Navigating Golf World
According to the R&A’s Golf Around the World 2017 there are a 33,161 golf courses in the world. The R&A, or, Royal and Ancient, derives its name from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, but as the R&A makes clear on its web site, it is “separate and distinct from” the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews. They don’t explain just how the R&A is separate and distinct; golf is full of arcane mysteries. In any event, the R&A governs the game everywhere except in the United States and Mexico, so if anyone knows exactly how many golf holes there are in the world (567,111) the R&A would.
On this side of the Atlantic
Golfers in the US and our southern boarder buddies follow the rules of, and get our handicaps through, the United States Golf Association. Known as the USGA , their offices are in Far Hills, New Jersey.
Where You Actually Go…
You don’t get your handicap directly from the USGA. You get it through your state golf association, which is affiliated with the USGA. But really the first place you go to get your own, personally golf handicap is the shop at a golf course that has a PGA professional on staff. PGA stands for Professional Golf Association, which is the organization that regulates golf professionals. Their offices are in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. The PGA is not to be confuses with the PGA Tour which is what a lot of people sit around and watch on TV. None of this really matters, but it may come up in conversation.
How Handicaps Work (ish)
To actually get a handicap you go to a golf course, pay $40 and give the guy behind the counter completed score cards from 5 rounds of golf that you’ve played. Your scores go into a black box and out pops a number – your very own handicap, hand crafted by the skilled artisans who dwell within the black box. (Okay, you want to know what’s inside the black box, don’t you? So….those guys – the R&A, USGA, the PGA and your state and local golf associations get together and they rate each hole on each golf course and give it a degree of difficulty. I kid you not. So the elves take your scores and match them up to how hard (or easy) each hole that you played and there you have it – a numerical indication of how well (a low number) or poorly (a high number) you play. Every time you play you put your score into the black box, and your handicap goes down (or), as you play better (or worse).
The very best golfers have handicap of 0, or, as it’s call, scratch. Which lends itself to the clever quip I used when I was beginning to play “I’m a scratch golfer, because every time I play it’s like starting from scratch.” Ha ha.
Having a golf handicap goes a long way towards fulfilling the “plays well with others” rubric.
Why one bothers about all this is that with a golf handicap you can play against (or with) other players who are better (or worse) than you are in a more equal (fun) way. Fortunately, there are people (I’ve even met some!) who actually understand not only how the black box works but can explain how if your ball goes down a gopher hole it’s a two-shot penalty in match play, but a one-shot penalty in stoke play, yet if the hole was dug by a dog, well – that’s another matter entirely. The rule book is 225 pages long, and it’s single spaced. With no pictures.
Which Way the Grass Grows
I once played golf with a 12-year-old who talked about the direction that the grass on the greens grew in. The direction that grass grows in is no small matter in Golf World.