Going Native on Ambiente

High GrassWith a few new members and a few whose memories come into and out of focus from time-to-time, let’s review the rule associated with playing out of the “native grass” areas on the Ambiente course at Camelback.

Native grass areas are deemed “lateral hazards”. This means:

  1. YOU MAY NOT ground your club when addressing your ball. You MAY lightly touch the grass, but you MAY NOT do anything that alters the swing path such as taking practice swings that tear or uproot the grass or plants near the ball.
  1. YOU MAY NOT move any loose impediments in the hazard. You MAY NOT brush any rocks or pebbles aside. YOU MAY NOT pick up or move any twigs, pine needles, coyote droppings. You DO NOT get relief from “obstructions” if you’re in a hazard without incurring a penalty stroke. This includes things like the fire hydrant on the ninth hole.
  1. YOU DO NOT get free relief from standing water if you are IN the hazard. That’s sort of why it’s called a “hazard”. After the rains, many of the native grass areas become native rivers. No relief without penalty.
  1. YOU MAY NOT “build a stance”. You can place your feet firmly on the ground, but you may not uproot plants or kick big rocks around while taking your stance.

Relief from a lateral hazard is covered under Section 26 of the Rules of Golf. You have five options:

  1. Play the ball where it lies without penalty and subject to the prohibitions outlined above. Obviously, you have to find the ball to do this. No penalty.
  1. Stroke and distance. Return to the spot from which you hit the ball. You incur a one stroke penalty. If you hit the ball from the teeing ground, you are now hitting your third shot from the teeing ground.
  1. Drop a ball within two club lengths of the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard. You take a one stroke penalty.
  1. Drop a ball within two club lengths of a point on the opposite side of the hazard, but no closer to the hole than where the ball first crossed the margin of the hazard. You take a one stroke penalty.
  1. Drop a ball as far back as you wish on a line from the point of entry and the flagstick. You take a one stroke penalty.

Admittedly, it is called a “lateral hazard”, but this DOES NOT MEAN you can drop a ball laterally out of the hazard. You MUST drop within two club lengths of the point where the ball first crossed the margin of the hazard (assuming you’re taking relief as defined by #3 above).

What are the native grass areas? For most golfers, it’s pretty apparent that the arroyo area on the starboard side of the course is a “native grass” area. However, some golfers lose their clarity when they end up in a little “island” area of native grass. If it looks like native grass, you’re safe assuming it is a hazard. This includes places like (1) the tall grass between the cart path and the sand traps on the left side of the #3 fairway, (2) the grass areas running the entire length of the port side of pretty much every hole on the course, (3) the grass areas above and to the left of the traps on #18, (4) the tall grass area between the cart path and the #16 green, (5) the grassy area above the trap at the end of the dogleg on the #1 hole. These are just a few of the “native grass” areas. If it’s got flowers, it’s not fairway, it’s not rough, it’s native.

A couple of final comments on this topic: if you’re playing the Padre course and hit a ball into a native grass area that’s part of the Ambiente course, e.g., the area behind the twelfth green, IT IS NATIVE GRASS and deemed lateral hazard.

Consider this a “local rule” for The Jones Boyz Group. I don’t recall if Camelback has addressed this issue, so don’t claim it as an “official” local rule for the club without checking. There are areas on the course where the cart path runs through native grass areas. For example, on #3, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 and other holes, there are sections of the cart path with native grass areas on both sides of the path. Technically, with a ball on the path or a ball adjacent to the path where the concrete interferes with your swing and the finish on your $100 club, you are NOT entitled to relief. However, by Executive Decree of the Tournament Committee, i.e., me, we will play with our own local rule. You MAY take relief from the cart path without penalty. However, you MAY NOT take relief out of the hazard. The free drop must be within a club length of the nearest relief from the cart path, but within the hazard.

We’ve got a great golf group and we should be proud that we have fostered a culture where we play by the rules. We don’t improve our lies. We don’t bump the ball. We’re pretty much “by the book”. Hopefully, this helps some of the newer members of the group to stay on the high road.

In the final analysis, the best way to avoid conflicts with these and other rules is to hit your shots into the fairway. I’m thinking about trying that approach. I’m always open to new things.

Why Play the Ball “Down”?

intheroughFrom time-to-time, competitors approach me before a match and suggest that because it rained the day before or the course was over-seeded a month ago or the mower blades need to be sharpened or the tides have been running higher than normal in Malaysia or their grandmothers have been ill or their balls don’t like bad lies or blah, blah, blah. In all but the rarest of circumstances, we elect to play the ball “down”. No winter rules. No improving the lie.

