Scotland Course and Slope Ratings
Course Rating
Dealing with Sandbagging
Handicapping Guidelines
History of Handicapping
Handicap Formula Trailblazer Passes Away
How It All Began and Joe Ewen
A History of Handicapping: Part 1
A History of Handicapping: Part 2
Golf from Two Sides
Match Play Handicapping by Farrell--1952
Bernard Darwin in 1921
GOLF by Horace Hutchinson 1900
Advanced Golf
History of Golf in Scotland
The Scottish Invasion
Handicapping by Walter J. Travis in 1901
Calkins Par versus Cracknell Scratch--1907
History of USGA Handicap Procedures
Comments on History of USGA Handicap
New Ratings: More to Golf Than Yardage
The Beginning of a National Handicap
The First USGA Handicap System
The Slope System Becomes Official
The Theory of Handicapping in Golf
USGA names Dean Knuth Director, Handicap Services
Junior Golfers
Pace of Play
Scramble Tournaments
Tournament Point System
World Rankings
Magazine Articles
About the Pope Of Slope

Pope Of Slope

Bernard Darwin

Present Day Golf


Chapter X.

Problems of Handicapping

some years ago now, before the war, I saw a friend of mine starting out to play a rather curious match. He was to play one-handed against the better ball of two opponents and to concede the odds of a stroke a hole. Not unnaturally the game took some time. I had left the clubhouse before it was over. Soon afterwards the hero of it left for India, and I have not seen him since. I am told that he is coming home this year, and the first question I am going to ask him when we meet is whether he won that match. At any rate his two adversaries could not complain of his lack of generosity, for I have never before or since heard of handicapping on quite so prodigal a scale.

As a general rule it is otherwise. In the immense majority of games, judging by results, the giver of odds is not liberal enough. We have only to look at the records of match-play tournaments under handi­cap, especially at those of the Calcutta Cup and the Jubilee Vase at St. Andrews, to see how often the players who are handicapped at scratch or better, come through triumphant. In these days of strikes and revolutions it is remarkable that the downtrodden thousands with handicaps in double figures, have not asked for more and got it. They are either very easily dragooned or else a false pride prevents them from acknowledging that they are generally beaten. Perhaps they think that they ought to win if only they played what they are pleased to call their game. But in fact they don't play it, and they don't win.

It is probable that until the receiver of points re­ceives palpably and absurdly too much, he will always have something the worst of it, because he will be to some extent crushed and overawed when he comes up against a golfer of a much higher class than himself. To be left far behind in point of length has a disturb­ing effect on all but the very level-headed. The stroke to be received seems to dwindle away to nothing. Yet of what enormous value is one stroke. I have played delightful matches against a distinguished naval of­ficer who is neither very young nor very long but of an admirable steadiness. On the course where we play there is a large number of what are called two-shot holes—that is to say, holes such as I pretend to myself that I can do in four. My opponent with his first drive just clears the bunker from the tee: with his second he is comfortably short of the bunker guard­ing the green: with his third he is on the green and he is a good putter. If I have to give him a stroke—and I give him too many—the outlook at these holes is a cheerless one for, whatever I pretend, I am by no means good enough to do them all in fours. It is only at the really long holes, or at the short ones when there are some nice deep bunkers, that I begin to pluck up hope against that terrible sailor. If all who re­ceive strokes cut their coat according to their cloth, so judiciously and methodically, what a lot more matches they would win.

If the receiver of odds often grows frightened and regards his allowance as a mere drop in the ocean, there is also another form of fright that afflicts him at times. His strokes appear so numerous that he begins to re­flect how foolish he will look if he cannot win with them. With a player in this mood, it is very nearly true that the more strokes you give him the more easily you will beat him. A little while ago there was a discussion on the handicapping question between two players, neither of them very good, of whom A. should officially have given B. about a third or a half. A. was contending that people did not give enough strokes: B. hotly denied it. "Very well," said A., "if you will play on the course I choose I will give you two strokes a hole." The match was made for a con­siderable stake. A., knowing that his one hope lay in the complete paralysis of B., took him to a course of steep hills and thick heather. Paralysis duly set in: B. topped his drives into the heather and could not get out again. He lost his match and his money, and has resolutely declined ever to play golf again.

