Golf, it is often said to me, is the ultimate game for two people to compete against each other. It does not matter what level of player either competitor is, they can both enjoy a fair game on a level playing field, with each having a chance to win.
In golf, you do not compete against each other directly. The competition is far more complicated than that, with the end result that the game is fairer. Instead of direct competition score for score, you compete against each other by determining who is playing to the best of their ability on that course. If one player really excels at the particular course you are playing at whilst the other struggles because they are always in the hazards, the one with the better day should always win.
Contrast this to any other sport. Take a premiership football team and pit them against a Saturday league team. The result is probably going to be written in stone before the kick off and neither team is really going to enjoy the actual sporting experience. Likewise, pit two runners or swimmers against each other and the better performer will vanish into the distance whilst the weaker one struggles at the back.
For most sports, there is no reason for people of different levels to try to compete. But look at your local golf club’s competition and you will see players of all abilities playing each other, all of whom have a genuine chance of winning.
This balancing act, although sounding complicated, is brought about by golf’s handicap system. Through examining the best of your last few games your handicap is adjusted to show how many over par you could possibly play, if you played to the best of your golfing potential.
Apply this delicate balancing act across all people and players and you have a system whereby the weaker players get a few extra stokes, to put them on a level playing field with the rest of the competition. And it is not just in your club competitions that this is useful. If a regular playing partnership both have their correct handicaps, say husband and wife, then they can go out playing together and both stand a reasonable chance of being a victor on the day.
Obviously, there is a lot to say for the system calculating the handicap correctly, which includes honest on the parts of the players. But the way that golf works, it is an honour to be able to say a lower handicap. Therefore, players want to earn and show off a lower handicap, rather than maintaining an artificially higher handicap that could benefit them in competitions.
There is no other sport that I know like it, where a couple can head out and start off on an equal footing. Both have to then try their best to achieve a good score, for the potential of a win on the day.