Young men have pissing contests. Old men have handicaps. To them, it's a status symbol. The Mercedes they parked outside the country club says less about them to their peers than that magical number. An entire industry has grown around keeping men on the wrong side of their mid-life crisis feeling important on the putting green.

"So what?" you might think. "I don't play - it means nothing to me."

True. Until you're invited along.

Allow us to explain something briefly. "I'm sorry, I've never played before" won't cut it with these types. With a patronising smile and a brisk pat on the shoulder, they'll tell you you'll be fine. They'll show you the ropes. This is to be avoided at all costs.

You're far better just saying you've played before and following this guide closely.

The etiquette

Country clubs (golf courses) are places of prestige and tradition.

1. You need a collar. No t-shirts. No v-necks. Collars are essential.

2. Wear nice trousers and a belt. Trackies won't cut it, I'm afraid.

3. Wear nice shoes. Golfers wear golf shoes. They're not trainers. They get arsey about this.

The rules

The rules are fairly simple. You whack the ball around until you get it in a hole. Preferably the hole you were aiming for.

You can't kick it, blow it or pick it up - you've just got to hit it with the stick (club, from here-on-in).

Count the amount of times you hit it. That's your score. The person with the lowest score at the end wins the bragging rights.

Simple! Except...

What the hell is a handicap?

It's a system that the Americans invented to level the playing field for experienced and rubbish golfers. Basically, it means that a beginner playing a pro isn't just a no-contest walkover.

The lower your handicap, the better you are.

You can't have a handicap until you've played ten rounds of golf. Here's how it's calculated:

For this example, let's assume the par for the course you're playing is 80. This means that a very good player will get around the course with 80 hits of the ball.

Every time you play, you need to count up the number of hits it takes you.

Once you've reached 10 games (rounds of golf), you add up your total number of hits (strokes).

For this example; let's assume that, in total, you whacked the ball 1,000 times. This means that your average score for the course is 20 over par. This means that your handicap is 20.

It's a sliding average so it can theoretically change every time you play.

After each round of golf, you subtract your handicap from your total score. After this, the person with the lowest score wins.

What club do I use?

This is an absolute enigma. Obviously, you want the driver (the biggest one) for the first shot, then the putter (the little one) for the last bit. For everything in between, you'll just have to copy your opponent.

Try and get them to tee off (whack the ball) first so you can watch them closely.

What about technique?

Erm. It's difficult to type it.

Luckily, these men in fabulously white trousers explain it quite well:
(ps, if  you can work out why one of them has a tennis racket attached to his golf club bag, we'd love to know).


There you go. Sorted. You're practically a pro.

Good luck with the blagging! If it all goes tits up, at least you can drown your sorrows in the clubhouse afterwards...