I am sometimes inclined to wonder whether the re­ceiver of points did not fare better when there was no pretence that handicapping was an exact science. Golfers either played level or, if odds must clearly be given, then they were given on broad general lines— four strokes as a minimum, and more usually a third or a half. The receiver would not accept charity in small doles or odd amounts, the giver thought shame to be too niggardly and huckstering. Today every­thing is systematic, and the better player gives three-quarters of the difference between the two handicaps and no more. If every one were rightly handicapped and the system were perfect, it would be all very well.

As it is the giver of odds gets the best of it, unless he is one of those whose small vanities are treated sympathetically by committees and of whom it has been said that it costs them a hundred a year to remain scratch players. .

It is often said that three-quarters of the difference is not a sufficient allowance. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not, and there will always be an insuperable difficulty in having a hard and fast rule for all sorts of courses. At Westward Ho! for example, to take one of the hardest of all courses, it is generally not enough, and some years ago when a tournament was played there with the full difference in strokes given, the givers had none the worst of it. At Ranelagh, to take the opposite extreme, it would probably be too much. On a great many inland courses which are not very long or very difficult, it ought to be quite sufficient. Even so much depends on the season and the state of the course. Heavy ground will favour the stronger player. When winter comes, for instance, and the ball sits very close to the ground and declines to run, I am not nearly so frightened of that naval friend of mine. He may then be sometimes seen sadly practising, under the erroneous impression that he is out of form. When the ground is hard and dry in summer and two, shot holes degenerate into what the late Mr. "Teddy" Buckland called "a kick and a spit," the giving of strokes is hard work. The better player's hopes rest no longer on his length but rather on his power, if he has it, of making the ball stop on the keen, hard green. I do not know that there is any reliable remedy for this state of things as regards players who casually make up a match and do not know each other's limitations, but those who play habitually together need not be hidebound by rules and the rough and ready labels that are called handicaps. They can make their own matches best by the light of their own experience. If I know, by the half-crown test, that X. can give me a third, I am not going to be so foolish as to play him at four strokes because some old gentlemen sitting, in a committee room have labeled him "scratch" and me "five." Unless one party be very grasping or the other very conceited, two friends can make their own matches far better than 'any one else can do it for them.

Besides the orthodox method of handicapping by strokes there are various others, the giving of bisques and holes up, and in three-ball matches there is the better and also the worse ball match. There are also all manner of what may be called "freak" handicaps.

Of the matches made under freak handicaps it may be said that they are good fun to talk about and poor fun to play. More generally they are talked about and not played.

I remember a lawn-tennis match that was projected between the late Mr. "Laurie" Doherty and a certain plump and dignified friend of his and mine. The articles of agreement provided that Mr. Doherty could only win a point by causing the ball to strike his opponent's person. The match was much chuckled over in advance and then wisely abandoned. It had served its purpose, and would have proved a disappointment. The golf match in which Alfred Toogood played blindfolded against a scratch player at Sunningdale created great interest beforehand and was the very dullest I ever watched in my life. The classic match in which one Party was allowed three sudden "Boos" in his opponent's ear and won without using any of them, was probably, if ever played at all, ineffably gloomy and tiresome after the first hole.

There is a form of match sometimes played in which the two players start level. As soon as the stronger player becomes one up he gives a stroke at the next hole, and continues to give a stroke a hole as long as he is up. This may sound exciting' It does provide a close match but also a dull one, for the better man has no great incentive to bestir himself, since by doing so he only hangs a load of debt in the shape of strokes round his neck. The match usually comes to the last hole and there is some small scope for maneuvering, but it too much resembles an unpaced bicycle race in which the riders crawl round lap after lap, waiting for one frenzied burst in the last.

