The scourge of every open and invitation day – how do we stop them?

We all know a bandit, or if you’re very unlucky you know more than one of those guys who spend the summer months tying their horses up outside clubhouses for every weekday open and riding off with the top prize with an unadjusted handicap of 24.

“He used to play off seven you know,” proclaims one after said bandit has left the building. “He does this all over the county,” cries another – too late to change the result or recapture the attention of the majority of the day’s players. But what can we, the golfers who pride themselves on maintaining a truly accurate handicap which reflects our ability (or lack thereof) do about it?

The handicap system is inherently flawed when it comes to those who artificially inflate, or are selective with the rounds which count toward, their handicap. CONGU rules require a player to submit just three competition cards each calendar year to maintain an active handicap. This is also the only measure a club or tournament can use to track the eligibility of players in their events.

The clubs and members of clubs in camp which don’t even bother to check are doing all honest players a dis-service. To allow a player with a completely fabricated handicap to tee it up is akin to allowing one player a mulligan on every tee.

It couldn’t be simpler to check a player’s handicap is active and really is a must in the modern climate where so-called ‘professional bandits’ can pick up thousands of pounds a year in prizes and sweep money. So what do we do to fix the problem of inaccurate, but official, handicaps?

First make every open, sweep and away day qualifying if it can be. You’re playing the same course as the members of that club with a set standard scratch so why should you tee it up without a handicap adjustment on the line?

Second of all, and one every golfer can be part of – make sure these players know what they’re doing isn’t acceptable. Golf is a game of integrity – one of the few where players call penalties on themselves and administer the rules within their group. Make it clear that abusing the system isn’t what this game is about and bandits will quickly run out of playing partners to mark their cards.

Finally, more needs to be done to ensure handicaps are more robust. It may not be an easy thing to achieve but players who play competitively outside of their own club’s events should be implored to submit more than just three rounds to maintain an accurate handicap. Ensuring events are qualifying is a start, as is an expansion of the supplementary score system – which may be used to more accurately track a players performance than three cards submitted in April before a full season of prize-winning golf around the county. There will sadly always be people willing to abuse the system for personal advantage. What we need to do as honest golfers is watch out for those players and make them aware that their behaviour is not acceptable. We then need our clubs and officials to back that up by putting robust checks in place.

Then we have a fighting chance of being in the prizes should we play better than our hard-earned handicaps rather than watching the bandits ride off into the sunset for another year.