The choice is yours...

‘It is match play, man against man, that is the true essence of golf. Beside it, stroke play, as a famous champion of earlier days contemptuously put it, is “no better than rifle shooting” – Henry Longhurst

Each hole a contest

This very traditional – and very British – view of the best format for golf might not be taken too seriously today.  REAL golfers have the choice of playing whatever form of golf they enjoy the most – and there are many to choose from.

But the quote does highlight a fundamental choic:  in matchplay, the result is decided by holes won and lost.  One or more bad holes don't wreck the entire round and each hole is a separate contest.  This was the original and primary form of the game, as most golf historians agree.

One bad stroke...

Whereas opting to go with strokeplay, as in the monthly medal, means that each stroke has a bearing on the outcome, and just one bad stroke may spoil the card.

Such constant pressure is not enjoyable for many REAL golfers, hence the increasing popularity of formats such as the Stableford system, which means that the odd disaster doesn't wreck an otherwise good round.  Especially useful if that disaster occurs early in the round.

An enjoyable format

So far, so obvious.  If out-and-out performance is what you enjoy, then medal play is for you. But for most REAL golfers, competing in a less rigid environment is more enjoyable – be that singles matchplay, foursomes, greensomes, four ball better ball,  Stableford,  Bogey, scrambles,  skins and many, many others.

But in choosing an enjoyable format, you are also making a choice about how long you expect to be on the golf course.  How much time do you have?

Time and stress

Take the monthly medal:  the need to putt out on every hole, for you and your playing partner(s) is the first guarantee of a slower round.  Likewise, the need to play a provisional ball every time there is any risk that the original ball might be lost will work against the clock.  You might do well to get round in under five hours.  As a recipe for stress and drudgery, the monthly medal often has no equal.  So why do we do it?

Well, hope springs eternal - very occasionally,  you might win a club competition.  But the main outcome is that your score is used to “service” your handicap – without which you are probably regarded as a second-class citizen.  Then, next week, you revert to your favoured form of the game,  armed with another 0.1 of a shot.   Or not.  Either way,  the revised handicap will probably make little difference to the format of golf you prefer to play.

Who needs to measure?

This rather cynical view may not be shared by the TOP golfers in your club.  For them,  a medal every week might be the ideal, because “keeping a low handicap” is what they enjoy. And their performance needs measuring frequently if it is to have credibility, especially for entering open competitions in TOP amateur golf.

Over decades, the need to record every shot has been sanctified by the TOP game, a trend reinforced by televised Tour golf.  This has fallen hard on REAL golf:  medal rounds generally take longer than other forms of golf;  and the handicapping system has evolved to measure the performance of TOP golfers in strokeplay.  In truth, many REAL golfers feel no desire to play much medal golf and they certainly don't enjoy the time it usually takes.

Your best interests

However, Catch-22:  most forms of golf seem to require a handicap of some kind.  Thus, the REAL golfer is shackled, by his handicap, to a strokeplay system which has been devised for TOP golf – and which is not in the best interests of his or her enjoyment.

We don't have answers – yet -  to this conflict of interest but first base is to point out the dilemma it poses, as we see it.  Let's find out if that strikes a chord with our readers.  Our notes on Handicapping perhaps widen the debate.  For the present, there are three pieces of advice:  play the form of golf you most enjoy, which takes less time, and don’t let any handicapping system based on medal play  spoil your game.


The true essence of golf is enjoyment.  Not performance.

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