Date: October 18, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Stableford: patron saint of the club golfer

Millions of golfers around the world are familiar with the stableford scoring system that often saves them from embarrassment on a tricky day. But hardly any know anything about the inventor or its invention.

His name was Dr Frank Barney Gorton Stableford and he created the system while playing his golf at Glamorganshire Golf Club and Royal Porthcawl Golf Club in south Wales in 1898.

Ironically, though, it took 30 years to be an overnight success, as a new book about his invention — Stableford: A life in golf, medicine and war — records.

It was not until Stableford had moved to Wallesey Golf Club, near Royal Liverpool, that the system became a golfing byword in 1932 and beyond. As such, he is known as "the patron Saint of club golfers''.

For the uninitiated, stableford scoring — one point for a net bogey, two points for par, three points for birdie and four points for net eagle — changed golf immeasurably since it allowed the average golfer, prone to his or her one-hole meltdown, to compete with a reasonable score and in acceptable time.

The player who can no longer score on a particular hole merely picks up the ball and marks a 'wipe' on the card. If those millions of club golfers have not offered up a prayer and thanks to Dr Stableford, then they ought to have.

Stableford was an eminent war doctor and surgeon in his own right, and a plus-one handicap golfer. Several years ago Melbourne publisher Graeme Ryan, who is also the chairman of the Australian Golf Society, was in Portmarnock, Ireland, when he saw a framed photograph of Dr Frank Stableford in the foyer of the Portmarnock Links Hotel, complete with written description.

"There's a book in that,'' thought Ryan, who has published many golf publications over the years.

Ryan cast his net, using contacts at the British Golf Collectors' Society, and quickly came up with a prospective author in Bob Edwards, a retired lawyer from Cardiff in Wales who happens to be a member at Glamorganshire and Royal Porthcall where Stableford played his early golf.

"The job was too big for me,'' said Ryan. "But Bob Edwards, I discovered, had been researching and celebrating the life of Frank Stableford for some decades. I went to see him in 2016, and he is a very accomplished writer and speaker.  It's a brilliant book. We're very happy with it.''

The system that Frank Stableford invented took its time to catch on. When it was first tried, at Glamorganshire in 1898, the club added a stableford score to the traditional stoke score, then added one-third of a player's handicap to reach a conclusion. "He (Stableford) mucked it up, in a way,'' said Ryan. "Frankly, one-third was not enough. It heavily favored the lower handicapper.''

Stableford went off to the Boer War in South Africa to tend the wounded as a doctor, then to a conflict in Somaliland and again served the British Army in World War 1 in Malta and southern Italy, treating soldiers who had returned from the conflict in Gallipoli.

But when he shifted to Wallesey after the war he moved to have his system adopted again, in 1932, this time with the club adding three-quarters of a player's handicap to his score, which worked much better. But the introduction of the stroke index system around the same time was the catalyst for stableford scoring to take off, for those two systems worked superbly together. Stableford play is commonplace in Australia and throughout the United Kingdom as well as many other golfing nations, though surprisingly not so in America.

There is an annual match between the Wallesey and Glamorganshire clubs to commemorate Stableford's work, and a plaque on the second tee at Wallesey as well. "The story goes that the second (hole)  at Wallesey heads straight at the the Irish sea and the prevailing wind blows right back down the fairway,'' said Ryan. "The mythology was that they'd play the first all right, make a mess of the second, then tear up their cards and go home! So the plaque suggests that this is the place where he drew his inspiration!''

The 236-page, illustrated book will be launched at Yarra Yarra Golf Club on Thursday.

It is available in hardback ($79.95) and paperback ($59.95) through the website:

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