Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Handicap

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 25, 2011

If you’ve ever caught even a bit of a golf game on television, you’ll have heard the term handicap bandied about by the commentators. Just because a golfer has a handicap, however, doesn’t mean that he’s disabled in any way.  It means that he’s playing at a disadvantage.

On September 29, 1999 the Daily Mail newspaper in England published a news story written by Ian Wooldridge entitled, “Golf’s Great Handicap.”  It dealt with what the journalist referred to as “unprecedently appalling crowd behaviour” especially towards golfers Colin Montgomerie and Mark James.  The matter of what would happen in two years’ time at the Belfry was of considerable concern to all involved.  An unnamed source, speaking about how the situation should be handled, was quoted in the story as saying:

“Very simple,” uttered a quiet voice. “You merely restrict entry to spectators who can produce a golf club handicap certificate to prove they know something about the etiquette of the game.”

On July 28, 1958 the Edmonton Journal reported on an interesting story about William Wacht, a 60-year-old member of the Pines Ridge Golf Club in Ossining, New York who asked to have his handicap raised to 34 from 29.  The first sentence of the story entitled, “Supreme Court To Compute Golf Handicap” read:

A golfer has asked the new York Supreme Court to compute his handicap.

On May 26, 1922 the New York Times newspaper published an article entitled, “Harding To Play Golf In Newspaper Tourney.”  Warren G. Harding was to represent the Marion Daily Star newspaper in the Washington Newspaper Golf Club Spring tournament.  The 12 newspaper men turning in the lowest gross scores would go on to represent Washington correspondents on June 12th on Long Island and would enjoy a weekend as the guest of New Jersey Senator Frelinghuysen.  The story included information on Mr. Harding’s abilities as a golfer.

The participants will compete for a cup offered by Edward B. McLean, owner of the Washington Post, for the lowest net score.  The President’s handicap, based on recent scores, is 22, which indicates that Mr. Harding’s average for eighteen holes if between 95 and 100.

And on January 23, 1882 the West Coast Times in New Zealand printed a brief announcement in the Advertisements column.  Quite simply it stated:

Dunedin February Races:  Dunedin Cup, Dunedin Jockey Club Handicap, and Dunedin Forbury Handicap. Three Events.

On February 7, 1855 the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle newspaper ran advertisements with regards to a number of items.  One of these had to do with the horse races to be held on Thursday, March 8, 1855 at the Nelson Turf Club.  It included this description of one of the races:

The Forced Handicap of 10 Sovs. h. ft., for the winner of any races except the Port and Selling Stakes, and Consolation Plate; open to any other horse; second horse to save his stake.  Horses to be named at the same time as for the Consolation Plate, and to be handicapped in the same manner.  Once round and a distance.

The term handicap actually comes from an old card game known as “Hand I The Cap.”  In this card  game, players would drop the money they bid on a hand into a cap as the cards were dealt.  When the dealer won the hand, he, of course, won all the money in the cap.  Unfortunately, when a dealer won the hand, the next dealer was at a disadvantage in the game of “Hand I The Cap.” In time, this was shortened to “Hand I Cap.”  Mention of the game “Hand I The Cap” can be found in Samuel Pepys’ Diary under his entry of September 18, 1680 however his is not the first mention of a game by that name. 

Before “Hand I The Cap” was a card game, it was known simply as “hand in cap” and was a trading game with prized possessions and money involved as evidenced by documents dating back to the 14th century.  It required two players and a referee.  For example, if Trader #1 had a cloak to trade and Trader #2 had boots to trade, the referee would examine the items to trade and assign a monetary value to them based on condition, age, usefulness, etc.  Whatever the difference was between the two items had to be tossed into a cap by the trader whose item was of lesser value so that both items would now be of equal value.  The difference was referred to as “the odds.” 

At the referee’s mark, both traders would reach into the cap at exactly the same time and draw their hands out at exactly the same time.  An open hand meant there was agreement to trade; a closed hand was a refusal to trade. 

If the traders both agreed to the trade, each would receive the other’s item.  If the traders both disagreed to the trade, each would retain their item.  Regardless of whether they both accepted or both refused, the referee would get the money in the cap.  In other words, if they accepted, the referee was rewarded for having assigned fair value to both items; if they refused, the referee was compensated for the traders’ stubbornness.

If one trader refused while the other trader accepted, then the trader who accepted the deal would get the money in the cap; the trader who accepted the deal was compensated for the other trader’s stubbornness.

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One Response to “Handicap”

  1. […] we know from the Idiomation entry from Monday of this week, that the 14th century trading game “Hand In Cap” was responsible for the term […]

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