Skins and the Quest for Fairness

GolfSkinsEveryone agrees playing a skins game is great fun as long as you win one. Others say it’s not nearly as fair when you’re not collecting a portion of the prize money. The issue of “fairness” is rarely broached by those collecting money, but often questioned by the empty handed competitors. Let’s take a look at the mechanics of “skins games”, especially as played with our regular group at Camelback Golf Club.

In its purest form, a skin is earned when one player singlehandedly scores the lowest gross score of all other competitors on any given hole. A variation on the theme calls for “carry-overs” where any previous holes not yielding a skin go to the first person to win a skin. If everyone shoots a gross par on the first hole and someone earns a skin on the second hole, he wins two skins, one for the current hole and one for the unclaimed skin on the previous hole. This approach to skins is great as long as all players are scratch or even of equal abilities. Personally, I believe it would be fair to play only gross skins, but only in cases where all of my competitors have handicaps higher than mine. So much for that idea. It’s not going to happen except in a blue moon.

Harbour frustratedThe USGA comes to the rescue with the Handicap System. Handicaps level the playing field, don’t they? Unfortunately, in a skins game where all the players get their handicap strokes where they fall on the scorecard, it doesn’t level the playing field. From a statistical standpoint, high handicap players have much better odds of scoring a net eagle than do low handicap players. If all groups played strictly “net skins”, the higher handicap players would haul a disproportionate share of winnings home. Instead of the high handicappers grumbling with gross skins, the low handicappers will be grumbling.

A common “solution” is to play both gross and net skins games. This calls for a leap of faith where the inequities of the two formats neutralize each other and true fairness is attained. If you believe that’s true, knock yourself out, but I’m not in. The inequities persist especially when a high handicap player runs in that long putt and wins both a net skin and a gross skin on the same hole.

In some cases, groups will play separate gross and net skins games and make participation optional. That may be a step closer to “fair”, but complicates the accounting dramatically. In some cases, one format is optional while the other is mandatory. The end result is there’s one patently unfair game played for higher stakes, while the other game offers lower payouts when those at a disadvantage opt out.Allison frustrated

Within our group, we have attempted to equalize the competition by making participation a requirement to playing in the day-game. We’ve done this by playing what we refer to a “combined skins”. Both gross and net skins are paid, but no golfer can win both a gross and net skin on the same hole. From a statistical standpoint, we believe this is a step in the right direction. To summarize this approach, assume all competitors are playing a par four hole and everyone gets one handicap stroke on the hole. If a player wins a gross skin with a birdie, he obviously will also have claim to a net skin with a net eagle. Not so fast; you’ve won the gross. We’re not paying the net skin as well.

Here is the next move toward true equity. When playing within our group, any participant can completely opt-out of the skins game, but he must announce his intention to do so prior to the day of the competition. Once I receive the request to opt-out, the free market comes into play. I will email all other participants to advise them that one or more skins cards are up for auction. The highest bidder acquires the rights to any skins the person opting out may win. The proceeds from the auction are put into the skins pot and distributions are adjusted as may be appropriate given the new prize money balance. In the past, we have had cards sold for as little as a dollar and as much as twenty dollars when the normal player contribution to the skins pot is ten dollars.

One final twist on the way we play our skins game. For a long time, some participants have suggested we add a “validation” requirement to our game. This means that to win a skin on any given hole, the player must score a NET par or better on the following hole. To win a skin on the eighteenth hole, validation becomes dependent upon the results from the first hole. I have analyzed the results from the past 500 or so rounds of golf to see what impact validation has on our games. Here’s what I’ve found.

  • The number of skins earned is reduced by between 25% and 30%.
  • The size of the skins prize is thereby increased by roughly 30%.
  • The average handicap of a skins winner did not change in a statistically significant manner, i.e., validation appears to put neither high nor low handicapSummers frustrated players in an advantaged or disadvantaged position. It is “fair”.

