Inactive handicaps under fire from manager

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 6, 2012 14:49

The manager of a prestigious golf club has criticised England Golf’s inactive handicap system as being potentially damaging to the business of golf clubs.

Under the system, golfers that fail to return three qualifying scores in the same calendar year are given an ‘inactive handicap’ status for the following year, preventing them from entering events that require an active handicap to participate until they submit the three cards in.

However, David O’Sullivan, manager of China Fleet Country Club in Cornwall, has said that the system can create problems for busy and experienced golfers who generally want to play social golf but want to keep their active handicaps, who make up a significant proportion of golf club members.

David lost his active handicap status last month and found the process he embarked on to regain it was too cumbersome.

“Due to work, I was unable to commit to playing in a competition three to four weeks in advance in 2011, and the start sheets subsequently became full. I often ended up following the competition field in a friendly fourball but this meant on January 1 I lost my active handicap status,” he said.

“So, despite it being January, I duly asked my fellow players if they would mind marking a card and signing a book and so on in order for me to serve my sentence. Needless to say, the very time you need an electric trolley containing all matter of waterproofing gear, arctic survival equipment and rations and so on, trolleys are banned! So I compensated for this by carrying half a set of clubs in winter to save the old back from aching.

“I completed my three rounds, played in miserable conditions, with half a set of clubs, on a couple of temporary greens, complete with winter rules and preferred lies and guess what? My playing handicap is exactly the same as it was before!”

David stated that 164 members at China Fleet had an inactive handicap last month, and the figure was 144 for his home club, Yelverton Golf Club.

“If my sums are right in that maybe there are 150 inactives at each club, there may be 300,000 inactive golfers who will have to play 900,000 supplementary rounds just to remove an inactive tag that may prevent them from playing in open competitions and from being allowed to win prizes at their own club, even though they have paid their annual subscription.

“To take it a stage further, this would mean, on an average of four hours per round, 3,600,000 hours of valuable tee time is required just to remove the letter ‘I’ from club members’ handicaps!

“Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the need for a handicap to reflect the ability of the holder, and can quite understand how this system would be required for ‘Category 1’ players.

“But I am not sure that to put doddering old fogies like myself through this process is actually achieving anything apart from upsetting those members who have not yet resigned, causing more administration and taking up valuable tee times at clubs.

“And what I found really insulting was that I was being treated the same as a complete beginner in having to submit three cards.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 6, 2012 14:49
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  1. Tim February 26, 16:32

    Interesting, David blames the system. If a golfer can’t play 3 competitive rounds in one year its more than likely their handicap would not reflect their playing ability anyway? Bottom line is the player is choosing not to play and thats the problem not the system otherwise they would meet the qualifying criteria.

    I think perhaps look at when the club runs qualifiers i.e Saturday/Sunday. Well that was fine for 20 years ago when the weekend was reserved for the leisure pursuits and family but thats no longer the case and clubs have to re evaluate how they operate.
    There is no reason we can’t run comps on a week day or even running weekend comps with no prize simply for handicap purposes and fit this in to a fun sociable setting and doesn’t drain prize funds etc.

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  2. Richard Bennett May 18, 10:14

    I could not agree more, what has happened to the friendly 4 ball on Saturdays and Sundays, more and more clubs are putting on competitions at weekends thus killing a lot of the club friendship, more than not medal sheets are full before you get a chance to enter, and above all it is an enforced extra cost on your already high membership. I can quite see why members are leaving and joining the 2 for 1 revolution. Why do club committee’s think every member wants to play competitive medal/stableford goal every weekend.The inactive handicap system is nothing short of a complete joke and waste of time just like the CDH system. How many golfers on the country know their great long number another waste of time. Why has golf become so completed is jobs for the boys at the English golf headquarters.

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  3. Alistair Dunsmuir March 15, 15:01

    And also this:

    I am writing this letter in reply to Mr O’Sullivan’s letter on inactive handicaps in the February issue of your magazine.

    Although I am on the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) board, I am responding with my active secretary’s hat on.

    First of all, I think it is important to stress that the current handicapping system is not down to England Golf. It was developed and refined by CONGU. CONGU is made up of all the unions and associations which administer golf in Great Britain and Ireland. The system is the result of many years of development which enables scores obtained from widely different courses and playing conditions to be compared on a like-for-like basis.

