Musings of a Forensic Statistician

“There are three kinds of untruths, lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain is often credited with that statement, but what are the odds?

“Torture numbers enough and they will confess to anything.” Gregg Easterbrook gets the credit for that one, but it might have been lifted from Twain.

I’ve always loved numbers. As a young baseball fanatic, I learned how to calculate a pitcher’s “earned run average” (ERA) by the time I was in the third grade. Baseball has given us some of the world’s greatest multi-dimensional mathematicians. Yogi Berra famously said, “Ninety-percent of the game is half mental.” Top that Stephen Hawking.

Discussions of golf numbers and statistics in the last few days seems to have raised some eyebrows. The USGA applied its PCC (playing condition calculation) to our Monday round. The PCC was triggered by a statistical setpoint in the GHIN system. To address some of the questions, I ran an analysis of golfer’s performances as a function of the course and tees played.

Those that saw the report seemed surprised that with over four thousand data points, golfers playing the yellow tees on the Padre course averaged more than five strokes over their handicap index. Yet, with over six thousand data points from Ambiente’s Camel tees, players averaged about two-and-a-half strokes over their indices.

Is that statistically significant? More than 10,000 data points! Hell yes! The numbers are saying something. The question is “What are they telling us?”

If you’re not a “numbers person”, the answer is “Who cares?” You can stop reading now. But if your curiosity beckons, read on. Who knows? Maybe a more in-depth understanding can lead to your gain.

I’m only going to comment on the performance differences between Ambiente (Camel) and Padre (Yellow). Both courses are roughly 6,100 yards in length. Although they’re admittedly somewhat different in their personalities, both courses are subject to the same weather, winds, temperatures, etc. In a nutshell, we’re comparing apples-to-apples.

(If you’re interested in looking at the numbers associated with the nearly 100 courses played by our golfers over the past six years, you can see them here. I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts and interpretations.)

Statistically, the difference in the average to handicap between the two courses is huge. A half stroke – maybe not, but it’s nearly double the difference. That is not reasonably possible without further explanation. Here are some possibilities for your consideration:

  1. The USGA course rating and slope evaluations are not accurate. If after 10,000 or so rounds, the differences are so pronounced, the obvious conclusion in my mind is that one course is rated substantially too low and/or the other one is rated too high. A statistical analysis of the mathematical structure of the USGA Handicap System strongly suggests that scores should average roughly three strokes over handicap. This neglects performance differences in handicap ranges and some other minor variables. If we drill-down on the question, it may suggest the course slope rating in also in error.
  2. Statistical “hysteresis”. Simply put (is it too late for that?), assume a person plays twenty rounds on Padre and ends up with a handicap that is three strokes too high. When that golfer then plays twenty rounds on Ambiente, he’ll be inclined to play significantly better relative to his now elevated handicap. When he completes twenty or so rounds on Ambiente and now returns to Padre, his handicap is too low. In reality, this does “explain” the numbers; it only shines a light on their consequences. The course rating/slope of one or both should be reviewed.
  3. Golfers with vanity handicaps prefer Padre. OK, now I’m really stretching it, but let’s not rule it out. Sometimes, it’s the “old guys” (of which I am now one) that are probably more inclined to scrape the four-foot putts, hit “breakfast ball”, and forget how many strokes were actually taken… that prefer Padre. After all, Padre players have access to more bathrooms, fewer fairway traps, and fewer snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and other predators. Play Ambiente and you’re two-and-a-half miles from the clubhouse at the turn. Those are pretty dangerous waters for an old boat.
  4. Club “management” is messing with the courses. Frankly, this isn’t speculation; it’s a reality. Most if not all golf course’s management “manipulates” the course a bit to improve pace-of-play. Camelback is no different. The tees on both Camelback courses are periodically moved forward due to a variety of factors, profitability no doubt being the most obvious. In the most egregious case, the green tees on #18 Ambiente occasionally get set forward to take the long shot over the wash out of play. That cuts 70 to 80 yards off the “rated” length of the hole. That alone results in a 0.4 reduction in the course rating. Similar, but less dramatic moves have been made on other holes. After analyzing hundreds of rounds of golf, the rating from the Verde tees when compared to other tee sets is a full stroke-and-half too low… or the tees are intentionally set a full stroke-and-a-half closer than designed when the AGA rated the course.
  5. Padre is the preferred course for sand-baggers. I suggest this as a possible explanation, but I don’t really believe it. Nonetheless, if a golfer inclined toward a little padding of his handicap is preparing for an upcoming tournament where a higher handicap would be beneficial, the Padre course would definitely give him an edge in getting his handicap to a competitive level. He could play his best and still get a two to three stroke bump without violating an rules of golf. On top of that, if he’s a proponent of the NMAPYDN school of golf (“Never make a putt you don’t need”), he could work the Padre course into a five or six stroke competitive edge by tournament time.
  6. Economics could contribute to some of the performance difference between the courses. The rack-rates and the guest rates are higher on Ambiente than they are on Padre. Perhaps someone who is more cost-conscious tends to reduce expenses on practice and play frequency. If so, his handicap becomes less responsive to change. Non-members also tend to play other courses more often. If those other courses are more fairly rated, performance relative to handicap on Padre will suffer.