So why play “validated” skins? You’ll know the answer well when you stand over a three foot putt that is needed to validate the skin you hope you’ll win on the previous hole. Every now and again, even the most inept of us whacks a 35 foot putt into the hole. We shout “Whoopee” while our player partner says, “Hey that could be a skin.” We go on our merry way with fingers crossed.

Now with the validation requirement, the subsequent hole takes on a whole new significance. The adrenalin begins to flow and the excitement level is definitely ratcheted up a notch. Now you’re not only competing against the field, you’re competing against yourself. You’re thinking a little more. Strategy calls for your attention. The competitive juices are flowing and you’re playing golf the way it is meant to be played. Validate and you feel good. Fail and you kick yourself down the path. But there’s always the next match.

Lateral Hazards – A Footnote

Santa golfingThe previous post (Camelback Golfers – Read This or Else; December 14, 2017), has generated far more “interest” than I had anticipated. Almost every response came to me in private rather than as a comment on this blog. After reviewing the responses, I can assure you that we not only have some good golfers in the group, we’ve also got some golfers that carry a sense of humor that can be used like a scalpel to surgically extract the essence of a situation and describe it in a fashion that make my sides hurt from laughter. I can’t share all the comments because they were sent in private. However, I will give the award for best humor to Dr. John Raines. Barbara must spend half her time doubled over in laughter.

I will share one comment and my response to it without mentioning any names (not even my own). One golfer said:

I assume you believe there are those that fudge?

Here’s my response.

“Three answers …

OFFICIAL ANSWER: I’ve had a number of [fill in tactful word for ‘complaints’] about those who (given the benefit of the doubt) don’t fully understand the rules surrounding lateral hazards. As a leader of the pack, I’m obligated to ‘educate’ new and old members alike. (Also, as Handicap Chair, I’m obliged to ‘educate’). Also, as the one with the media outlet (sounds more official than ‘blog’), I have the means to educate. Without exception, no one that complained mentioned any names.

NON-OFFICIAL ANSWER: Hell yes, there are those who fudge. If we were playing for Pokémon cards, most people wouldn’t care. However, money’s changing hands and ‘fudging’ shouldn’t impact that flow. Some people also point out that even if it doesn’t impact the money game, it tends to give the fudgers indefensibly low handicaps. They fear getting stuck with the vanity handicappers as a partner in a match or tournament.


When dealing with lateral hazards, there are frequently going to be judgment calls, especially on the question of “point of entry”. There is no section in the rule book concerning how to make a judgment. I think you learn that as a kid, maybe before. For example, I have seen many times where someone tees off on #8 Padre. The ball clears that water, but just barely. It lands in the grass and rolls back into the hazard. Does the golfer invoke the “two clubs from point of entry, no closer to the hole rule”? Or does he return to the “drop area” thus sacrificing twenty or thirty yards. It depends on whether the ball landed in the hazard or out of the hazard and rolled back in. Here’s the rub; the hazard ISN’T defined as the water. There’s usually a red line of demarcation on the other side of the pond. The ball often lands dry, but in the hazard. If so, back to the drop area. If it lands just past the red line, you can play much closer to the pin. Your call. The kicker is that from 175 yards, it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise landing spot, especially when comparing it to a red chalk line that has been largely eradicated from rain and the freshly grown grass. That call is further complicated by the fact that you’re bent over in a golfer’s curse pose vehemently bitching about the yardage on the cart GPS being wrong.

Nonetheless, it’s a judgment call. Do your best. As a suggestion in keeping with the season, consider the following:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Camelback Golfers – READ THIS OR ELSE!

GodfatherIf you continue to play golf at Camelback and you haven’t read this, a curse will be cast upon you. Your hair will fall out. (Note to those of you with sparse or no hair: In your case, a secondary curse will be administered the results of which are far too gruesome to detail in a public forum such as this.)

