In his exclusive Today's Golfer column, award-winning comedian, BBC Radio 5Live host and Bad Golfer John Robins talks World Handicap System confusion, what golf offers those with disabilities and the role the game can play in boosting mental health and tackling loneliness.
For someone whose task it is to chart the life of a bad golfer, lockdown 2.0 did pose something of a problem. Suffice to say the sum of my golfing efforts over the past few weeks has been enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the World Handicap System coming into force.
Never before has my handicap seen such dramatic improvement and such catastrophic deterioration, all without lifting a club.
In fairness to England Golf, they did warn us to be patient, and it’s all good now. Perhaps it was a mistake to grant access to the system before the stats were all finalised. I can imagine it attracted emails from every corner of the country, in larger quantities and more exasperated tones than they had perhaps envisaged.
It was a thrill, though. Before it came into effect, I was playing off 19.1. The first iteration saw me plunge to 16.8 (what a round I must have put in!). But the improvement didn’t stop there. After a further 24 hours of sitting on my arse and, presumably, daydreaming my way to a record-breaking round, I’d somehow scaled the dizzy heights of 15.0! A proper golfer!
Alas, as golf club WhatsApp groups around the country pinged with sarcasm, disdain and despair, I was eventually provided with my official Handicap Index… I had plummeted from 19.1 to 19.0.
We all missed golf terribly. Yes, there’s the odd rotten winter day when actually lockdown doesn’t seem such a bad idea after all, but I wonder, while we’re all giving a little more thought to what it is about golf we miss, whether we could provide golf clubs, associations and even the major organisations with a few ideas of how to market golf as golf slowly returns to normal. How to attract a new generation of golfers and persuade some defectors to get out of their ill-fitting lycra and back on the links.
Some of its qualities are obvious – fresh air, competition, and, like any hobby, it gives you something to do. But I wonder if anyone has given thought to the fact a round of golf is well over 10,000 steps.
I know that’s a relatively arbitrary number, but for anyone like me, who is allergic to gyms, it does seem a rather neat way of getting through your recommended daily exercise. Come on England Golf! Surely there’s a campaign in that? ‘Golf – The best ten thousand steps you’ll ever take’.
It wasn’t until playing a few rounds at The Shire London that I realised what a huge amount golf has to offer those with disabilities. The club does a great deal of work making the game accessible for all golfers.
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The groups ahead of us were made up of people with a range of disabilities, from wheelchair users and amputees to a fourball made up entirely of golfers paralysed from the chest down. I was transfixed by the adaptive buggies that enabled these players to take a stance and play to a standard that I can only dream of. And the more clubs can do to make courses accommodating to everyone, the better.
Let’s face it, as you get older the opportunities for competitive sport begin to narrow. Not only does golf keep you mobile (as a perennially risk-averse person I know I’m more likely to snap my putter than my anterior cruciate ligament) but is also plays an enormous role in the battle against loneliness.
I’m lucky to have a close network of friends, but I do live alone and golf played a huge role in maintaining good mental health during the first lockdown. You may draw your own assumptions as to my opinion of it being banned in the second lockdowm…
For people who find it difficult to socialise, or make conversation, not only does golf give you something to do with other humans, it gives you something to talk about!
It may seem a small thing, but as something of an introvert I can talk to someone for four hours on a golf course who I might not have the confidence to speak to at all anywhere else. You meet people from such a range of backgrounds and experiences. People of all sexes and ages, from all over the world, all playing for different reasons with different attitudes and experiences but, because of the way our game works, able to enjoy the game together on a level playing field.
So, there are a few ideas for you. With golf's return let’s promote all the things it has to offer, to as many people as possible and help it flourish. Then, should the dreaded day come that we ever need a petition the Government to keep courses open again, the signatures will be in their millions.
WITB: Bad Golf's John Robins
Click the club names to read reviews and tests of John's clubs
Driver: Cobra King Speedzone Xtreme Loft: 10.5º set to 11.5º. Shaft: Tensei blue 65 reg
Hybrid: Cobra King Speedzone Loft: 2H. Shaft: Recoil reg
Irons: Cobra King Speedzone Lofts: 5-GW. Shafts: Recoil reg
Wedges: Cobra King MIM Lofts: 52º, 58º. Shafts: STD wedge shaft
Putter: Odyssey O-Works 2.0 R-Line
Golf ball: Bridgestone E6
John Robins is an award-winning stand-up comedian and radio host. Listen to his BBC Radio 5Live show every Friday from 1pm or download the podcast here and watch his comedy special 'The Darkness of Robins' on Netflix here. You can also follow John on Twitter and Instagram.