Why? Because the rules of the game say play it down!

However, I don’t opt to play it down solely so I can be a “good boy” and play by the rules. You know me better than that. The rules say “play it down” for reasons. And here they are – straight out of the USGA Handicap System Manual, Section 7-2.

  1. Such a Local Rule conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies;
  2. Preferred lies is sometimes adopted under the guise of protecting the course when, in fact, the practical effect is just the opposite – it permits moving the ball to the best turf, from which divots are then taken to injure the course further;
  3. Preferred lies generally tends to lower scores and a Handicap Index, thus penalizing players in competition with players whose scores are made without preferred lies;
  4. Extended use or indiscriminate use of preferred lies will place players at a disadvantage when competing at a course where the ball must be played as it lies.

In a book entitled “How to Cheat in Golf – Confessions of the Handicap Committee Chairman”, the author (one of my favorites) dedicates Chapter Four to “The Biggest Cheat in Golf”. He makes it clear the biggest cheater is the golfer that takes steps of any kind that result in a unjustified lowering of his handicap index. Bumping your ball, improving your lie, and playing “winter rules” means that the biggest cheat in golf is you!

Let’s play it down.

The Pope and the Slippery Slope

Math ForumulasI recently noticed a posting on the bulletin board of the locker room at the Scottsdale club at which I play golf. Obviously posted by a higher handicap golfer, it heralded the claims of Dean Knuth, “The Pope of Slope”, that low handicap players retain a distinct advantage in head-to-head competition over higher handicap players. Although I have a lot of respect for the opinions of Dean Knuth, I took some issue with the article as printed in Golf Digest. Below is the original piece as taken from the bulletin board as well as my response. I then went into my database of golf matches and analyzed nearly one million head-to-head matches. I’ll present the empirical data upon request. What do you think?

Taken from Golf Digest June 2014 Issue

Another Reason to Ask for More Strokes

You would think that a golfer with a course handicap of 12 would have a decent chance of beating a scratch golfer, provided he was given his full 12 shots. But that golfer has only a 25 percent chance of winning, says Dean Knuth, former Director of the USGA’s Handicap Department. “The USGA set up its system to favor better players with a built-in bonus for excellence,” Knuth says. “It’s a philosophy that handicaps should be based on potential rather than average ability.” For every six strokes in handicap difference, the better player has a one-stroke advantage, Knuth says. So in a match between an 8 and a 14, the 8 handicapper has a 60 percent chance of winning. You might want to remember that before wagering.

But now (as Paul Harvey used to say), The Rest of the Story …

Dean Knuth is unquestionably one of the experts in the world of golf handicaps, however, he may be sugar-coating this one and allowing us middle to high handicappers to cry foul when there isn’t one.

The slight-of-word about handicaps being based on “potential” rather than “average” ability is a semantic dance with roots buried in the “USGA Handicap System”, but those roots are clouded and misunderstood. They are part and parcel of a circular argument that doesn’t make a lot of mathematical sense.

I suspect Mr. Knuth is alluding to the fact that for the purposes of handicap calculation, the differential for any given round is multiplied by 96% which the USGA calls its “Bonus for Excellence”, an “incentive for players to improve their golf game.” On the surface, it appears to favor the lower handicap players. But does it really?

I challenge you to go to the driving range and question one, ten or a thousand golfers as to why they’re practicing. I don’t believe any of them will respond they’re there because of the USGA’s “Bonus for Excellence”. They’re there because they lost two balls in a water hazard the previous day and they can’t afford to lose two more tomorrow. To suggest the “Bonus for Excellence” incents golfers to improve or for that matter that the USGA should concern itself with your level of motivation is delusion.

The “Bonus for Excellence” does tend to mitigate a statistical advantage that the higher handicap players have over the lower handicap players. Generally speaking, the higher the handicap, the greater the variability of scores. A scratch golfer’s net scores generally fall within a couple of strokes of par. A twenty handicap golfer’s net score will usually fall within four or five strokes of par – both over and UNDER. In other words, a twenty handicap golfer has a much higher probability of shooting a net 65 than a scratch golfer.

On any given day, in a head-to-head match, the scratch golfer may have a miniscule statistical edge over the high handicapper. However, it’s not the big edge Mr. Knuth suggests.

