I’ve Just Discovered I've Been Inadvertently Cheating For Years… Am I The Problem Or Do Golf's Handicap Rules Need To Change?

While I acknowledge I should have been more aware of iGolf’s regulations, there are certain rules around score attestation that could needlessly be stopping people attaining handicaps

nick bonfield hitting a golf shot at a driving range
Nick's handicap index is currently 10.4
(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a lovely round of golf with colleagues at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. In the bar afterwards, I checked and submitted my iGolf scorecard and sent it off to one of my playing partners for attestation – something I do every round as a nomadic golfer keen to maintain an accurate handicap.

The round took place on a Thursday, and I received an email shortly after 1am on Saturday informing me the score hadn’t been attested by my colleague. A second email arrived around 1am on Monday letting me know a penalty score had been applied.

I don’t tend to look at my personal email inbox over the weekend, so I was surprised when I fired up the laptop on Monday morning and was greeted with news of my penalty. Naturally, I wanted to investigate further.

As it turns out, the score was accepted and I’ll only face sanctions for repeated transgressions. It doesn’t appear as though my playing partner was sent correspondence pertaining to attesting the score, which seems like an oversight.

In any case, no damage was done. However, I then found myself trawling through the ‘handicap procedures relating to iGolf’ document and came across the following stipulation for submission of general play scores (I don’t take part in competitions so all my cards are general play):

– ‘Scores must be attested (marked) by a fellow iGolf subscriber or a member of an affiliated club in England with access to the MyEG app and who has witnessed the round’. 

This sentence stopped me in my tracks. I often play with friends who don’t have official handicaps or aren’t golf club members. In those instances, I send off my score for attestation to someone who hasn’t witnessed my round but has the MyEG app. 

golfshot app

Not all golfers have or want the MyEG app

(Image credit: Future)

The guidelines don’t say what the penalty is for failing to meet the conditions for submission of general play scores, but it’s black and white: I’m often in breach and have been for some time. I accept and admit that.

But I’m baffled as to why non-iGolf and club members can’t attest my score when I’ve been playing with them. There could be so many ways to do this – photo evidence, a digital signature, email approval and so on. Why do members of your four-ball have to have an official handicap or be club members to be trusted?

Even more ludicrous is the fact I could be playing with someone who is a golf club member but doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have their phone with them, doesn’t have the app, doesn’t want the app or doesn’t have internet or data to download the app.  

I don’t get out as often as I’d like and I want to submit a general play score every round. But if I'm with friends, family or strangers who don’t meet the attestation criteria, I have two options: send my score to someone who hasn’t seen me play or don’t submit it. Neither seem right. 

I understand that sending your scorecard to someone who hasn’t witnessed the round opens things up for manipulation, but golf is a game of honesty and integrity. Plus, this wouldn’t be necessary if all members of your group had the authority to attest scores. 

The notion that only club members and iGolf subscribers are trustworthy is nonsense. Someone who’s playing their third round ever could be as honest as they come, while another person who’s logged more than 1,000 rounds could be crooked as a dog’s hind leg. In another scenario, you could be out with two friends who are both club members and persuade them to attest any score you like. 

In the old days, you could get anyone you played with to mark your card and submit it, so why has that changed? Is it just a technology/implementation issue? If that’s the case, I’d suggest there’s enough money in the game to find a workaround.

nick bonfield handicap chart

Nick's handicap graph on the MyEG app

(Image credit: Future)

I’m not sure if I speak for the majority of nomadic golfers or not, but I don’t want a handicap so I can enter official competitions. I want to benchmark my ability against others, challenge myself to get as low as possible and have something on the line every time I set foot on a golf course.

The frustrating thing is the iGolf system is so open to manipulation and far from foolproof. If that’s the case, why not put trust in people? 

Under the current iGolf system, you have to wait 90 minutes after creating a card before you can submit it. I know people who have started with no intention of submitting a score, but have entered a card after playing well. All they need to do is create and fill out a scorecard when they come off the course, go for a couple of pints and find someone to attest it an hour-and-a-half later (probably someone they played the round with).

To an extent, I understand why the current rules are as they are, but in trying to preserve integrity, has England Golf opened the door to more manipulation of the iGolf system? Is it too complex to introduce a new attestation system, or has it been decided funds would be better spent elsewhere?

We should be making it as easy as possible for people to get and maintain accurate handicaps. If it’s deemed too arduous a process, potential future club members could be turned off before they get addicted to the pursuit of a lower index. 

Nick Bonfield
Features Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, writing, commissioning and coordinating all features across print and online. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email nick.bonfield@futurenet.com with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x