The Beginning of a National Handicap
by Robert Browning
1955 (Browning was editor of 'Golfing' from 1910-1955)
Pages 125 and 126
Their (Ladies Golf Union (of Great Britain and Ireland) L.G.U.) biggest achievement was the gradual establishment of a national system of handicapping. Handicapping had always been a pet subject of Mr. W. Laidlaw Purvis, whose assistance in the founding of the L.G.U. had been invaluable, and he had communicated his zeal to Miss Issette Pearson, as she then was, under whose dictatorship the Union moved from success to success. The L.G.U. handicapping system was not perhaps quite so fool-proof as some of its authors imagined, and it has more than once been seriously modified since, but it was a sound, workable system. What was more important was the efficiency with which it was enforced. No doubt it was uphill work at the start, but within eight or ten years the L.G.U. had done what the men had signally failed to do--had established a system of handicapping that was reasonably reliable from Club to Club.
Prior to this time handicaps, both in men's and in women's golf, were in a state of absolute chaos. Within each individual Club, no doubt, the handicaps of the members were adjusted with a fair degree of accuracy. But standards varied to an amazing degree from Club to Club. In a large proportion of Clubs some outstanding player was rated at scratch, and the others handicapped from him. It can be imagined how impossible it was to convince some of these Clubs that their best player, thus rated at scratch, would be no better than 10 to 12 at Prestwick or Hoylake. Other Clubs adjusted their handicaps by comparison with a bogey figure so generously calculated that--to quote a notorious instance--Gordon Simpson, the Scottish internationalist, had a handicap of plus 8 at Tayport! The L.G.U. showed the world that this muddle could be straightened out, and the men have been forced, somewhat reluctantly, to follow suit.
It is easy to appreciate how the low standard of play in the first championships of both sides of the Atlantic created future difficulties in the handicapping problem. The pioneers of the L.G.U., in fact, fell into the very error that they had seen so clearly in the handicapping of the Clubs. They set up their own best players as the 'scratch' standard without seriously considering the possibility of other players coming along who could give these same 'scratch' players half a stroke a hole! It was many along day before all the snags could be ironed out, but in a sense these readjustments were of very minor account, once the real spade-work had been done. The whold credit of showing that a universal system of golf handicapping could be successfully established belongs to the pioneers of the L.G.U.