    On the subject of active and inactive handicaps, it does not seem unreasonable to expect players to play in three counting competitions every year before they can play in competitive competitions. At the end of 2011, some 83 per cent of men and in excess of 90 per cent of ladies in England had active handicaps and so a large majority of members appear to take this view. Having said that, at my club I have over 100 members who do not have an active handicap and they are quite happy to just play with their mates and have no intention of playing in competitions. An inactive handicap is a perfectly valid handicap and those so designated are certainly not sent to the ‘naughty stair’ nor do they regard themselves as ‘criminals’. Also, to imply that this part of the CONGU system affects membership is not borne out at my club nor have I seen any evidence to support the statement.

    The system of supplementary scores is designed to help those who do not play a lot to acquire an active handicap if they so wish. It has worked well at my club (even with Category 1 players) and has helped us achieve a high percentage of members with competitive handicaps.

    Mr O’Sullivan recognises the ‘need for a handicap to reflect the ability of the holder’ but then says the system should be limited to Category 1 players. Why? The system should surely apply to golfers of all abilities who wish to play competitive golf and ‘those who may no longer seek individual glory’ can play their social golf as they always have.
    Finally, moving on to general play adjustments, letting secretaries deal with this area without help seems to me from personal experience to be unwise. The CONGU system provides evidence of the players’ performance over a period of time and the new system for exceptional scores also helps. We also look at all members’ handicaps as part of the annual review. In fact, I now very rarely use general play adjustments because there is no need.
    In conclusion, no system is perfect and the CONGU board is constantly reviewing the system in the light of evidence. From a personal perspective, I find the CONGU system itself easy to manage and I rarely have a concern about my members’ handicaps, which is surely the key indicator.

    If any secretary has any queries regarding the CONGU system, please email:

    Bob Carrick
    Hunstanton Golf Club

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  4. Alistair Dunsmuir March 7, 11:08

    (It should be stated that in the original letter to Golf Club Management, David wrote: ‘I had only recorded two qualifying scores in 2011 – this is apparently not good enough for the Woodhall Stasi and I was duly sent to the naughty stair’)

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  5. Alistair Dunsmuir March 7, 11:04

    I received this letter from a golf club manager about this today:

    Dear Editor,

    I read the letter from David O’Sullivan, that “doddering old fogy”-his words not mine- from China Fleet, and have to admit to being surprised by his rambling assertions regarding Inactive Handicaps, and frankly I am rather surprised you gave it space.

    I would like to ask Mr O’Sullivan, as I am one of those Non Executive volunteer persons with a significant involvement at the Woodhall Stasi- have you looked at the definition of Stasi lately Mr O’Sullivan? Wasn’t that the division set up in East Germany to persecute those of a particular religious persuasion? Perhaps in today’s enlightened society you might have chosen your words more carefully.

    Anyway to continue, do you really think that the staff at Woodhall spend their entire life trying to find ways to irritate and persecute golfers? And do you honestly believe that they deserve this kind of slur on their operations? Limitations on which competitions you may enter and win prizes is for your own clubs competition committee to decide, it is not a blanket ban, so perhaps some of your frustration would be better addressed to them.

    It would be rare indeed for any change to be initiated by England Golf that had not been brought to their attention and requested by Golf Clubs or County Unions, the Active Inactive definition being one of them, and have you not heard that Woodhall Spa and England Golf are only a part of CONGU- and that they along with all the other three home nations decide on handicapping affairs.

    What a pity when you had the opportunity to play golf in Morroco with James Crampton, who I agree is a thoroughly good bloke- you did not take the chance to get him to explain to you that with the changes being introduced to the Rules of Amateur status, (that’s by the R & A by the way), and the additional uses to which prize vouchers may now be applied.

    There is in the minds of fair minded golfers a reluctance to see bandits ride over the hill with inactive handicaps and snaffle prize vouchers which may now be used in many cases as cash towards their next year’s club subscriptions and or their bar account? Nice one, your members paying a stranger’s subscription from your prize fund.

    Having an inactive handicap does not prevent you from playing your friendly fourballs as I am sure you know, nor are you branded a criminal and sentenced to anything at all. You can maintain that single figure handicap that you have had for over 30 years but have never recently measured in competition conditions, and yes there are many like you.