There are other possibilities and I will delight in hearing your suggestions. But with more than 10,000 data points, it’s irrefutable that something is amiss. As the “forensic statistician”, I’m inclined to argue the Padre course is not rated properly (suggestion #1) and/or Camelback management is lax in its efforts to consistently setup the course according to its AGA rated conditions.

Recognizing the reality doesn’t mean it’s all bad. There sits in the Member’s Lounge a large trophy called “The Camel Cup”. It is currently in possession of the golfers of the J-Golf Group at Camelback in large part because some deceitful and diabolical tournament organizer deemed the Padre course as the field of battle and solicited the help of the Camelback ground’s crew in setting the pins in devilish locations prior to the tournament. The poor guys from Gainey Ranch never knew what hit them. I guess it makes sense that an unfair situation puts one side at a disadvantage, but the other side ends up with the advantage. Having a grasp of statistics can pay dividends, especially when you realize that it is said, “Four out of three people have trouble with fractions.”

The Honorable Judge David Harbour – 1939-2020

We lost a treasure Thursday, November 19th. David Harbour passed away in Scottsdale. He hasn’t left us; he’ll carry us through good times and difficult times with the memory of his irrepressible determination fronted with his disarming, yet highly contagious smile. David played golf in our group for many years. Everyone that met him fell in love with him. He was a friend to all. He enriched the life of each and every person he met.

Born in September of 1939 in Duncan, Oklahoma, David was an outstanding athlete and an outstanding student. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma and went on to a successful law career. He later became a judge in Oklahoma even serving as Judge pro tempore on the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

He was a fine artist with oils and water-colors. He was an avid patron of the performing arts. My wife, Liz, and I spent many evenings at live music performances of different genres. He often asked us to join him at music venues that began after nine o’clock at night, but we’d usually decline because he was much younger than we were, even though he was quite a bit older. It seems no one told him to walk slower as the years went by.

David was always up for the challenge. He joined us for golf and oyster eating fests in Mexico. He didn’t hesitate for play golf with us at 7,500 feet in the mountains. When he made up his mind he was going to do something, you’d stand a better chance of staring down a rodeo bull than trying to get in David’s way.

His smile was magic. His heart was huge. His mind was as sharp as a razor’s edge. His embrace was open to all. David Harbour was a hero and a friend to all of us. His strength of character was never more evident than when he suffered the devastating loss of his beloved wife, Janet in 2013. He was kind, caring, thoughtful, and loving. It’s also noteworthy that David made the best rum-cake known to mankind.

At the risk of going too far, I’m going to suggest that you watch the animated film “Coco”. Few Americans have a good understanding of the Mexican holiday el “Dia de Muertos”. “Coco” is a movie about that holiday. It is delightful and educational. Frankly, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. If I can summarize the message from “Coco” and el Dia de Muertos, it is this: Those that have gone before us attain immortality as long as we the living remember them.

David Harbour will live on for many generations through our actions and memories of his kindness, his work ethic, his love for his fellow man. Over the years, I have passed some of the lessons I’ve learned from David’s example on to my children and my friends. They have passed them on to their families and friends. “The Judge” will live on for generations to come.

