Many years ago, Sir Winston Churchill said, “A polo handicap is your passport to the world.”  It still holds true today.   If you are a polo player, you are part of a small fraternity of aficionados that enjoy the sport.  There is immediate acceptance by other players.

Sir Winston didn’t say it had to be a high handicap. Just that a polo handicap opened the doors to the world.

Handicaps are based on your skills and how well you play.  It is also a reflection of how successful you are as a player.  If your teams keep winning, sooner or later, your handicap will go up.

The Royal Malaysian Polo Association published the changes in handicaps recently. 288 handicaps were discussed and eventually, nine players went up in handicap, and six came down.

Not everyone was happy, even some whose handicaps initially were not changed.   There is “benchmark” player for each handicap, a player who best defines that handicap.  All others in that band are judge against the benchmark.

A player who is better than the benchmark, but not quite the next level up is what we call ‘light’ for his handicap.  Naturally, players who are ‘light’, will be selected first by teams to play in tournaments.

A player who is over-handicapped is a burden to the team.  These ‘heavy’ player’s handicap deficit has to be made up by the rest of the players on their team.  Generally, they have to buy their way into games.

Your handicap is judged by your peers.  In Malaysia it is by the handicapping committee of the Royal Malaysian Polo Association.  Those that sit on this committee are amongst the most senior players in the game in Malaysia.   As gentlemen, they do not discuss their own handicap, and excuse themselves from the room when the committee has that discussion.  Neither has anyone on the committee been known to object to a change in their own handicap.

This is not to say that there is no vulgar lobbying.  Some player’s egos get in the way.

If you are in your 40’s and haven’t been competitive or even getting games because of your handicap, you would think a professional player would prefer to come down in handicap, so that you will be better value for your employers.    This is not always the case, and many would rather retire on a high handicap, than go down and keep playing.

To many players, a handicap is matter of pride.  To others, it is just a number.  Take New Zealand’s Cody Forsyth, for example.  Cody is a former 8 goal player who played and won at the very top level in New Zealand, UK and Europe and even in the Argentine Open.   Now in his 50’s he is enjoying a new lease of life as a 4-goaler.  Cody is the playing captain and coach of the New Zealand team at the FIP World Polo Championships being played now in Sydney.

I remember a handicapper who asked for his wife’s handicap to go up, “as it would achieve her life ambition.”  He then excused himself from the meeting.  To keep the matrimonial peace, the rest of the handicappers relented.  She went up in handicap but sadly, was not picked by any teams to play in tournaments for the next two seasons.  She has since given up polo.    They are still married, belying the adage that you only give up polo through death, divorce or bankruptcy.

Recently, there was an influential patron who wanted a plus goal handicap and lobbied hard for it. He thought he might have a chance of playing in the 2017 South East Asian Games.  As it turned out, with a 1 goal handicap, he had no chance at selection.  Ironically, if he had stayed on 0, he would have had an extraordinary chance to have played.

Many new players feel entitled to rise in handicap because of the amount of time and money they put into the game.  This is a financial miscalculation.  There is no such entitlement.  Your handicap should only be based on your skills, how well you play, and in part, on your success on the field.

If how much you spend is the sole measure of your handicap, we would have a the biggest patrons in the world on 10 goal handicaps!

Now and then, we hear entitled new Patrons berating their professionals when their team is losing.  “I’m paying you to play,” is sickening to hear thrown at professionals who have to carry your overinflated handicap.

A player’s attitude shouldn’t be a handicap in itself.  To be a polo player means more than just to have a handicap.  The sport is more than a game. It is the King of Games.

About Peter Abisheganaden

Polo Player, Tournament Director and Executive Secretary of the Royal Malaysian Polo Association. FIP Ambassador and FIP Tournament Director of FIP Snow Polo World Cup and Super Nations Cup. World Cup and Asian Games Showjumper. Champion SEA Games Showjumper and Eventer. FEI L3 Show Jumping Course Designer and L1 Course Presenter. Champion amateur jockey. Retailer and wholesaler of saddlery and polo equipment and Managing Director of Zack's Tack.
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