To play golf in France one generally needs a license. What is a license for golf? Well it basically shows that you’re committed enough to not be a destructive hack, you’re healthy enough to not keel over with a single swing, and you’re insured enough in case your ball cracks someone’s skull.
After a couple years of playing the dumb foreigner, I finally bought a license to play golf in France. Only one problem: a license carries with it a lifetime ongoing handicap index. As a new licensee I have no handicap to prove (and it’s been at least 7-8 years since I last calculated one in the US). Thus the decision was made to give me the highest handicap available, a 54.
That suggests I average triple-bogey on every hole.
How does one change said handicap? By playing in officially licensed tournaments and events. Are these events flighted and handicapped by the indexes of the players involved? Well yes.
I’d long speculated about the day of my first tournament as a 54 handicap. Would I be paired with other 50+ handicappers and find myself sitting in the fairway awaiting their 10 shots required to reach the green? I’d better pack a sandwich, and a book. Would I come in with a net Kim-Jong Il score (18, was it? Or 22? Ok, even with 54 strokes that’s a looong shot for me) and win the biggest trophy available, drawing looks of ire from everyone involved? Would I live up to my 54 handicap, somehow, and walk home defeated? Or would I feel compelled to apologetically explain my situation to everyone involved and thus nullify the fun?
Well today was that day. I signed up for a tournament ‘de classement’: basically a round of golf with other competitors simply for handicapping purposes. Very official and competitive, but no trophies, no new drivers to win.
After calling last week to sign-up, giving my handicap of 54 and my license number, I arrived at the course early this morning. I was advised by the director to come a few days before the tournament and play the course, but I shrugged it off and said I’d be fine.
Being the new guy, the only participant to have never played this particular course nor an official tournament, I was quickly identified and given a full explanation. My favorite line came from the director who told me “Now this is a difficult course, so take your time and don’t get discouraged. The objective is to finish every hole and mark down a score. Don’t worry if it seems harder than you expected.” [The longest par 4 on the course was just under 300m (328yd)]
Since I had no course knowledge whatsoever, I was paired not with the worst of the bunch but a couple guys who could help direct and teach me. Claude, a 50/60-something local, and Zecherie, a 14-yr-old rising star, would be my companions. Claude quickly took on the teacher role, Zech the “wary-of-the-new-guy” gaze.
We stepped up to the first tee and I read the score card. A 293m par 4 awaited. The classic gentle handshake 1st. The tees appeared to be a little forward, and I saw a nice large green sitting straight in front of us. Nothing but a couple small trees, some long grass, and a bunker as deterrents. I knew right away my strategy: go for it. Claude was first to hit and popped a fairway wood low and short, out into the middle. Zecherie followed with a middle iron, safely in the fairway, or grass (this was not a top-of-the-line manicured course).
I stepped up with a small crowd watching. The 54 new guy was about to swing away. Big stick in hand, I took a soft practice swing, visualized my shot, breathed deeply. I then swung, and swung hard. I connected and the ball rocketed off the face of my club. A little right of center, but tracking. Knowing the coming result, I took my eye off the ball and just watched the green, waiting. And waiting. And... where was my ball?
Suddenly Claude and Zecherie approached me, looks of confusion on their faces. “That’s not our green!” said Claude. “It’s a dog-leg,” echoed Zech, “it goes to the right.”
Not only was it not our green, the green at which I’d taken aim was only about 170 yards away. I’d over-shot the wrong green by about 100 yards and my ball was lost in the woods.
Way to go big guy, you sure impressed them there.
Off to a glorious start on my 54 handicap round, I re-teed and tried again, this time with a 7-iron. The day went on and I eventually played like I had a clue, but then the skies opened up on the 5th and rain and lightening came pouring down. We never finished.
Looks like I get to tee it up in a tournament as a 54-handicapped new guy again!
As a side note... most courses I’ve played in France leave me feeling out of place. Golf is still a rich-people exclusive sport here. I’m comfortable on the fancy courses, but when the round ends and elbow rubbing on the clubhouse deck begins, I start searching for an exit. Today’s course was different. 3 examples:
-The course superintendent wore a belt packed with shotgun shells.
-The 7th green was out-of-commission because wild boars tore it up the night before.
-I watched a couple play their round with a dog leashed to one of their golfbags.