Fall Golf in the Mountains

What a wonderful golf trip! Samir Sleiman, Joe Busch, and David Hughes joined with me to take on three of the super golf tracks in the White Mountains of Arizona. Show Low’s Torreón is an extremely challenging layout. Its difficulty is made tolerable by its beauty. Cut out of the tall Ponderosa pine forest, Torreón will give any golfer all he can handle and then some. When we retreated to our lodgings Friday evening, we felt more like we’d just gone 15 rounds with the champion. Did we finish as champs or chumps? You be the judge. We survived.

Snow made putting a challenge

Saturday, we moved up the mountain to Pinetop Lakes Country Club at 7,400 feet above sea level. It’s an interesting and challenging track, but most of all, it’s a fun course. We all enjoyed ourselves and followed up the round with pizza and beer on my patio near the 11th green.

Sunday, thanks to Mike Smothermon, we returned to the world of golf challenges. White Mountain Country Club is an exclusive, private club founded in 1954 by (among others) the Goldwater family and their friends and accomplices. It has drawn some great golf members like Tom Weiskopf, Tom Purtzer, Bob Goldwater, and Mike Smothermon. Breathtakingly beautiful, WMCC offers eighteen challenging holes. We battled 35 mph winds and cool temperatures, but it was well-worth the time. With the winds covering the greens with as much as an inch of pine needles, putting was problematic. Joe Busch solved the putting challenge by hitting approach shots into the bunker and then throwing thirty-yard sand shots directly into the hole. In extremely difficult playing conditions, Joe managed to finish the day by carding an even par 36 on the back nine to cap a super day of golf.

Monday morning, I awoke and glanced out the window toward the 11th green on PLCC. What I saw is shown in the picture above. It had just started and piled on for another three hours. Time to return to Scottsdale.

Here are a few shots of Joe, Samir, and David battling at Torreón on Friday.

Pandemic Rules of J-Golf

As most J-Golf players know, we implemented a few special rules that will remain in effect during the pandemic. The intent of these transient rules is to both make play safer and to introduce an element of fairness that normally wouldn’t be necessary.

Bunker Footprint Rule

For example, the Bunker Footprint Rule will remain in effect as long as bunkers lack rakes. Over the course of the day, many players end up in the sand bunkers around the course and when exiting, they have no way to properly repair footprints, swing divots, or any other perturbations that may appear in the bunkers. If there is justice in golf (which there isn’t, but that’s another story), a player shouldn’t be penalized for ending up in a deep footprint that under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be there.

The end result is that when playing J-Golf … If your ball ends up in a sand bunker, you may lift, clean, and place your ball at a spot within a reasonable distance of where the ball initially came to rest without penalty.

Some have argued that this rule should apply only when your ball actually comes to rest within a footprint. That begs the question, “What is a footprint?” Most footprints are most obvious, but some may be less obtrusive than others, some left from the prior day’s play that have been partially smoothed over, others visible only in the minds of wishful participants. To remove all disputes and arguments, the rule shall apply to the entire area of any and all sand bunkers on the course. Some golfers refuse to take advantage of the rule and those golfers will be given gold stars at season’s end.

The Benevolent Scorekeeper Rule

The pandemic rule that is arguably the most controversial is the Benevolent Scorekeeper Rule. For those golfers that joined the group after the onset of the pandemic or those with shaky memories, here’s the clarification of the rule.

In all of our matches, we PUTT’EM OUT, subject to the B.S.R. We have no such thing as a “gimme”, however, from your previous lives, you remember gimmes. Depending upon your golfing partner’s collective definitions of “gimme distance”, you would occasionally hear another golfer say, “That’s good. Pick it up.” That distance tended to grow every time you missed a two-footer. The next thing you knew, a three-footer was good. Then on to the four-footer.

In the J-Golf group, the ball goes into the hole, but … If a player walks up to a ball that is clearly within what “other groups” consider gimme-dstance, then slaps at it or cavalierly tries to tap the ball into the hole and misses, then he, AT THE OPTION OF THE SCOREKEEPER, MAY REPLACE THE BALL AND MAKE A SERIOUS ATTEMPT AT MAKING THE PUTT. If – in the judgment of the scorekeeper – the player DID NOT make a serious attempt in the first attempt, the player gets to now replace the ball once and only once and replay the stroke.

