One format gets under the skin of club golfers more than any other

This year is my 34th as a member of a golf club. That period takes in nine different clubs in two states, meaning I’ve played and witnessed a lot of club golf and seen and heard a lot of thoughts and opinions about the game. However, there’s one recurring viewpoint I still can’t get my head around: why do so many club golfers hate Par events?

My current club doesn’t even schedule them, such is the dislike for the format that smart minds know as ‘matchplay against the golf course’. I find that crazy, especially in winter when shorter daylight hours call for faster competition formats. Par events theoretically promote quicker play as you’re not required to ‘putt for a point’, by way of comparison with the time-honoured Stableford format.

Anecdotally, the dominant opinion among the Par format’s haters is the way it robs golfers of Stableford’s most-cherished find: the four-pointer. Superficially it’s a valid point, yet it conveniently overlooks the absence of the four-pointer’s despised cousin: the dreaded wipe.

To that I’d ask the question: which do club golfers encounter more often, a four-pointer or a wipe? It’s undoubtedly the latter, which means Par events help your scorecard more than they hurt it because a ‘wipe’ in Par costs you only the equivalent of one Stableford point, regardless of how big a mess you’re making of a hole.

In my experience, the unrequited love for Par boils down to a lack of understanding. It is matchplay against the golf course, as only three outcomes are possible on each hole. So you have two putts for a plus and it feels strange to know a two-putt means the same result as a one-putt? It happens in matchplay, too, when you face a situation where a two-putt is good enough to win the hole. It brings into a play a different mindset, one that is part of Par’s charm and not something to be reviled.

We recently put the topic to our large and loyal legion of Facebook followers. As expected, the responses covered the full gamut of Par detractors and admirers. The question drew words like “horrible”, “stupid” and “unforgiving” in the replies, yet also “excellent” and “love it”.

Helen Constable took a practical viewpoint: “I have reconciled with Par by realising that I am effectively starting the game with 18 Stableford points and I just need to add more.”

Then there was this from David Harman: “Par events tend to give lower markers a bit more chance as opposed to Stableford because of consistency. [It’s] very hard for low markers to win Stablefords these days when winning scores are mid-40s. [Golf] should go back to the three-quarter handicap in Stablefords and winning scores would revert to high 30s in general. [It] would also encourage people to try and reduce their handicap as opposed to protecting their high handicaps.”

I’ve written previously in this space how I sense a high degree of acceptance among club golfers when it comes to understanding their ability, their handicap level and how the time and effort required to improve is too great an impediment for some. Yet what Harman is suggesting takes that notion a step further and implies that Stableford creates leeway for handicap complacency or even manipulation. Perhaps that’s so in certain cases – we all know someone who ‘manages’ their handicap with the sharpness of a seasoned accountant.

More interestingly, Harman raises the point: does Par favour lower handicappers? Drawing on anecdotal evidence, I would argue it does – slightly. I went through an analytical period of charting my scores on a spreadsheet, with separate averages for strokeplay, Stableford and Par events. Between 2007 and 2012, the period when I was keeping count, I averaged 32.28 points (so 3.72 over handicap) in Stableford competitions, 3.91 over handicap in stroke rounds but only 1.33 worse in Par. During that period my handicap ranged from 5 to 11, but was mostly 8 or 9.

That’s just me, however I agree with Harman that consistency is the key to deciphering the Par format and consistency tends to be the domain of the A grader.

So, if you’re a club golfer who hates Par events, my advice would be to shift your mindset. Don’t avoid playing in them and instead adopt a different approach – a matchplay attitude. And if you’re on the match committee of a golf club that doesn’t have Par events among your fixtures, you and your membership are missing out on a format rich in nuance. 

[PHOTO: Getty Images–Ross Parker/R&A]