There is something a little freakish about bisques. They are perhaps "no gowf at a', just monkey tricks" but they often produce excellent matches and give scope for generalship. The receiver of bisques must study his adversary's temper and his own. To crowd on all sail and take bisques freely at the beginning of a match may be very good tactics against a player who is easily cowed, but it is of little avail against a dour man who plays better when he is down. We shall then very likely find ourselves stranded high and dry in the middle of the match with no bisques left, a horrid feeling of loneliness, and a strong probability that we shall have that hardest of tasks in all golf, namely, to play up against a decreasing lead.

Against the average opponent it is best if possible to hold a bisque or two, like so many swords of Damocles, over his head. Not only does this give him an unpleasant consciousness of outstanding liabilities but if he is very imaginative, it keeps him guessing at every hole. Of course it is possible to cling too firmly to a bisque, and to be left with it unused at the end of the round can be as irritating as to be left with a too carefully treasured ace at bridge. I remember a match I once played at Aberdovey the thought of which even now sets me chortling joyfully. My opponent was two up with four holes to play and he had two bisques in hand. He could almost have had me beaten by that time: certainly he could have been dormy, but he enjoyed the refinement of cruelty of keeping me on tenterhooks, or perhaps he had vain visions of winning with a bisque or two unused. Now the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth at Aberdovey are holes of no great length. They have two features-trouble which may be calamitous, and greens in dells where a lucky approach shot may end very near the hole. The enemy found the trouble; he took six each to those three holes. I had the lucky approach shots and got three threes, and so he had to stand by impotent, his two bisques being no good to him till I became dormy one. He duly halved the match with them at the last hole, but could aught atone? My friend Christopher, if you chance to read this chapter, I am sure you will not have forgotten that match. I trust that something of bitterness, though not enough to endanger our friendship, may still rise at the remembrance.

Holes make rather an unsatisfactory handicap because they tend to a runaway match one way or the other. The man who gets first off the mark is too apt to win easily. If the receiver of holes adds to his lead in the first two or three, his pursuer grows fainthearted. If, on the other hand, he loses his lead at the beginning, he feels that he is caught in a trap from which there is no escape. If we were all perfectly level-headed and undaunted these things would not happen, but we are not and they do happen. Moreover, if the difference between the two players is considerable, it is rather a depressing game for the weaker.

He may or may not win with his six holes of a start but he feels that each hole is a match that he has to play on level terms and his hopes centre too exclusively round the other man's mistakes. True, we nearly always win by the enemy's mistakes. “He didn't beat me-I beat myself, sir, I beat myself,” I remember hearing Taylor say once with formidable emphasis and fierce shaking of his head. All the same when we win, it is pleasanter to think that we have something to do with it.

Our handicaps are given us by handicapping committees, and the members of those committees are among the many virtuous and hard-working creatures in the world who get more kicks than halfpence for their pains. They have two classes of discontented people to deal with-those who think they have not enough strokes and those who think they have too many. On the whole our vanity is greater than our greed, and I am disposed to think that the second class is the larger of the two. At any rate it is the more difficult to deal with, for it contains a certain number of persons with whom some natural sympathy is felt. They are getting older and shorter and not so good as they were, and in conversation or even in match making they are not above acknowledging the fact, but do not like to be publicly branded on the handicapping list. Those are often particularly susceptible who have after much pains and labour arrived at the scratch mark.

Scratch is very far from meaning what it does in America or in the Ladies' Golf Union, but still it implies a certain honourable status. To be kicked upstairs from it is an unpleasant shock, and golfers who have once been scratch seem, like those "in reduced circumstances," to wear a certain air of faded gentility and "murmur a little sadly" of their past splendours. To have once been "one" is not the same thing at all.