It has come to my attention that some golfers continue to be conflicted and/or confused by the rules governing “lateral hazards” in general and in particular, the rules as they pertain to the native grass areas at Camelback Golf Club. Please read this missive and absorb it. Inculcate it both into your conscious and subconscious minds, your ID, your EGO, your memory, your yin and your yang. Kindly understand this so thoroughly that in the event you talk in your sleep, you recite variations on this rule rather than cry out the name of someone with whom you had a love relationship in the past. In that regard, having a thorough grasp of this rule may not only save you penalty strokes on the golf course, it could also save your relationship at home.

ALL NATIVE GRASS AREAS ON THE AMBIENTE COURSE ARE DEEMED “LATERAL HAZARDS”. There are certain God given or natural laws of nature that apply to lateral hazards. Some for your bemusement are:

  1. Your ball is in the hazard AT THE LAST POINT OF ENTRY. It doesn’t matter if your ball is 700 feet in the air, the point of entry is that point where a vertical line straight down from your ball crosses the line of the hazard.
  2. Assuming you find your ball without being bitten by a rattlesnake, ravaged by a coyote, bobcat, or member of the grounds crew, you have the same five options for your next shot that you would if you had hit your ball into a lake. Those options are …
    • Play the ball AS IT LIES.
    • Drop two clubs lengths from the LAST POINT OF ENTRY, but no closer to the hole. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Drop a ball within two clubs lengths of a point on the opposite side of the hazard in line with the LAST POINT OF ENTRY no closer to the hole. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Play the ball from the location of your previous shot. There is a one stroke penalty.
    • Play the ball from any point you wish on a line directly, i.e., straight back, in line with the flagstick and the LAST POINT OF ENTRY. You may legally drop the ball back 800 yards if you’re so inclined (as long as you’re still in bounds), however, this option may have to be addressed in another post relating to mental competence. There is a one stroke penalty.

Things YOU MAY NOT DO if you’re going to play your ball from within the hazard.

  1. You MAY NOT ground your club in such a fashion as to be deemed “testing the ground” or “improving your lie or swing path”. You MAY lightly brush the grass in the course of addressing or swinging as long as it is not done to remove the grass or otherwise improve your swing path.
  2. You MAY NOT touch or move any loose impediments in your swing path or the path of the ball. You MAY NOT move rocks or native vegetation. “I paid two hundred dollars for this club” is not a statement that grants a waiver of the rules. You MAY move unnatural loose impediments such as those that are human caused. For example, you may move an empty beer can that impedes your swing. In fact, if the can isn’t empty, you may drink the contents before and/or after the swing. It may even help. You MAY move or take relief from waste or construction debris that is clearly man made. For example, you can take relief from a pile of mesquite slash having been cut and left for pickup. You may also get relief into the mesquite as long as you are not visible from any residence or by any other golfers on the course. The penalty for such relief is self-inflicted; remember, mesquite thorns are extremely sharp. If you get too close, you will come away with a much greater appreciation for the term “slash”.
  3. You MAY NOT lift your ball to identify it if it is clearly identifiable without lifting. If in doubt, your playing opponent usually has a pretty good eye for spotting your markings. If the ball does have to be lifted, make sure it is returned to the same place it was before the heist.
  4. You MAY NOT take a drop out of the hazard on a line running laterally from the point at which the ball came to rest. This technique is referred to a “desert rules” and is NOT the legal or proper way to take relief. The technique is also referred to a cheating, even if done with the noblest of intentions.

Now that I have hopefully made it clear how to proceed on those rare occasions when your ball unfairly, unjustly and no doubt in defiance of the physical laws of the universe makes its way into a “native grass lateral hazard”, let me take a little extra time to clarify the term “native grass area”.

On the Ambiente course, we have the following eight areas: teeing grounds, putting greens, sand traps, fairways, the rough (you know – those areas that look like the fairway, but aren’t cut nearly as close to the ground), lakes, cart paths and “OTHER AREAS”. If you’re not in one of the first seven, you’re in a “native grass area”. Native grass areas typically have native grasses in them, and sometimes flowers. They also have snakes, mice, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, and raptors, but to keep things simple, we’ll not refer to them as native animal areas; we’ll stick with native grass areas.

