Disabled Golfers: The Paradox of the ‘Handicap’

Ask any golfer what their handicap is and you’ll likely get told a fairly simple answer. Some may be low handicappers only being awarded a few shots each round, other golfers may be high handicappers, receiving at least a shot on each hole, two on some. Others will be somewhere in between the two, receiving shots on the tougher holes but perhaps expected to get par on some of the easier on each round.

Few golfers will say having no arms.

Just-for-Smiles-golf-disabled golfers


Within that, we include disabled golfers. Ask a disabled golfer what their handicap is and they will tell you exactly the same as an able-bodied golfer. After all, why shouldn’t they? Disabled golfers play with mostly the same equipment we do, they may require sticks or a chair to get about the course, or special equipment to help them grip the club, or other adaptations to their clubs to allow them to play, but in essence, the game is exactly the same.

Hit the white round orb into the hole, in the fewest amount of shots possible on each hole.


But, here’s something to consider: The handicap system in golf is designed so that golfers of all abilities can play together. Indeed taking that argument a stage further, the R&A published their booklet A Modification of the Rules of Golf for Golfers with Disabilities so that golfers with disability could still play under equal terms.

So why, when golf has a perfect handicapping system in place, is there still an assumption from many golfers that disabled golfers have their own version of the game?

It is an intriguing and perhaps controversial point. On the Golfshake.com forum message board there was an interesting post from a member stating that he’d been assisting at the Disabled British Open earlier this year and that he had noted:

“The beauty of the handicapping system [in golf] that is, as far as I’m aware, unique to this game is that it takes account of the widely varying abilities (and disabilities) of all golfers. It caters for all abilities. So if local clubs simply make the effort to integrate disabled golfers – by making reasonable adaptations to facilities where necessary and by agreeing local regulations/rules where, for instance, para-golfers are unable to enter bunkers or need to bring their vehicles/buggies on to greens – then, unlike so many other sports, golf is ideally placed to see disabled golfers competing alongside us, their (more or less!) able bodied colleagues.”  

The first telling issue is that this post only elicited two responses and the second point to note here is that both these responses were generally negative.

The first respondent wrote that he felt it was good “to just compete amongst your peers” and made the point that “for disabled golfers, I am kind of assuming 28 handicap may not be enough in all cases to fairly compete in club comps with able bodied golfers.”

The second simply used the telling phrase birds of a feather flock together and claimed that humans bond chiefly with those that have similar characteristics and any of these quirks, be it race, gender or even someone missing an arm, is somehow a defining element into how we elect to become part of social groups. Perhaps his last comment “They will integrate as much as they care to” is the most telling.


I have no doubt that these golfers answered this enquiry in good faith, and while what they have written in response is small, it reveals an attitude towards disabled golfers, or disability in general, that is somewhat disconcerting.

Why do club handicaps have a limit of 28 handicap for players? The R&A clearly states in the modification booklet they have produced that disabled golfers can play in club competitions with a handicap far greater than this. So this argument is entirely baseless, unless of course you don’t want to play against disabled people and would rather “play against your peers”.

Indeed, the comments of the first respondent seem to support the assertions of the second, that “birds of a feather flock together”. Indeed there is almost a counter-movement here that is asserting disabled golfers actually isolate themselves from the mainstream due to their disability.


Strange as it may seem, listening to many disabled golfers talk about their experiences, there is a degree of truth in this statement. Many are unsure of how able bodied golfers will react to them on course. Many worry that they will be castigated for slow play, viewed as undesirable on the course, will ruin the fairways and greens with their equipment.



In the face of such attitudes and notions, is it any wonder that disabled golfers are more confident when playing with other disabled golfers?

Unfortunately comments such as this do little to dispel the feeling that disabled golfers are not part of golfing society. That somehow they are a niche market, to be kept away from “those who want to play the game properly.” Yet as the man who witnessed the skill of the competitors at the Disabled British Open, why are these people not good enough to take part in the monthly club medal?

So, we have the great golfing handicap paradox, we have a game that, thanks to the handicapping system, can and is played by all people of all abilities and all disabilities and can be done so universally, but in many parts of the world, the exact opposite is true. Handicap, in the form of disability which these very rules are said to take into account to allow everyone to play together, instead of proving inclusive, proves divisive.

The fault of this lies not in the game of golf, but in outdated stereotypical thinking about disabled people.

There are no reasons why disabled golfers cannot compete against able bodied golfers. If Oscar Pistorius can at compete at the very highest level of athletic competition, why are so many golf clubs and individuals so ready to deny disabled people the same opportunity and access they afford any able-bodied golfer?


The answer lies not in regulation, but in changing attitudes and by people judging disabled golfers on their ability with a golf ball, and not the disability that they are afflicted with.


Images by Gorilla Golf Blog©

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Annie Borror April 10, 2012

I am a disabled person myself and I am very fond of golf.I have played golf with persons that have no disabilities and I think that we can play together.My fellows that are also disabled think in the same way.Thankx for sharing this post.


Tommy Priest April 13, 2012

Thank you for sharing. “Disability” can be a state of mind on the golf course. Our hope is that all golfers are accepted on all golf courses and compete under conditions which make for a equal playing field.


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