    However, I’m glad to see that your handicap is restored and must congratulate you on your obvious competence with recovery shots. Someone who plays the game as you describe it in your final paragraph will clearly have earned that single figure handicap he has had for the last thirty years, if in the three rounds of golf he was forced to play, he was still able to demonstrate that his current playing ability was worthy of a single figure handicap.

    Letters such as yours do little to bring enlightenment to the game, and for anyone outside the game coming across it, it does little to dispel the image that the game of golf and golf management lives in the past and is in fact managed by “Doddering Old fogies”- I repeat, your words not mine!

    All very amusing Mr O’Sullivan, but not very helpful and perhaps it is time for you to get real.


    Oberleutnant Smit -Name and contact details supplied on request.

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  6. Chris February 11, 04:31

    It is not always easy to fit in 3 qualifying scores. As a student from September-June, we are required to pay fees at the course near our University so that we can hold inter-university (matchplay) rounds, but as student members we are not allowed to play in the club medals. The few BUCS strokeplay competitions have limited places (and even some of those are offered to “invited others”), and despite having a handicap of 2, could not get a place! In the remaining summer months we return home, and also pay fees at our home club, but with summer jobs requiring us to work at weekends and change shifts at short notice, it is not easy to fit in medals, especially as some clubs do not run many medals. While many golf clubs, unions and the R&A say they are encouraging the young to play golf, perhaps they should seek feedback from the grass roots occasionally, especially given the significant drop in memberships in 2011.

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  7. Gordon Sykes February 10, 17:49

    As an ex-GC Manager of many years I have to agree with David that this inactive system causes much resentment amongst members. In one particular case we ‘lost’ a father and son membership because the young fellow won his first medal competition and failed to be notified that his handicap was inactive until after he had completed his card. Yes he should have known the ‘rules’ but it seemed most unfair on the young man.
    In my opinion clubs should not have to pay affiliation fees for inactive handicap members who wish to play just for fun – Perhaps English Golf will agree???

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  8. David February 10, 15:19

    In Scotland the Union has come up with a cunning plan to prevent those that used to have a Lapsed handicap from feeling like lepers. Instead of marking Lapsed handicaps with a * as they used to, they now mark ‘competitive’ handicaps with a ‘c’ and those that are ‘non-competitive’ don’t have tell-tale marking. How cunning is that?

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  9. Daniel Johnson February 9, 15:37

    We said David, the rationale behind the whole “inactive” system is astonishing. It appears the governing bodies of the golf industry have lost sight of the challenges us operators face. We are in the leisure industry which means providing a “FUN” enjoyable environment where people want to be part of. They wonder why less people are joining golf clubs! If Members want to pay £1000 a year to play a handful of times and perhaps enter a knock out and the odd stableford, then let them! They pay and its our job to serve. Yet we provide them with a draconian set of rules and obstacles to hurdle. When will the stuffed shirts realise they need to move on, relax and make our industry more appealing to the general public.

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  10. Peter February 9, 14:36

    Quite frankly if you cannot manage three qualifying scores in a year then, unless you have had an injury, you don’t really want to play competitive golf. Stop moaning and enter your comps on a regular basis. If you are unable to manage to enter three qualifying comps in a twelve month period you can of course use supplementary scorecards during the year to retain an active handicap you don’t have to wait until you are ‘inactive’.

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  11. Karen Drake February 9, 14:01

    I totally agree David – the inactive players are made to feel like lepers!!

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  12. Hessle Golf Club (@hesslegolfclub) February 6, 20:24

    » Inactive handicaps under fire from Golf Club Manager

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  13. Golfing Journalist (@AlDunsmuir) February 6, 19:28

    A top golf club manager launches an attack on England Golf’s ‘inactive handicaps’ system, saying it is bad for business

    Reply to this comment
  14. Gaele (@gaele_tapper) February 6, 17:37

    » Inactive handicaps under fire from manager

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  15. Golf Club Management (@GCM_mag) February 6, 14:53

    Golf club manager launches attack on England Golf’s inactive handicap system

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    • John Snoxell March 21, 16:11

      I am strongly against the “inactive handicap” system. It means that golfers like me who play regularly but would like to enter competitions only once or twice per year are banned.
      I also think it is insulting, as it is based on the premise that occasional competitors are cheats. In my experience, it is the regular competitors who are more likely to seek unfair advantage in their keenness to win at all costs.
      Perhaps so-called inactive golfers should seek a reduction in subscriptions, as they do not enjoy a club’sfull facilities?

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