In a recent tournament at a nearby club, eighty-eight golfers competed where prizes were awarded to the best twenty-two net scores, i.e., 25% of the field. Slightly more than 20% of the field carried single-digit handicaps. If Mr. Knuth’s claims are valid, wouldn’t you expect the list of winners to carry more than 20% of the single-digit handicapper’s names? Alright, how about close to 20% of the winners come from the group of low handicappers? How would you explain only 10% of the winners being single-digit? The fact of the matter is that of the twenty-two prize winners, not a single one came from the single-digit list. With a closer look at the probabilities, this outcome was not unexpected.

No matter how you cut the math, here’s my conclusion. With all due respects to Mr. Knuth … If you come to me and ask for an extra stroke because your handicap is six strokes above mine, you’ll be talking to yourself. Play well.

Howard Jones

Handicap Committee Chair – Camelback Golf Club

Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

Behind the CurtainI have a much greater understanding of one of the most famous quotes from the 1939 Hollywood spectacular, “The Wizard of Oz”. For I have indeed looked behind the curtain. As a result, rumors fly that I am no longer a member of Gainey Ranch Golf Club. I have received numerous calls and emails asking me if it is true. So allow me to put the rumors to rest. Continue reading “Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain”

Tales from your Handicap Committee

If you’re not a “math guy”, this may be of little interest. Unless that is, you’re interested in reading a simple “how to piece” on how to manipulate your handicap. Before I get started, let me point out that there are those – on and off the Handicap Committee – that don’t believe the “numbers” can reveal anything. What follows is an example of what the numbers can tell us. You be the judge. And yes, this is very real data for a very real golfer at Gainey. It may have been moved to slightly to mask the identity of this golfer, but it is real.

John Doe DifferentialsThis particular member plays a fair amount of his golf on courses other than his home course. The chart below shows his posted differentials for a substantial (read: statistically significant) period of time. The blue diamonds show his differentials when playing on Gainey Ranch G.C. The red squares are his posted differentials when playing at away courses.

A couple of things immediately jump out at you. Home differentials are clearly randomly distributed around roughly thirteen. The actual number isn’t the important thing; it’s the distribution that is significant. You can see they range from a low of around seven to a high of roughly twenty. If you analyze the distribution, it is what you would expect for someone in this golfer’s handicap range, i.e., standard deviation of around three strokes. Ninety-five percent of the differentials should (given the laws of statistics) fall between approximately seven and nineteen. What an amazing coincidence – they do!

Now look at the away scores. Their average is closer to sixteen, nearly three strokes higher than those recorded at Gainey. Does this fact imply handicap manipulation? Maybe – maybe not. It can certainly be argued that Gainey Ranch’s handicap doesn’t “travel well”. I’m confident there’s an element of truth to that. You can also make a case that a golfer isn’t as familiar with away courses and a lack of course knowledge results in higher scores. Perhaps this is true, but how many times can that excuse be used? After all, once you’ve played a particular course four or five times, you should have a pretty good level of familiarity and that excuse tends to evaporate into the morning mist.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s temporarily accept that a three stroke difference in the scoring average is acceptable. If that’s the case, shouldn’t the entire grouping of data points move up approximately three strokes? For this golfer, it does, but . . .

The “randomness” disappears! It’s as if the entire bottom half of the distribution is missing! Could it be that the scores weren’t posted “properly”? Hell yes. That’s one possible explanation. The standard deviation of away postings is approximately one stroke! This seems to be statistically “improbable” (for those of you not paying attention, this is called a gross understatement).

An average differential of sixteen with a standard deviation of one stroke means that ninety-five percent of this golfer’s away differentials fall within the range of fourteen and eighteen. This is well within the “you must be joking” range of statistical probabilities.

There are possible explanations. For example, it could be that by playing a more difficult course with which you have no familiarity whatsoever magically makes you a much steadier and more consistent golfer than you are at home. To me, that’s like saying the more you drink, the better you drive.

There are a couple of other explanations. I’ll sit back and see if any of you come up with them and post them as comments here. In the meantime, I continue to do battle with those who say numbers don’t prove anything and I’ll watch to see how this golfer performs in the upcoming Member/Member tournament. This golfer isn’t alone. He has company. I’d love to say, “If you don’t mind, I don’t mind”, but I do. It’s my job.

The Curse of the Scorekeeper

ScorecardSome say half the club’s golfers are padding their handicaps. Well, if it ain’t me – it must be you. That’s sometimes how it feels. The same guys seem to spend more than their fair share of time in the winner’s circle while some of us have permanent seats in the back row. How is that possible?

We already established the average golfer does more to hurt his own chances of winning than the biggest cheaters in any club – albeit innocently and unknowingly – but that is the reality. Ego handicaps don’t win tournaments. But there’s another guy at the club that hurts your chances more than you might imagine – the scorekeeper.