If the player clearly lined up the putt by either plumb-bobbing, squatting and getting “the read”, looking at the line from multiple directions, and took the customary stance in an earnest attempt to hole the putt, it is incumbent upon the scorekeeper to record the stroke as a missed putt.

Note that:

  • At the scorekeeper’s option, you get one and only one retry.
  • A slap at a fifteen-footer ISN’T eligible for B.S.R. The ball must be within the distance a “reasonable golfer” would consider “gimme distance”. (I always try and put one reasonable player in every group – when possible.)
  • If the first attempt was obviously a serious attempt to make the putt, B.S.R. does NOT come into play.

If, in a team game, a player is out of the hole and picks up a twenty-footer, feel free to let him build an artificially low handicap. Later on, listen sympathetically as he bitches about never winning any money. Just smile, but don’t tell him the trick of counting all your strokes. It’ll just cost the rest of us money.

The Cup is Finally Empty

Congratulations to Scott Howard. He finished strong and took home the 1st place prize in the “Half-Cup” competition May 15th. Scott edged out 2nd place finisher, Bob Sznewajs (pronounced just like it’s spelled). Joe Busch held on by a thread to capture 3rd place. Del Spence and Kristi Williams rounded out the top five.

Since the inception of our Corona Cup formatted tournaments, I have told everyone the algorithms used to determine point allocations in each match were designed to make the event very competitive. After nearly 3,400 holes of golf, the results weren’t locked in until the final group walked off the #18th green. Everyone was in the thick of it until they weren’t. A single putt in the middle of any one of the rounds could make a big difference in the standings, even if the round in which the putt was made or missed, was extremely mediocre. Consider this real story about the Half-Cup’s final round.

When the lights went out Friday evening, here were the top six finishers and their point totals in the Half-Cup.

  1. Scott Howard (895.2)
  2. Bob Sznewajs (803.5)
  3. Joe Busch (662.7)
  4. Kristi Williams (601.9)
  5. Pat Collins (576.7)
  6. Dell Spence (570.6)

Memorial Day 2019 (82 of 99)
The Honorable Joe Busch

As usual, I went to bed fairly early Friday night. Soon thereafter, Joe Busch exhibited the classic honor those true to the spirit of golf carry with them. He realized there may have been a scoring error. He sent me an email saying he was pretty certain the scorekeeper had made an error and awarded him a five rather than six on the fifth hole of the Padre course. Joe also was afraid the reverse had happened on the ninth hole and that he may have been given a six instead of a five. He believed the mistakes cancelled each other and would have no impact upon the results, but he felt compelled to correct the errors.

When I digested Joe’s email Saturday morning, I discovered he was half-right. His score on the ninth hole had been recorded correctly, but the fifth hole score was indeed one lower than his actual score.

Joe had carded an 85 rather than an 84. I promptly made the change and reran the Half-Cup results and was relieved to discover that at first glance, Joe remained in 3rd place, but by a much smaller margin. All was well or so I thought. Here are the revised Half-Cup standings with Joe still clinging to his $150 3rd place money.

  1. Scott Howard (895.2)
  2. Bob Sznewajs (828.7)
  3. Joe Busch (625.8)
  4. Dell Spence (612.5)
  5. Kristi Williams (601.9)
  6. Pat Collins (576.7)

All was well. Whoa! Wait a minute. Joe stayed in third place, but Bob Sznewajs’ second place point total increased by 25 points. Oh my! Kristi Williams was no longer in 4th place; she fell to 5th. Dell Spence climbed from 6th place solidly into 4th place. Pat Collins fell one position and he hadn’t even played on the final day. With more than a thousand dollars in prize money already distributed, I had visions of a lynch-mob now asking for a full explanation of the algorithms buried deep within the program code.

I considered my options – change my name and wear a disguise, sell my membership and move to Mexico, disqualify everyone involved and keep the money, come out of pocket for any prize money deficiencies (No, now I’m talking like a crazy person). Some options had greater appeal than others, but none seemed to make me feel safer. Viewing the Cup as half-full, I had some solace in knowing that if I were to be hung from a tree, at least I’d be in the shade.