Towards this very human infirmity committees as a rule exhibit considerable tenderness for they argue very naturally, "If old So-and-so likes to lose his half crowns, it's his own look-out. Why should we hurt his feelings?" Really there seems no reason why they should, rather, they are impelled to it by a sense of duty, and an excessive sense of duty is one of the least attractive of human characteristics. I should rather have said that there was no reason why they should. Now that the question of limiting the entries to the Championship by handicaps has become an urgent one' there is a good reason for showing neither fear nor favour. At the Present time the Championship committee is proposing to tackle the handicapping problem by trying to set up some kind of standard. It is a hard task, but if the thing can be well done it is worth doing. It is, I think, admitted that the foundation must be the "par" score of the course for which the handicap is framed. It is not a perfect standard, because the par of St. Andrews and the par of a course where most of the holes can be reached with a drive and a pitch may be approximately the same; yet it takes a champion to accomplish the one and a very ordinary mortal on his "day out" to do the other. Still, in estimating the par it may be possible to make some allowance for difficulties besides considering merely the length of the holes, and the par score, if estimated by those who know their business, is as near a constant standard as we can get. On this Par score it is proposed to found a scratch score which a scratch player, playing well, should be able to accomplish.

The real difficulty seems to me the question whether there must be a national handicap as well as the individual club handicap. At first sight it would seem a very cumbrous business and to some extent it is so, but without both handicaps there appears no way of dealing with the man who playing nearly all his golf on one course, naturally plays his best game there and perhaps persists in winning the monthly medal. These small triumphs hardly affect his general position as a golfer. When he comes to play in good company on other courses he takes his normal and proper place. But on the dunghill of which he is the cock he is a formidable person, and his handicap must be reduced if his competitors are to have a fair chance, whether in match or medal play. It may be said that his handicap should not be reduced unless his performances justify it when judged by the scratch score; but if he continues to annex mustard-pots and half-crowns something has got to be done or there will be a revolution. The proper course, I suppose, would be to put up the handicaps of everybody else, but this is a laborious and unpopular course which would not work well in practice. Therefore I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that, if anything be done at all, there ought to be two handicaps, a national and a club handicap, and without them I am afraid a general scheme would fail.

The Ladies' Golf Union often and rightly held up to men as a model of business-like organisation, but even the ladies cannot altogether get on without two handicaps, and the L.G.U. handicap and the club handicap of one and the same player seem sometimes to differ very considerably. I doubt if men will ever come to having their handicaps quite so well regulated as those of the L.G.U., for men are either more lazy or less docile and will not constantly go to the trouble of returning a certain number of cards. At least I do not think they will, nor personally do I want them to, for after all handicaps were made for man and not man for his handicap.


Bernard Darwin

Golfing By-Paths


Eleven and Thirteen

THE system of handicapping by giving holes instead of strokes has, I imagine, lapsed into desuetude. Not that it was ever very popular, but match-play competitions were sometimes played under it and it was comparatively common in casual games. I think it must have vanished, because when I consult The Golfer's Hand Book, I am told all about handicapping in a "Greensome," in which I have never played, and under the Stableford system, which I have never attempted to understand, but nothing at all about the ratio which holes ought to bear to strokes. There is here no cause for lamentation, for it was not I think, a very good plan. Among players who were of something like the same calibre, there was a certain amount to be said for it, but much less when the difference was a wide one. The man who received eight or nine holes start must have felt rather lonely and helpless with never a stroke to help him, with his lead ever decreasing and that tigerish pursuer drawing ever nearer. To be sure if he began brilliantly or his opponent badly he could get a lead that should almost defy pursuit and this was another disadvantage of the plan; human nature being what it is, too much was apt to depend on the first few holes; the receiver of odds was either caught too soon or the chance of catching him became, or at any rate appeared, hopeless. I remember some matches in the old days with adversaries to whom I used to give two or three holes up and capital matches some of them were, but on the whole strokes were much better.

These remarks are prompted by a letter I have just received from a kind correspondent who thinks, and I should guess rightly, that he is the only man who has been eleven up- with thirteen to play in an eighteen-hole match and been defeated. The whole story is rather a pleasant -one from times more primitive than ours today and I will briefly tell it. He was staying at a Scottish course which is famous but difficult of access and entered for a match play tournament in which one hole is given for every two strokes difference in handicap. His handicap was 12 and in the first round he had to receive six up from a Scottish schoolmaster who was scratch. Scratch indeed was said to do little justice to his powers since it was rumoured that on some other courses he had attained to plus 5.