There are so many misconceptions about scorekeeping, it’s a wonder some guy’s handicaps are within three strokes of the “real” number. If you’re going to be the scorekeeper, consider the following.

You’re playing a best ball of two format. You shoot a birdie three for a net eagle. Your partner’s ball is on the green laying three twenty feet from the hole. He picks up and says “Gimme a seven. That’s the max I can take.” You’re response is . . .

  1. “You bet” as you write a seven on the card.
  2. “Don’t worry. We don’t need you.” You leave his score blank on the card.
  3. “Up your’s Bubba. I’m putting you down for a five.”
  4. “I’m giving you par plus the stroke you get here – a five.”
  5. You say nothing, but write a three on the card knowing the s.o.b. is going to pad his handicap anyway and you’re not going to help.

The one and only correct answer in this case is “Up your’s Bubba.” The “Good Book”, a.k.a., The USGA Handicap System manual, is very clear on this matter in Section 4-1.

“A player who starts, but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke MUST record for handicap purposes the most likely score.”

If you’re living by what the “Good Book” says, you MAY NOT leave the player’s score blank simply because his ball didn’t count in the match. Neither may you simply give the player his maximum allowable score under the rules of “Equitable Stroke Control”. If you do, you’re aiding and abetting in the crime.

There are those who are under the impression that someone who doesn’t finish a hole is to be given par plus any handicap strokes allotted on the hole. NOT so. This technique is to be used if and only if – after the round is complete – the score on the hole is left blank and the player can’t be found or can’t recall what his correct score was on the hole in question. It is the solution of last resort.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit. I’ve heard a number of explanations. At this moment in time, the first fifteen prize money positions on the Men’s Day Money List are held by members of the Kildare Group. What’s your explanation? I suggest to you that the single biggest contributing factor is Dennis Kildare’s insistence upon a rigorous adherence to the Rules of Golf. All putts go into the hole. Scores are properly recorded. No “gimmes”. The ball is played “down”. The odds of the first fifteen positions being held by guys from a group that is comprised of only a third of the Men’s Day golfers are pretty low. But the odds that fifteen guys are conspiring together to cheat for fun and profit are far lower. There’s another explanation. If it’s not coming to you yet, you may want to start reading from the top of this column again.

If you want the handicap system to work and you’re the scorekeeper – know your job and do it per the rules. DO NOT leave scores blank simply because the ball wasn’t counted in the match at hand.

One other thing you might want to do is double-check to make sure the golfers with whom you played properly recorded their scores for handicap purposes (with Equitable Stroke Control – properly applied).

Keep score properly and you may find yourself in the winner’s circle at last.

 

 

 

Handicap Committee Meeting Summary

Three StoogesThursday’s Handicap Committee meeting was lengthy, but highly productive. There were a total of seven golfers reviewed in detail. Under the new review process, golfers are identified not only in the traditional manner, i.e., member “requests”, but also by a number of statistical “triggers”. Exceptional rounds, groups of exceptional rounds and positions on various money lists trigger automatic reviews. One of the golfers under review at the meeting would stun most members, but if your numbers trip the wire, you’re reviewed. “Win the game, take the blame.” No exceptions – fair to everyone. If you’re reviewed, it doesn’t mean anyone thinks you’re cheating. It simply says, “You’ve played well. Congratulations.” And don’t forget, the review process is now “blind”. No voting member of the Committee knows who is under review until after recommendations have been made and acted upon.

There were a number of requests in the “Suggestion Box” located by the posting computer in the pro-shop. Those who identified themselves will receive personal responses. There was one anonymous suggestion of using only Wednesday scores to prepare a special handicap for Men’s Day play. The idea was researched and the Committee agreed that although it had merit, it would be too difficult to implement. It called for an excessive amount of work for an already burdened club staff.

This isn’t to say we didn’t recognize the reason for the request. We did an extensive amount of research on golfer’s handicaps when based upon only Wednesday play. We found that some players do indeed seem to get “luckier” when playing on Wednesdays. We have some of them identified and are taking steps to help them spread out their luck in a more realistic fashion. It is one of many factors that are being looked at closely when the golfer reviews take place. I’m sure this will become more apparent as time goes by and the new Handicap Committee’s efforts get traction.

Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming. The more of us that work together toward our common goal, the greater our successes will be.

One other item of note, the web survey on grass length in the arroyos showed that more than 75% of the membership feels the club is headed in the right direction and supports making them true hazards. There is a new survey on the site. If you have an opinion of fivesomes on the course, be sure to cast your vote at http://www.GaineyGolf.org.