing this – while point schemes are more interested in retaining their memberships than penalising the likes of ‘Pedro the Bandito’.”

England Golf says: The new system will highlight players who, for example, take part in as many competitions as possible at home and whose handicaps creep up 0.1 on every occasion – but who repeatedly win prizes away from home. Similarly, it will show up the players who play the bare minimum of competitions at home, but who are known for their away successes. It applies to all strokeplay scores returned under competition conditions, including team events. “It’s not about recording every score in a fourball betterball, but returning the team score,” says Gemma. 

He says: “It may highlight these individuals, but it’s not illegal to play away competitions. I personally play more away than I do at home, but if I don’t happen to win either what inference can be drawn? Generally, I play fourball betterball as opposed to singles as that would reduce handicap.” 

England Golf says: If the same individuals, or teams, keeping winning or coming near the top of leaderboards at events away from home, that should at least indicate to their club handicapping officials that further investigations are required – and the only way to achieve that is by asking for all the scores to be reported.

He says: “It is well known that in mixed events, couples attend together and play with pre-arranged partners and often “take turns” at winning, while a lot of four-man team events are absolutely rife with dodgy handicaps.” 

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