Facing down the problems like an impending dental appointment, I dug in to sort in all out. After a half an hour analysis, I discovered the changes in point totals for 2nd and 3rd place didn’t alter the prize amounts. Sznewajs still pocketed $200. Busch still held on to $150. So far, so good, but what about the complete reshuffling of 4th, 5th, and 6th places? Imagine my relief when I looked at the awards spreadsheet and discovered the prize money for 4th was $100, 5th was $100, and 6th was $100. Dodged a bullet there.

My survival chances were improving, but I wasn’t out of the woods (and that’s where the hanging tree is). We’ve long had a rule on the day game that once players walk away from the scoring table, all results were deemed correct even if they were incorrect. On this one, I could declare the “It sure sucks to be you” defense. But as luck would have it, I dodged one final bullet. Joe had finished a slim one stroke out of the money in the day game. He was now two strokes away from the cashier’s window.

One final challenge remained – take a page out of play-books of political leaders everywhere and deflect the blame. One can’t be too careful.

Mike Forde (4 of 5)
The Banker did it with the pencil in the conservatory

Got this one! For years, our chief banker has been Mike Forde. It has been his responsibility to make certain all monies were collected, awards were “properly” determined, and paid in the appropriate amounts to the appropriate parties. Clearly he failed. And all this after I had relied so heavily upon him, trusted him to do what was right in an efficient and equitable manner in keeping with the standards instilled in him while at Cal State Fresno. He failed in his task. He let us down. However, in the spirit of honor and forgiveness so nobly displayed by Mr. Busch, I have decided (with the acquiescence of Pat Collins and Joe Busch) to pardon Mr. Forde, especially in view of the fact he is on the injured reserve list with a severe cut to his finger. When told of the magnanimous actions of myself, Busch, and Collins, he has offered to show us his finger. What a guy!

In the wake of all this, still no one has asked to review the algorithms. Pax Vobiscum.

Corona King is Crowned

I may not have promised you a rose garden, but I did guarantee an exciting and competitive finish. The April Corona Cup came to a dramatic close yesterday. As the opening match of the Cup lurked just hours in the future, Dick Cahal was pessimistic. “I don’t think I can play enough to stand a chance,” he opined.

member-guest-2017-1-of-96“Yea, right,” I said. “Now gimme your hundred dollar bill.” (This is the only time the term “gimme” is acceptable within our group.) Cahal still resisted, but under threat of public shaming, he pulled a Franklin from a wad of bills that looked like a much sought after roll of Charmin.

By the time the last putt found the bottom of the hole yesterday, Dick Cahal had fleeced the entire group and carried home the $500 that went along with first place. “I just got lucky – again”, he grinned much as Jesse James would have as he walked away from the stage coach.

The complete standings for the Corona Cup are shown below. We paid sixteen places in a very competitive event.

Just how competitive was it? Only twice during the course of the entire event did the same person hold down first place for more than one event. Through fourteen rounds, there were twelve lead changes.

As another example of the intensity of the competition, note that Pat Collins languished in 20th place on the eve of the final round. He appeared to be all but hopelessly out of the money. Pat carded a most respectable net 69 and vaulted himself from out-of-sight of the leaders into 9th place overall. Phil Ortez recorded the day’s best net 68. He had a precarious finger-hold on 15th place, barely in the money, yet jumped into a top six finish.

Given the format of the Corona Cup, it was persistence and consistency that paid off. Finishers carried the day over those with the hot starts. It wasn’t so much what you did right; it was more a case of what you didn’t do wrong. To illustrate, I’ll cite the final round of someone I watched play. He turned in a respectable front side shooting his handicap. On that back side, he seemed to drop into his “grove”. You know the feeling. Even after missing a couple of very makeable five footers, he stood on the seventeenth tee box under gross par for the back. He knew all he had to do to bring home first place was cruise in conservatively on the final two holes. So much for cruise control.

The tee shot on #17 went wayward. Six hundred forty-two sock stickers later, he managed to punch out. Once on the green, he missed a four foot putt for bogey. On #18, with a wider fairway and still in command, he hit another cruise missile into ankle-itch country, punched out, and missed a six-footer for bogey.

Happens to everyone, right? But here’s what it meant in the final standings. Had he just played the final two holes in one over par, he would have finished the tournament in fourth place. With the first pathetic tee shot, he moved himself from fourth place to sixth place. The second swing catastrophe took him from sixth place to eighth place. When the dust (and sand) had settled on the #18th green, after fourteen rounds in a competitive race, he had used two holes and four strokes to move himself from fourth place to twelfth. He wasn’t happy. I know; I am him. Nonetheless, it’s an example of what a great and competitive fourteen rounds of tournament golf we had.


