Got a handicap cheat at your club? Here’s how to stop them

If your club suspects they have a handicap manipulator on their hands, they’ve got some hefty powers to deal with them. We find out more from England Golf

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

The internet is full of apocryphal tales of handicap manipulation. The words ‘general play’ alone have been grotesquely twisted into bywords for swindling and golfing fraud.

It’s why the nickname ‘cheat’s charter’ follows around discussions of the World Handicap System – whether the tag is valid or not.

What you don’t see, though, as the accusations fly about in the digital ether, is what can be done about it.

Claim and counterclaim fail to acknowledge that clubs have a responsibility, and quite wide powers, to tackle handicap manipulation and that golfers have a duty to tell them where they think tomfoolery is taking place.

But what can a club do, and what are the potential sanctions for those caught trying to trick the handicappers? We asked England Golf’s head of handicapping and course rating, James Luke, to outline some of the measures your handicap committees can take…

So, James, a handicap committee thinks they’ve got a player manipulating their record. What can they do about it?

A handicap committee has got quite wide powers as long as they have sufficient evidence.

If a handicap committee believes a golfer is manipulating their handicap they can look at different reports [within the handicap software] – general play versus competition scores, deleted score intents, how many general play scores they might have entered, and others.

If they find sufficient evidence of clearly manipulating a handicap – either higher or lower – they can do something about it by carrying out an investigation.

If they feel it’s warranted they can freeze that person’s handicap at a particular point. If it’s even more serious, they can withdraw a handicap. That ban can be as long as required – a month, two months, six months, a year – and they cannot submit their scores for handicap purposes.

In a way, it bans you from the game if you want to play competition rounds.

But there are other sanctions too. Clubs can stop certain people attesting scores. They can say you can only play competition rounds. They can ban you from competitions. They can ban you from entering general play scores. The ramifications for manipulating handicaps is quite significant.


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Critics say it’s the handicap system itself that’s at fault – that the fact you can put in general play scores at all encourages people to cheat…

If golf clubs use the MyEG app predominantly for their general play scores, they have digital footprints. They have the times that the player has submitted their cards, the time that the attester has signed those cards. We have all this information to catch people who are manipulating handicaps and we are finding these players.

I don’t think that’s anything to do with the handicap system. It’s that we’ve got the tools now to be able to find the people that manipulate their handicap.

We have seen evidence of players who have been banned for handicap manipulation, but handicap committees are becoming more confident to be able to do something about it.

What’s to stop a player whose handicap is frozen or withdrawn from joining another club?

They can, but when they are added to a new club’s portal there is a note section available for everyone’s record. What they’ve done, communications they’ve have had with the handicap committee, appeals, freezes, withdrawals, adjustments – handicap committees need to document all of that.

Your unique membership number is a lifetime number so if you go to a different club then they will know everything about your handicap.

I’ve got multiple emails, though. Couldn’t I just give one of those to get another membership number?

The three things we require on the WHS portal is your name, your date of birth, and your email address. We have caught players who have tried to use multiple email addresses. Handicap committees need to have the confidence to question people about it.

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We’re talking about freezing, withdrawing, and possibly banning players here. That’s a lot of potential conflict for volunteer committee members to deal with. What help can they get?

Absolutely. They can speak to their county handicap advisor or their county secretary and discuss the issues. They will give them that support. It can then go up the chain – to the regional advisor and, of course, to England Golf.

As long as you’ve got the appropriate evidence, England Golf and counties will always back golf clubs – unless something is presented by a player that can say otherwise. There is plenty of support for everyone out there.

Golf clubs should also have their appeals procedures and their disciplinary procedures in place. It’s obviously not a nice thing to have to challenge a player on their scores but, sometimes, it needs to be done. You’ve got to make sure everyone is appropriately represented. You need to document conversations and evidence. Players always have the right to appeal.

They can appeal to their county, and generally there is a charge for that, and if the county reject that they can appeal to England Golf as well. Again, they would be charged for that appeal.

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Get involved in the debate. To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete this form and we’ll be in touch!


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