Here are a couple of the biggest sources of confusion when it comes to native grass areas. In the event that the following “interpretations” appear to violate the rules or spirit of the game as you may know them, consider them “sub-local” rules for our group only (unless the Club adopts them). They are hereby declared “the rules” as set by the Tournament Committee (me) and Chair of the Handicap Committee (also me).

  1. If a cart path runs adjacent to a native grass area and your ball comes to rest on the cart path or sufficiently close to the edge of the cart path as to cause you to risk injury or club damage, you MAY take relief on the non-hazard side of the cart path – EVEN IF YOUR BALL COMES TO REST CLEARLY ON THE HAZARD SIDE OF THE CART PATH.
  2. If a cart path runs through a native grass area, i.e., native grass areas exist on both sides of the cart path where your ball comes to rest, you may take free relief, however the drop must be made IN THE HAZARD. You must drop within one club length of the point of nearest relief from the cart path. Note this is a “local rule for our group only” and is in opposition to the official USGA position on this question. The USGA says you get NO RELIEF in such situations; you play the ball where it lies – even if it’s on the cart path. You still have all the options available for relief from a lateral hazard, however, it’ll cost you one stroke.

One final (famous last words) comment on the native grass question. If you’re playing golf on the Padre course and you’re ball comes to rest in a native grass area on the Ambiente course, e.g., behind the #12 green, these rules still apply.

I sincerely hope these clarifications make play easier, less stressful and faster. If I’ve missed anything or you have any further questions or comments, hit the comment button and let’er rip!

Also be aware that if any interpretation remains nebulous or ambiguous, resort to “Jones Rule #138”, i.e., all rule interpretations shall be made in a manner that favors the author and his team.

The Rules are The Rules, but …

The USGA has a clearly defined set of rules for the game of golf. Most of our fellow golfers have a pretty good understanding of those rules, at least when there are witnesses present. On top of these rules, players need to be familiar with any “local rules” which may be applicable on any given course. The extent of the rules that govern our play may sometimes seem burdensome and confusing. However, whenever frustration sets in when dealing with those rules, consider yourselves lucky that you didn’t have to play golf at Richmond Golf Club in England in 1940.

According to one source, German planes would fly from Norway on bombing missions. Because of icy weather conditions, the barrels of their guns had a small dab of wax in the muzzle to protect them from clogging with ice. In addition to attacking industrial targets close to the golf courses, after crossing the coast, they would clear their guns by firing a few rounds at the golf courses. Golfers were encouraged to take cover. It is said they also were asked to play by the following rules.


The next time you get a bad lie in the fairway, relax. It could be a lot worse.


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.

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, and other fine booksellers in the United States and Europe.

Five, Four, Three, Two . . .

rocketThe Inferno Cup competition begins Wednesday, May 28th. Come aboard for some great fun and super competition over the next four months.

The Inferno Cup is for everyone. High or low handicap players are welcome. Flexible play dates mean anyone and everyone can fit the game into his schedule.

Sign-up or request more information by contacting the tournament committee at

We have listened to you and spent many hours reviewing the previous Inferno Cup format. We have discovered we can make great improvements. Here they are.

• Inferno Cup play now includes Saturdays. Can’t make it Wednesdays or Fridays? You can now play Saturday mornings beginning June 7th.

• Greater game selection. The size of the field will usually dictate team size and game format. We’ll have a greater diversity of game formats while keeping the field level, fair and fun.

• Point allocations for events have been reworked to eliminate inequalities. A system has been designed that guarantees a fair, equitable and predictable distribution of points. Everyone that plays will stand a realistic chance of winning.

We will have a much larger field this year, but there will be more opportunities to compete. We have a lot of new faces and some outstanding players. It will be exciting and fun. It’s not too late to sign up. If you have golfing friends at the club that have yet to join us, please encourage them to sign up. Now with Saturday golf, even those with nine-to-five jobs can be competitive and join in the fun.

For complete Inferno Cup guidelines and rules, go to and select Inferno Cup from the menu or click here.