¡Viva México!

JZ0A0914Eighteen of us left Scottsdale on the morning of January 2nd. We were bound for Puerto Peñasco, Mexico for a couple of rounds of golf at one spectacular Jack Nicklaus designed course. Thursday’s Tournament was won by Kathy Thompson when she ran away from the field winning by 10 points over second place finisher, Troy Jarvis. The second day’s tournament belonged to Samir Sleiman. He walked away from second place winner, Troy Jarvis, by 9 points.

However, steady wins the race. Troy Jarvis’ consistent play made him the overall champion. Troy averaged 79 in his two days of play. Troy easily outdistanced the second place finisher, Samir Sleiman, racking up 54 points to Samir’s 41.

This was no easy task. Jack Nicklaus was apparently fighting with someone when he designed the course. Although it is magnificently beautiful, it is a tough, tough track. There were only four birdies in two days of play. The average gross score was 102! The average to handicap was more than 11 strokes over the top. One and only one of the 28 rounds was at handicap. It is a great, but challenging course. One thing that all participants agree upon is that it takes balls, lots of them, to play Vidanta.

Here are some pictures of the tournament and a few thrown in of the dinners. Clicking on any of the images enlarges them for your viewing pleasure (or chagrin).

Meet the World Handicap System

MWHSost golfers have heard that change is in the wind. The USGA Handicap System will undergo some very significant modifications sometime in early 2020. I recently became “certified” through the USGA in the new Handicap System and will share with you the most significant aspects of the new program.

If you’re not particularly concerned with the minutia of the new system, you can simply go with … the new system, like the old system, is designed to level the playing field when golfers with different skill levels compete against one and other. The old system does a good job; the new system (probably) does a slightly better job.

If you’re inclined to know a bit more, here you go.

1. The old system used the best ten of your last twenty rounds to calculate your handicap index. That result was then reduced to 96%. In the new system, your index will be based upon your best eight rounds. The result will NOT be reduced to 96%.

2. In the old system, your “course handicap” was calculated by taking your playing index, multiplying by the course slope and dividing by the average slope of all golf courses, i.e., 113. In the new system, your course handicap is calculated in exactly the same way – except that it is totally different! The new system is keyed to the total course par whereas the old system was keyed to the course “rating”. If there’s a difference between course par and course rating, you will now adjust your course handicap accordingly. For example, with the old system, if you had an index to 10.0 and you played a course with a slope of 126, your course handicap would be (126/113) times 10.0, i.e., 11. In the new system, the calculation remains the same except you now adjust for the difference between course rating and course par. If the course you’re playing is rated 69.0, you deduct an additional three strokes from the old system’s course handicap. You become an 8 handicap.

Interestingly enough, we’ve been doing this exact same thing when competitors play from different tee sets. Those playing from the more forward tees lose the difference in course rating from the two tee sets from their handicaps. With the change in the Handicap System, there will no longer be a need to adjust handicaps when playing different tee sets. The adjustment is automatic in the course handicap calculation. On the downside, in days gone by, many have been confused by the adjustments for different tees. Now everyone can be equally confused every day they play. However, there are a couple of extra considerations that make the system easier to understand and slightly more equitable. If you’re interested, ask. I’ll be happy to belabor the topic a bit more for you.

3. Many have been asking about ESC (equitable stroke control) where you have certain maximum scores you can post depending upon your handicap range. In the new system, the maximum score that may be posted for handicap purposes is “net double bogey”. For example, if you take a seven on a par three hole and you get one stroke on that hole, you are allowed to post a six, i.e., a “net double bogey”. If you take a twelve on a par five hole and you get two strokes on that hole, your posting maximum is nine, i.e., “net double bogey”.

4. Handicaps will be updated on a daily basis. The rules have always called for “timely” posting of scores. With the daily updates, “timely” takes on a new meaning. You are obliged to post on the same day as you played the round.

