Discoveries in the Laboratory of the Inferno Cup

Mad ScientistAfter an immensely successful Inferno Cup season, we reflect on our successes and our failures. When you coordinate nearly a thousand rounds of golf, only the severely delusional would expect perfection. However, in retrospect, we couldn’t have asked for a much higher level of success. Forty-seven golfers endured the heat of summer, monsoon rains, course closures, greens that rolled as true as a basketball bouncing in a mine field, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday play and a seemingly endless array of games and match formats – some tried and true, others on the cutting edge and experimental. Despite a few secret expressions of frustration (which were soon forgotten) by the event organizers, how much smoother could a fifty-three round tournament with four dozen golfers have run? We’re proud and pleased with its success. But to make the next Inferno Cup event even more successful, we’re looking back on what could be improved. We’ll keep you posted on what we’ll propose for future improvements. We already know of some that will appeal to nearly everyone.

Discovery Number One – The USGA Handicap System Works, But Only If You Let It.

After spending four years at Gainey Ranch Golf Club, I’ve heard every manner of bitching imaginable when it comes to handicaps. This guy’s cheating; that guy’s cheating. He always wins; I never win. After serving on the Handicap Committee for a couple of years, I discovered that much of the complaining was justified. However, I also learned most golfers truly don’t understand more than about half of the USGA Handicap System. I actually discovered that most of the Handicap Committee members didn’t (and still don’t) fully understand the Handicap System. As much as they pound their chests and boast about what they think they know, the reality is the system has not been properly implemented and applied in recent years.

The USGA developed the Handicap System to “level the playing field” such that golfers of differing abilities can compete fairly. The Inferno Cup provided us with a wonderful laboratory to test some things that the MGA and “the club” has not done presumably because they didn’t understand the concepts well enough to apply them. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Example #1 – Handicap Allowances. The USGA Handicap System manual can’t be any clearer on this subject. With certain match formats, e.g., four-ball events, handicap allowances should be used to maintain a fair and equitable playing field. That is to say handicaps should be reduced by a certain percentage. Neither the club nor the MGA has consistently applied these allowances to their events. During the Inferno Cup competition, handicap allowances were rigorously applied whenever they were appropriate.

After a detailed mathematical analysis of thousands of holes of Inferno Cup golf with handicap allowances properly applied, there were no statistically significant correlations between handicap range and a team’s finishing position in the many events played. In other words, the USGA didn’t make these recommendations because a couple of their statisticians were sitting in a bar drinking martinis and talking about ways to confuse golfers. They were made because (1) they work and (2) without them, the field is not fair and equitable. The Inferno Cup proved it to be true.

Example #2 – Playing from Different Tees. If you understand the USGA Handicap System, you understand how and why a course has a given “course rating” and you know the components and the reasons for the “Slope” system. Once you gain a good understanding of that system, you begin to realize that – in theory – any golfer can compete against any other golfer fairly and equitably even when they are not playing from the same tees as long as the course is properly rated and the proper adjustments are made to the handicaps. The USGA Handicap System manual clearly explains how to make the adjustments, but once again, in past events, neither the club nor the MGA has properly made the adjustments.

During 2014 Inferno Cup competition, players were allowed to pick any set of tees from which they could play. Their handicaps were adjusted up or down as specified by the USGA. Some players, myself included, at various times played the white tees, the green tees and the gold tees. Players that hit the ball longer often opted for the gold tees. Shorter hitters frequently selected the white tees. Some of the participants would do the math ahead of tee time to see which set of tees gave them a favorable “rounding error” when calculating course handicap.

This freedom to pick any set of tees introduced an interesting and fun aspect to some of the matches. However, the results from the Inferno Cup laboratory of golf were convincing. If the USGA Handicap System rules were followed, there was no solid correlation between your choice of tees and your chances of winning. The USGA’s “Play It Forward” promotion is predicated on that reality. Think about it; a person going from the white tees on Arroyo/Lakes to the gold tees sometimes gets another eight or nine strokes on his handicap. That is how the playing field is leveled.

In MGA tournaments in the past, someone has come up with a “rule” that if your age plus your handicap is ninety or more, you can elect to play from the white tees. It is apparent that whoever championed that rule doesn’t have a good grasp of the USGA Handicap System. If you’re going to allow one golfer, regardless of age and/or handicap to play from a different set of tees, allow all golfers to select their preferred tees.

During Inferno Cup play, golfers had more fun because they could play from their preferred tees. But when the system was properly implemented, the ONLY thing it changed was the golfer’s level of enjoyment. The results stayed the same. No correlation between tee boxes and chances for victory. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Discovery Number Two – Inclusion Makes People Happy and Happy People Make a Happy Club.

In my four years at the club, I have noticed how playing golf is more like rushing a fraternity. Cliquish groups invite and exclude people like high school freshmen on a Friday night. In the laboratory of the Inferno Cup, we took the opposite approach. If you were a member of the club and wanted to participate, you were welcomed. We embraced new members, some of whom joined both the club and the Inferno Cup after the Inferno Cup competition had already begun. No one had to beg. No one checked their voting records, their religions, their golfing abilities or any other potential bone of social contention. We were limited only by the amount of daylight available to play the game.

What did we discover in operating in an open and welcoming atmosphere? We learned that Brian Dunigan is a great guy and a good golfer. We found out Jose Leon is sharp as a tack and one of the nicest guys on the planet. We learned Heard Broadrick has a heart of gold and a smile that would disarm a terrorist. We uncovered the fact that Bailey Ogrin is not only one of the best golfers around; he’s also one of the best guys around. We learned Mark Ramser’s sense of humor is so sharp, it can scratch glass. We discovered that Loren Molever has such a quick wit, he has showcased it professionally. By opening up, we helped build many new friendships. We didn’t wait for someone to “prove” himself to “qualify” for inclusion, we assumed the best and without exception, our assumptions understated the warmth and enjoyment that came from meeting so many new people.

Over the course of four months, we experimented and refined our methods and techniques. Together with Mike Nichols and his unwavering dedication to his friends, both old and new, and the tasks at hand, everyone came out a winner. We hope to build on these victories and make our futures even brighter.

Yes, the 2014 Inferno Cup was an immense success. It was a success because of you, the players and participants. You made it what it became.


Author: h. Alton Jones


One thought on “Discoveries in the Laboratory of the Inferno Cup”

  1. Howard, you will be missed. Very missed. The Club has suffered a loss, the impact of which will be felt indefinitely.

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