An email we received recently from one Women & Golf reader got us all questioning the format of mixed golf, and whether handicaps are where we’re all going wrong.
By Charlotte Ibbetson
The topic of mixed golf is one I’ve written about (and questioned) a few times before. It’s not that I disagree with mixed golf – I think the principles behind it are exactly what the game needs – it’s just that I’m not sure we’ve quite cracked yet how to use it to achieve what we want: a fairer, more inclusive and accessible game.
And an email I received from a Women & Golf reader confirmed that suspicion. She told us about a mixed fourball betterball open she’d played in; “before we started, our playing partners (both men) were embarrassed to explain how the competition had been organised. We all played from the yellow tees, off 90% of our handicap, but we’d receive six extra shots as women”.
“It didn’t seem fair. Six extra shots hardly made up for teeing off so far behind the reds.”
“But what made it even more difficult was that holes that usually measure as par 5s from the red tees were automatically made much harder as par 4s from the yellow tees.”
And I have to admit, I agree. It’s hard to argue that the format didn’t favour the men. Not only physically was the course much tougher for women but mentally too. We earn our handicaps rightly and fairly from the red tees, the men earn theirs from the whites. They moved forward, whilst the women moved back – does six shots really compensate for that?
So, how were those six shots worked out? According to England Golf, “in stableford competitions played from different tees, the relationship between the par and Standard Scratch Score (SSS) determines scoring. This results in a different number of stableford points required to ‘play to handicap’ and an adjustment is necessary. The difference is applied to the players who need the fewest stableford points to play to handicap.”
Clear as mud? Here’s an example: The SSS from the yellow tees at club X is 70 and the par is 71. Men therefore need 37 points to play to their handicap. On the same course, the SSS from the red tees is 73, and the par is 72. That means that women need 35 points to play to their handicap. As women need the fewest stableford points to play to their handicap, two shots (the difference between 35 and 37) is added to their handicaps.
At a professional level, the LET, LPGA, European Tour and PGA are all making headway in addressing the gender imbalance with events like GolfSixes and the ISPS Handa Vic Open, where men and women compete side by side for the same prize money. We’ve even just heard that in June, Henrik Stenson and Annika Sörenstam will host the inaugural Scandinavian Mixed tournament, where men and women will go head-to-head on the same course for one prize fund and one trophy. It seems to be working in the professional game, but how do we make that success cascade down to grass root level?
Will the imminent World Handicap System help? Hanging on the promise of making the game more inclusive, WHS will see some significant changes in the way handicaps are worked out and maintained, and it will be interesting to see how that will impact the format of mixed golf in the amateur game.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A said, “our hope is that the launch of the WHS will be a catalyst for change; signalling the start of a new era of golfer engagement, being inclusive by embracing all golfers, whatever their level of ability.”
Here’s hoping …