5. The new “World Handicap System” has a number of not so obvious features that the USGA is calling “safeguards”. I won’t get into the details of “hard caps”, “soft caps”, and the like here, but most of these features are intended to constrain the activities of those who have historically had a problem with their handicaps increasing as tournament appeared on their horizons. Some of these features are rather cute, but all you need to know at this point is that your handicap will generally be prevented from rising by more than five strokes in any given twelve month period. So, if you’re going to sandbag, plan well in advance.

One component of the new system that has raised a lot of eyebrows is the system for compensating for abnormal course conditions. If you’re playing in winds gusting to forty miles-per-hour, chances of you shooting a net 65 are pretty close to zero. The USGA will be attempting to correct postings for rounds played under such conditions. Heavy rains, locust plagues, armed insurrections, civil unrest, even cases of extremely slow play (like Friday the 18th at Camelback) may be adjusted by the USGA.

This is a noble goal and in theory possible; time will tell. But it certainly raises a lot of questions. No, they will not be checking the local weather report. They will not have a weather station on the course. Drones and satellite surveillance will not be used. At this point, you may be wondering if they’ve established a partnership with Santa Claus; after all, only he knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

To find out how they’re going to do all of this, you might also suspect the best way to find out would be to simply ask the USGA. Not so fast Ferdinand. To paraphrase their response, “it’s none of your business!” They’re trying to keep this a closely guarded secret.

As a mathematician, I’m pretty confident I can tell you exactly how they intend to do this. Frankly, I like their approach despite its minor flaws. In a nutshell, if for the past fifty days, you’ve had perfect weather. During that time period, postings have consistently hovered around say three strokes over handicap with a standard deviation of a half stroke. Then on one given day, the USGA computer looks at scores and sees they’re solidly six strokes over handicap with a standard deviation of one full stroke. Guess what … something’s amiss. There a good chance a monsoon just blew through or the laws of gravity were suspended on that day or … whatever. But from a statistical standpoint, there was very clearly an “abnormal course condition”. The USGA plans on automatically adjusting if the deviations were what they consider to be “significant”. The definition of “significant” may still be up in the air, but you’ve got the gist of their system.

There are some interesting potential consequences of this system. One I envision will occur at Camelback Golf Club where two eighteen-hole courses are played. One of those courses is reasonably rated by the Arizona Golf Association (as long as management doesn’t keep moving tees dramatically closer to holes than they were when the course was rated). The other course is – in the studied opinion of this writer – not properly rated at least from one of the common tee sets. The end result is that when golfers play Ambiente, their postings fall within the statistically expected range. However, when golfers play Padre, postings typically fall two to three strokes higher than statistically expected.

With your nominal understanding of the way the USGA will be handling “abnormal course conditions”, it will tend to have two pronounced effects. The first is that these semi-automatic adjustments to postings will tend to mitigate the consequences of an improper course rating. It’s sort of a self-correcting rating system. The other result is that meteorologists will be driven to drink heavily after seeing that the Ambiente course basks in perpetual paradise from a weather standpoint. Yet Padre will appear to be at the epicenter of a never-ending typhoon of biblical proportions. Invite someone from the USGA to play Camelback and they’ll say, “With pleasure, but only if it’s Ambiente.”

Enough said about the new WHS (World Handicap System). However, for a future topic of discussion in the Acacia Lounge, ask yourself … “Why is the USGA keeping the details of the abnormal course conditions calculation so secret?”

Camelback Links Course Opens

Great News for Camelback Equity Members – We have joined the likes of Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, and other great links courses. After last night’s rains, most holes on the Padre course run along the water. Some of them run under water.

I posted a few shots of the course taken nearly 24 hours after the downpour. If you look closely, you may notice sea otters cracking open abalone in the distance.

I live about a mile from the Padre course and last night, I enjoyed 1.7 inches of rain at the house. Yes, I now have a “links” house.

I can assure you the grounds crew team is out there busting tail, pumping water from low spots and trying to get the course ready for play. My guess is Padre will be open tomorrow, but that it will be cart path only unless you have a small dingy. Driving range – not likely. Regardless, be sure to wear your PFD.

I’ll keep an eye on the conditions and we can evaluate the situation in the morning. Nonetheless, we still have a little room if you’d like to play. In order to play, you must have a verifiable handicap and be a strong swimmer. I’ll bet we’re “lift, clean, and place.”