October 6, 2006
At most Cape Region golf courses, this month marks the end of the formal golf season, at least for handicapping purposes.
The on-course computer is shut down, and the players’ scores don’t count toward their handicap calculations over the late fall and winter. Instead, golfers use their end-of-season handicap for their off-season matches and games, until the next season begins in the spring.
This arrangement makes sense, considering how the winter weather can play havoc with one’s normal golf game, even in the Cape Region. In milder climates, such as Florida or southern California, the handicap season is usually year-round.
The break in the scoring schedule up here, however, can produce a very different approach to how Cape Region golfers play their rounds in October, depending in part on how they view their own handicaps.
Some, it’s sad to say, consider their handicap index as a means to an end—especially when that end involves winning a few bets with a higher handicap than their real talent would indicate.
These folks might not normally fit the usual definition of a sandbagger, but some definite sandbaggerish tendencies seem to overtake their better judgment during this time of year. Fortunately, it’s not hard to spot them.
For example, many of these golfers seem to just fall apart a bit more than usual, from about the fifteenth hole until the finish. Holes they usually par or bogey somehow turn into double bogeys or worse, often through a sudden bout of three-putting.
Listen carefully to how they moan and groan about their round—that is, if they grouse at all about it. If they seem just a little too blasé about a bad score, there might be a reason for it; and it’s not a good reason, either.
If you think you’re playing one of these folks in early October, take a look at their handicap index from September until the computer shuts down. There’s nothing wrong with insisting on using something other than their end-of-season handicap when negotiating a match with them in November or December.
Other golfers tend to play their best golf of the year during the fall, which only makes sense. After all, they’ve had all spring and summer to work out the kinks in their swing, develop some aspects of their short game with repeated experience, and otherwise slowly improve. These golfers set a goal of bringing their handicap index down as low as possible before the end of the season.
For the golfers who let their handicap rise a bit as the season ends, there’s a word for the goal-oriented players they play against during the late fall and winter.
That word is “pigeon.”
It’s not that easy to play to one’s handicap when the weather’s colder, the wind is up, and the frost is mixed in with the dew. In addition, the statistical methods used by the United States Golf Association use the best 10 scores of the golfers’ last twenty rounds. As the country’s primary golf organization points out at its web site, that’s why golfers shouldn’t expect to play to their handicap more than once out of four or five rounds under normal conditions.
On a blustery day in mid-December, even that expectation is a bit far-fetched.
Not all is lost for the pigeons, however. Along with their competitors, they can always decide to take advantage of the Leaf Rule during the off-season.
As I wrote in this column several years ago, the Leaf Rule is charming in its simplicity. Under the Strict Rules of Golf, if a player can’t find his ball among the leaves, the ball is supposed to be declared officially lost. The player must then return to the original spot and try again, with a penalty stroke added for misery’s sake.
Under the Leaf Rule, however, if you can’t find your golf ball, just tell your competitors you’re playing the Rule, drop a new ball where you think the old one disappeared, and play on. If you’re playing one of those “other” kinds of golfers, they’re in no position to complain about it, now are they?