My battle with
Dr Stableford

I yield to no-one in my admiration for Dr Frank Stableford, creator of the Stableford system of scoring that is enjoyed by millions of golfers world-wide. For making our ventures onto the course a little less humiliating, he is truly the patron saint of hackers.
Yet, I wonder if that was his intention at the outset? I ask only because we at The Glamorganshire golf club have just marked the 114th anniversary of his first experiment with the system — and most of us moaned about it all the way around.
We were not being disrespectful. The system he introduced at Glamorganshire in September 1898 was not quite the same as the one the world now knows and loves.
It couldn’t be. The stroke index, key to the system’s success, hadn’t yet been invented. His intent, as he later explained, was to prevent one or two bad holes ruining an otherwise good card.
He wanted to try out his brainchild in action and the only way he could do it was to attach it to another competition.
On Friday September 30, 1898, the club staged an open weekend for top golfers of the locality. There was a bogey competition on the first day and Dr Frank put up a trophy for a parallel competition to be run at the same time.
The format was to play off scratch and score the now familiar three points for a birdie, two for a par and so on. At the end, a third of the player’s medal handicap was to be added to the total.
Since this was an open competition the handicap limit appeared to be 15 and the winner was W Hastings Watson with an remarkable score of 42 points. His handicap was eight so he would have scored 39 points off scratch.
What the players thought of the system is not known but they can’t have been very complimentary because nothing more of it was heard until 33 years later by which time Dr Frank was a member of Wallasey GC.
When he introduced the system there, he had changed the fomat so that a player’s full handicap was added to the total. We can only imagine what persuaded him to do that but it was certainly better for the high handicapper.
In fact, it was too good because atrocious weather meant that while the better players were struggling to score, the hackers already had loads of points in the bag before they started.
Eventually, the stroke index system provided the master solution. You take your handicap allowance hole by hole and the result is the pure genius we now play. And Wallasey is rightfully known world-wide as the home of Stableford.
But we at Glamorganshire take pride in the fact that Dr Frank was one of our members when the idea first hit him and every year, at around about the same date, we re-inact that first airing of his system.
We play two competitions in one — The Frank Stableford trophy to commemorate his original experiment, adding one-third of your handicap (maximum 15) and the Hastings Watson trophy, adding full handicap (maximum 18).
The first was won by Nick Grimmitt with 36 points and the second by Steffan Edwards with 39 points. I reckon a normal Stableford comp would have produced higher scores.
What makes it a difficult competition for hackers is that playing off scratch is not a comfortable experience. If you are not hitting greens in regulation — and we don’t do that very often — then scoring points is a lot harder.
Normally, in a Stableford round a hacker will have at least one shot a hole so if you reach the green on a par four in three you have two putts for a par, and two points, and three for one point.
Off scractch, if you are there for three you have only one putt for a par and it really does put you under extra pressure. I know you’ll get your allotted points added at the end but it’s not the same.
Perhaps the cushion of having shots per hole puts us in a comfort zone and it does us good to face the reality of having to play better to get a par or a bogey.
At least in medal rounds you come away from each hole with a score to write on your card, as high as it is. Play Stableford off scratch and you leave a lot of holes without anything and it is an uncomfortable feeling.
This was my first game on my home course since my operation and I managed to get only four bogeys. That was four measly points to add to the allotted 18. Had I been allowed my full handicap of 28 I would have had 32 which would have only been seven short of the winner’s total.
My playing partners both scored ten points on the course and they, too, confessed to finding it hard work.
No offence to Dr Frank but I like his system as we play it now. However, I am sure that when the good doctor made his first amendment and ruled that he full handicap be added he meant the full handicap which these days is up to 28. It was our club who introduced the 18 limit. I shall be making repreentations along these lines before next year’s anniversary competition. I don’t like complaining about my hero.

2 thoughts on “My battle with
Dr Stableford

  1. Peter,
    I haven’t commented for a while but I am still an avid reader, the maximum handicap used to be 24, perhaps that would be a possible compromise. Some of your long par fours would probably have been par fives in 1898 a scratch score would have been something like 76.

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