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In years gone by, many golfers would put their clubs away at the end of the playing season, only bringing them out for the odd wistful polish or a putt on the carpet. The sticks would be dusted off properly at the unfurling of the first daffodil, or the first preview of Masters coverage between Ski Sunday and the Antiques Roadshow. There are still some who stick to the old ways, but many golfers have moved on and choose to continue golfing through the winter – They want to get more from their ‘annual’ membership subscription and simply more from the pastime they dedicate so much to. Times change and attitudes change. Something else about winter golf is changing but hasn’t had a chance to change fully yet: Playing handicap counting rounds through the winter.
Since the implementation of the World Handicap System, we’ve been coming to terms with the concept of submitting General Play Scores alongside those from competitive rounds. The objective being that we all submit more scores for our WHS handicap to be as reflective as possible of our current playing ability. It makes sense, and if everybody does it whenever possible or appropriate to do so, the new system will work well. But something a huge number of us have ingrained in our playing psyche, (apart from those lucky enough to play on a hardy links or super-well drying inland course,) is that we don’t (or can’t play) for handicap in the winter months. Whether the club runs competitions or not, we think rounds can’t be handicap counting because of, “the shortened course, preferred lies, temporary greens, the use of mats… etc…”
This stance is not necessarily correct. It’s very possible to play handicap qualifying rounds through the winter and many of those factors viewed as obstacles above do not actually prevent it, as this information from England Golf explains.
Clubs can continue to run competitions through the winter in which counting scores can be returned, and you can continue to post General Play scores, even when playing conditions are altered by course or local rule changes:
Old school view: We’re playing a course that’s dramatically shorter than the measured layout so we can’t submit a score against it.
Actually: The total distance of an 18-hole course can’t be less (or more) than 100 yards different to the measured length (50 yards for a nine-hole course.) If this remains the case through winter, scores can still be submitted. And a club can have their shortened, winter course officially rated so that players can submit competitive or General Play scores against that layout. It’s also possible to apply for a temporary rating for a shortened course.
Can you submit a score for handicap on a shortened course? Yes
Temporary greens and tees
Old school view: One or more temporary greens are in operation so the round must be non-counting. Or – We’re on some temporary tees and some are mats = no counting scores.
Actually: At any time of year, there could be up to two temporary greens in operation on an 18-hole course, (one on a nine-hole course,) and scores can still be accepted for handicap purposes. As long as tees are not more than 10 yards different to the fixed measurement of the hole, they can still be used, even if moved onto a mat.
Plus, as with the shortened course above, if the club has an official rating for a shortened course, or a temporary rating, then scores can be submitted.
Can you submit a score for handicap on a course with temporary greens and tees? Yes
Old school view: Preferred lies are in operation, so the course is non-counting for handicap purposes.
Actually: If a local rule for preferred lies is in operation, scores can still be acceptable for handicapping, as long as only taken on closely mown areas (areas cut to fairway height or lower). The ball must be moved within 6” of the original lie, no closer to the hole.
Can you submit a score for handicap with preferred lies in operation? Yes
Old school view: We’re using mats on the fairways – definitely non-counting!
Actually: You can still submit a score for handicap using fairway mats, as long as mats are only required on closely mown surfaces – fairway height or lower. The mat must be placed as near the ball as possible, and the ball can be cleaned.
Note: Scores cannot be submitted if mats are required in the semi rough or if the club requires you move your ball into the semi rough from the fairway to play the next shot.
Can you submit a score for handicap with fairway mats in use? Yes
Bunkers out of play
Old school view: All bunkers are out of action – Score can’t be submitted.
Actually: If some or all bunkers are marked “Ground Under Repair” they are treated as “Abnormal Ground Conditions” and relief can be taken.
Can you submit a score for handicap with bunkers out of play? Yes
In many cases it may still be possible to submit a WHS General Play score in altered winter golfing conditions, or for club competitions to be handicap counting. Check with your club first to see if it’s possible. Clubs can find further information at England Golf, through the other Home Unions or the R&A.
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly.
Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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