My correspondent was naturally alarmed, but for a while all Went quite surprisingly well; the schoolmaster's golf was such as would have shocked his pupils; he lost hole after hole and so it was that he was eleven down with thirteen to play.

Then came a turn in the tide. The schoolmaster suddenly became as a devil unchained. At the sixth hole he drove straight down the course instead of very crooked in some other direction, put his iron shot on the green and holed his putt for three. He continued to play very well and I suspect that my correspondent, though he does not specifically say so, played but poorly. The holes fell away not, as in the well-known simile, like snow off a dyke, but with the cataclysmic rush of an avalanche. By the time the sixteenth hole had been played the match was all-square. Then on the seventeenth tee the schoolmaster made a curious and, in the circumstances, a charitable proposal: he was, he said, tired of golf and wanted a rest; if the match were halved both bf them would go on into the next round; let them therefore call it half. He further volunteered the information that he had played so badly at first because he had whisky for lunch, a thing which, as Mr. Pickwick found with orange peel in punch, always disagreed with him. This seems hardly worthy of a Scottish golfer but we may let that pass. They played out the last two holes and the schoolmaster won the match but honourably reported the result as a half. My correspondent, feeling a little uncomfortable in his conscience, told the circumstances to the secretary, who declared that the contract was a valid one so long as it was made before either party had actually won. So both players passed into the second round and what befell them there, whether the schoolmaster won the tournament or whether he again lunched indiscreetly and was beaten, history and my correspondent do not record.

That little story opens up a vista of almost unlimited possibilities in the way of agreement between two players. I have seen two distinguished golfers give each other uncommonly long "short" putts on the home green for a halved hole and match, since neither liked to face it; but that was in an Amateur Championship and they had to face the nineteenth hole. But what of a tournament such as that in which my correspondent and the redoubtable schoolmaster figured? Could each have given the other a full brassey shot for a half at the home hole? Nay, why should they go to so much trouble if they might have agreed to call it a halved match on the first tee and then played the round for fun? There are today but few tournaments in which that kindly rule allowing both players to pass on still exists. I can only think of two, the Jubilee Vase and the Calcutta Cup at St. Andrews. If, and this is admittedly a reductio ad absurdum , all the players agreed to halve their matches, the tournament would represent the nearest approach to infinity which the human intellect can conceive. These things are "not done" and probably never will be done. The legislator would have to be called on for some extraordinary measure.

Incidentally no statistician has ever tried to discover whether the rule allowing both players to live and fight another day produces more halved matches than does the relentless system of the nineteenth hole. It has sometimes been suggested that it does, but I doubt if there be any good evidence. It is perfectly true that as soon as one becomes dormy in one of those two St. Andrews competitions, one relaxes very pleasantly, lights a pipe perhaps and feels at charity towards all the world and one's opponent. If he saves the rnatch there is no bitterness, no regret for what might have been. But the very fact that it does not matter and that there is no dread possibility of going to the nineteenth, with ghoulish, gloating friends looking on, has often a seductive and therefore beneficial effect on the leader's play. He does not much care how he plays the last hole and so plays it pretty well and gets the half which is all he needs to win. Circumstances do arise of course, under this system, which make for a halved match. The man who has a putt of six feet, let us say, to win the match and so two for the half is very likely to lay his ball six inches short of the hole; he is not taking any chances, especially on a slippery green.

Apart from that, I do not think the statisticians would make any very revealing discoveries.

