Australian golfers fear ‘social rounds’ for handicapping

Golf Australia decided a year ago to overhaul the Australian golf handicapping system in favour of the USGA handicapping system, used in most golfing regions around the world including Europe, New Zealand, Canada and of course the USA.

The system is the most used golf handicapping system in the world and its introduction into Australian golf was seen as progressive but long overdue. The reasons for change were numerous but the previous system was not a good reflection on a golfers current game and was prone to some golfers protecting their handicap.

The USGA system was taken on and was to be rolled out in several stages over the next few years. It includes a change to the method of handicapping and a change to the way Australian golf courses are rated.

Any change to the game of golf will bring with it a form of conservative resentment but the first roll-out by Golf Australia which saw a change to the way handicaps were calculated was generally well accepted. Only now are some golfers understanding the system; appreciating its transparency and fairness to all golfers.

However the most recent roll-out has not gone so smoothly. Golf Australia were to implement (among other things) a change which would mean that ‘social rounds’ could be considered for handicapping purposes, not just club competition rounds of golf. In the words of a memo issued by Golf Australia, the response was “overwhelmingly negative” and they decided, for the moment, to pull the pin on the new changes and reassess their options.

This about-face is a huge disappointment and a big setback for Australian golf. I fear it has been rejected by a vocal minority and possibly because of a misuse or misunderstanding of what Golf Australia are calling a ‘social round’.

The roll-out would have seen a system where a golfer could sign-in to play a round (outside of a designated competition) before teeing off. A fellow golfer (with an official handicap) must also play in order to mark the golfer’s card and is submitted at the end of the round.

A few golfers including club professionals claimed the new system would encourage more cheating. As far as club professionals are concerned, they may see a potential loss of income from club competitions and a fear of more doing more work. Both arguments are utterly ridiculous and based on their misinterpretation of a ‘social round’.

‘Social rounds’ are thought of as rounds of golf which can include kicking your ball, granting long ‘gimmes’ and a blatant disregard of the rules of golf. But once a golfer signs in for a handicapped round, it would no longer be deemed a ‘social round’ but should more appropriately be termed a ‘formal round’.

I fail to see how this form of golf will lead to more cheating which is, in effect the same as playing in a competition. The small, but significant number of gutter golfers who cheat would surely have more incentive to win club competitions than get a better handicap.

Australian golfers would still play ‘social rounds’ and they could also play ‘competition rounds’, but they would also be able to play ‘formal rounds’. This would see a golfer’s handicap more closely reflect their game without being forced to play club competitions during designated tee times.

I sincerely hope Golf Australia can adjust their terminology, try again and convince the conservatives that ‘formal rounds’ must be implemented. The worst part of all this is that much of the golfing world is laughing at this farce, including the Kiwis.

12 thoughts on “Australian golfers fear ‘social rounds’ for handicapping

  • Interesting. I had a round with a mate of mine that is off 2 (bastard) and he was saying how he really didn’t like the new system. Is it harsher on low handicappers?


  • The New Handicapping System is being abused everywhere.
    The system of giving back .96 a shot to players,
    in some cases to totaly reject the fair play system and are doing nothing but adding to their handicaps. Obviously this system has allowed the gutter golfers to stuffup club competitions to the extent in most clubs 9 or more under your h/cap is required to have any chance of a top place. This the American system who do not play Club Competitions but play against each other
    The system is definately not working apart from those playing Gutter Golf. What is to stop players in Social golf doing exactly that is happening in Club Competitions

  • Hey Piers,
    It’s not harsher but there’s much more variability. In the past if you have a cracking round way under your handicap, and say you lose 2 shots, you had to play 20 rounds (0.1 x 20) in order to be back to around where you were. If it was an anomaly, it can be tough.
    Overall, the new system keeps everyone with something to play for, even during a bad round as they can contribute.

  • I don’t have an issue with cheaters in ‘social/formal golf rounds’ as they aren’t effectively playing against other golfers. Club competitions/tournaments are another matter entirely which, if it can’t be stamped out there then introducing ‘formal’ rounds won’t make any difference.

  • You know, I actually had to have a really good hard think about why clubs might have an issue with this increasing cheating. Right now, most clubs charge a fee of some sort to play in the competition, with a prize to win at the end. This encourages you to play at your best to win the round. However, in a non-competition event, there’s no incentive to play your best – this is probably where the concern about cheating lies.

    One of the major things that Golf Australia can do is roll in the stableford limitation of lowering a handicap – that effectively slows down how quickly a player can go down which might mitigate the cheating aspect of a non-competition round. However, having given it some thought I can understand the concern of some of the clubs.

  • Ah so I hadn’t thought this way around before. More incentive to win leads to less cheating? Maybe so…

    I’m not 100% on the stableford limitation plan?

    I suppose I just don’t think, (even though some clubs do) that there will be more cheating. In fact, cheating in competitions would surely be worse as there’s a whole load of other golfers you are affecting. ‘Formal’ rounds are against no one but yourself.

  • I think the third round of changes was supposed to limit the impact of a nasty stroke round where someone might have a couple of triple bogies by converting a stroke score into an equivalent stableford score before it impacting your handicap.

    I agree that if someone is going to cheat, they’ll find a way in any system. I guess what I was saying is that by paying a competition fee, there’s less incentive to deliberately hand in a card with a lousy score to increase your handicap before your next major competition. After all, there are people out there that only play just to win the prizes. Right now one of the ways they do that is to play in team events only so that there handicap never goes down when they win!

  • Why would anyone want to cheat in a “formal round”. If someone “cheated” their way down to scratch, but couldnt break 80 in comp play (or win any pennants matches) what possible difference would it make to anyone? Everybody in the club would know it was a sham.

    A cheat is just as likely to cheat in Saturday comp anyway.

    I actually like the idea. I play of 2 or 3 (depends what I shot last week!) and I like the idea of playing a “formal” round as I find it hard to play reugular weekend golf.

  • Other way around – they’d cheat to a 36 so they could win prizes in a comp, not cheat down to scratch.

  • You should only handicap on competition scores.
    Look at NZ. They have hundreds on plus one or less that can’t play near their h/cap in a tournament because they shoot their good scores during social rounds and get reduced on those rounds.

  • Is that true in NZ? I would expect them to be able to shoot just as well in competition rounds. even if it’s true, I’m not sure it matters too much…more winnings for the rest of the field!


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