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?”

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.

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”

August 15th – Book Release

Cover Front WebHow to Cheat in Golf – Confessions of the Handicap Committee Chairman is a light-hearted treatment of a serious subject. In his discussion of cheating on and off the golf course, author (The Man on the Bench) h. Alton Jones identifies numerous techniques golfers use to game-the-system. In the past, exposing the sandbaggers hasn’t been an easy task. Jones has developed and explains a number of techniques that can make it easier for golfers to identify and expose those who seem to win over and over again while defying the odds. It’s a fast and easy read that will appeal to every golfer who has ever lost a nickel on the course. It makes a great gift for your golfing partner, the Handicap Committee Chairman or the District Attorney.

How to Cheat in Golf – Confessions of the Handicap Committee Chairman is available through Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and other fine booksellers in the United States and Europe.

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.