To revert to the schoolmaster and his bargain it is rather remarkable, or perhaps it isn't considering what creatures of small vanities we are, how much importance we attach to being beaten by only 3 and 2, let us say, instead of 4 and 2. It is wholly absurd, but it is a feeling that is strong in many breasts. I am myself conscious of the weakness and if I were not I should have realised it from an experience of many years ago in an Amateur Championship. I was two up going to the seventeenth and on that green my ball lay six inches from the hole while my adversary having played a similar number of strokes was full fifteen yards away, a long curly down-hill putt, and he therefore gave up the match with the best grace in the world. Someone asked me the result and I unthinkingly replied "Three and one." My opponent's face instantly fell and he protested in an aggrieved tone. I apologised profusely and said that I had made a mistake and that it was of course two and one and he was all smiles again. Doubtless I had been stupid but doubtless also it was odd to mind so very much. That is how we are made, nevertheless, and I recall another instance from a foursome tournament of years ago. I was not this time myself a player. It was a, day of pouring rain and all four players were soused to the skin, for there were no mackintosh coats and trousers. One side was dormy five and on the fourteenth green they had two for the hole and three for the half from some two yards or so. "'Will that do?" they asked. The opposite side consulted a moment and replied, “We'll give you a half but not the hole.” The offer was gladly accepted and the four splashed home through the rain gushes. Five and four was harmless, but six and four would have been unendurable.

I am conscious of being very desultory, but the schoolmaster's unorthodox behaviour reminds me of another heterodoxy as to which the rules appear to be silent. A golfer, and quite a good golfer too, who is now dead, had, so I was told, an odd habit on his local course. On the day of a monthly medal he would tee up several balls on the first teeing ground and drive them away. When he had hit one to his perfect satisfaction he would declare that now he had begun his round; his partner thereupon drove and off they went. That this was very singular conduct no one will deny, but I do not know exactly what rule he was offending. Certainly it was not Rule 4 for stroke play; he was not “playing on or on to any of the putting greens”; he was not "intentionally playing at any hole of the stipulated round within his reach," for the first hole was far out of anybody's reach. He was, he would have said, merely practising, which was perfectly lawful, and he happened to choose the first teeing ground for the purpose. I am sure there is a flaw in this argument, but exactly where it lies it is not so easy to say. Some behaviour is so palpably absurd that the rule-makers do not contemplate it. No appeal was ever made to the Rules Committee; the habit was regarded as an amiable weakness of an old and respected member, in short as “pretty Fanny's way.” As far as I know no one has ever imitated him, which is a good thing, as otherwise the tee might grow congested on medal days.


Bernard Darwin

The Country Life magazine


“The Rabbits Ideal”

Not long ago my neighbour at dinner urged on me the duty of writing an article on the ideal course for rabbits. Under the mellowing influence of the dinner--it was a very good One--this seemed to me a capital subject. I did point out to him some of the difficulties, but I promised to see what could be done about it. Now that I sit down to redeem my promise, the difficulties seem so many and so overwhelming that I hesitate. However, my word has been given, and so here goes.

The initial difficulty of defining a rabbit may be lightly treated. I suppose that he is roughly a golfer with a handicap well advanced in the 'teens. The real trouble is that two rabbits of the same handicap may posses utterly different tastes and ambitions. For instance, I once stayed at Pine Valley, near Philadelphia, which has the reputation of being the hardest course in the world. Possibly it is not quite so terrible as it seems on a first acquaintance, but there is no doubt that appalling things may there befall one, in the shape of lakes-and fir woods and heather, to say nothing of bunkers. I asked my partner what the more elderly and stout and incompetent among the members thought of it and whether they did not grow weary of so hectic and prostrating a struggle. He answered that they most certainly did not and that if having never before beaten 125, they suddenly went round in 119, they were 'tickled to death.'

I could only conclude that the American rabbit was, on the whole, a braver and more glorious creature than is our home-bred animal. I cannot believe that the average British Rabbit would regard Pine Valley, great course that it is, as his ideal. That is one side of the picture, and now here is another. My friend of the dinner cited St George's, Sandwich, as a course that he found altogether too tremendous for him. He gave the sixteenth hole as an example. I answered, rather surprised, that no doubt a good straight shot was wanted to reach the green, but still--'Look at that bunker on the right of the green,' he cut in. 'It is as deep as the pit.' I am still surprised at his instance, because there are at Sandwich bunkers and hazards, as I should have thought, far more formidable, and a short and erratic hitter may have a very bad time in them, so that he may very likely say that he would prefer to play somewhere else. Yet there is this to be said on the other side, that if the rabbit can suffer greatly among mighty hills and in mighty bunkers, he can also enjoy greatly getting over them. The good player thinks nothing of it, but the rabbit who has surmounted a famous hazard can be made happy for the day. Surely his modest joys would be diminished if he were never afraid and never triumphed over his fears.

I must in all honesty bring forward any evidence against me that I know of, and so I may quote a golfer with whom I once traveled in a very slow four-wheeler from a golf course to a station. He suddenly joined in a discussion with the words: 'I have lately been playing on the ideal golf course. It has no hazards of any description.' It was a startling and splendid remark, but I am not sure that he was quite serious; I think he was delicately poking fun at us who were arguing too solemnly; I do not believe that he was a rabbit at all. Whether he was serious or not, I have sometimes shared his views. There is a course of my acquaintance, set on noble downs, which used once almost to answer his description. Today there is rough grass on either hand and one must drive tolerably straight, but in elder days there was a wood and a road and one or two major hazards, but apart from these there was a vast expanse of untroubled turf and one could drive where one pleased. Never was there such a perfect golfing rest cure, and, because there was no need to do so, one always drove as straight as a line. Too much of it might have become enervating, but a little of it was gorgeous fun, and I suppose my friend of the dinner would have deemed it eternal fun.

One thing I take to be tolerably sure, that the ideal course for rabbits must not be too long. He is not, as a rule, very skilful with his brassie, and especially in winter he has a great deal of work to do with his wooden club through the green. It is hard to be precise as to yards, because turf varies in pace, but he will probably be happiest on a course of not more than 6,ooo yards or so in length. And yet, having written, I begin to doubt. If he does not want too long a course, why does he so often persist in driving from the back tees when there are the shorter ones staring at him, beckoning him to enjoy himself? I cannot answer that question, and so shall pass on. He will unquestionably be happiest if his good shots are not cruelly used, and he has a right to demand this happiness. He ought always to have a way of safety, narrowly, perhaps, but not impossibly so, no matter how mild are his carrying powers. At the same time, unless I misjudge him, he does like to have some lions in his path, in order that he may taste the exquisite joys of escape.

What he likes--I daresay we all like it--is a bunker of horrible aspect into which there is comparatively small chance of getting. This is an amiable weakness which some golfing architects have appreciated to the full. I can think of several courses constructed, to some extent, on this principle. The bunkers are fearful to look at, but difficult to get into, so that we first trifle with our fears and then think ourselves very fine golfers. Of course, the architect is a cunning fellow and does not make his device too obvious, or the effect would be ruined.

As to the greens in this paradise, the rabbit naturally likes to think that he can make his iron shots stop in a professional manner. Therefore he must not have too many greens that run away from him, and he ought to have several where a kindly upward slope at the back enables him to play boldly and without fear of running over. Yet here again cunning is necessary, for too palpable a rampart at the back of a green will disgust anyone. Most certainly he should have at least one green in a crater, where the ball runs round and round perchance to lie beautifully dead at last. He thinks that very good fun, and so, for once in a while, it is. This would be a drab world if there were no greens in hollows to make us believe we have been clever, though we know in our hearts that we have not.

Where the ideal rabbits' course may be I do not know, but among famous courses I believe the nearest approach to it is that greatest of all, St Andrews. It is not too exhaustingly long, at least when the ground is hard and full of running, as it often is. It demands no carrying power from the tee, so that there is no hole where a short shot cannot be safe. It offers, on the whole, plenty of room, and there is no view in the whole world so encouraging to the agitated starter as that vast unbunkered plain between the clubhouse and the burn. The bunkers have historic names and--perhaps this is a defect from the ideal point of view--some of them are far from easy to get out of; but they hardly ever bar the way inevitably and hopelessly, and are in many cases more likely to trap the tiger than the reasonably unambitious rabbit. The greens are large and not closely hemmed in with trouble, so that it appears--this is sometimes a deceitful appearance--that we have a good margin of error in our approaches. My friend of the dinner has never been there, and I strongly urge him to go. I hope and believe he will enjoy himself; only, if he gets into the Hell bunker, which is rather deep, don't let him blame me!

© 1998-2016