Camelback Golf History is Made

Chip smilesWow!!! Those who know me will assure you that it is a rare occasion when I’m left speechless. Chip Nelson created one of those instants Wednesday when I was handed his group’s scorecard. Chip had just obliterated the existing course record for the Ambiente course by shooting a 60 from the Verde tees.

It was a warm day. Winds occasionally gusted to ten knots. The course was in good shape. The stage was set for an 11:10 a.m. tee off in a group with Dr. Jack Summers and Captain Lee Mitchell. The opening hole on the Ambiente course sets the tone. It’s a challenging dogleg with both fairway and green guarded with cavernous sand traps. Chip carded a birdie three.

Chip birdied the second hole and stood on the tee box of the 504 yard par 5 third hole. He was already two under par. He carded an eagle on the third to go four under after three. After another birdie on the fourth hole, Chip just missed the green with his drive on the par 4 fifth. That didn’t appear to hurt him because he chipped it in for another eagle. After five holes, Chip was seven under par!

He settled down a bit and parred the next two holes. On the 210 yard par 3 eighth hole, Chip found the pin tucked in behind the massive trap known for eating golfers and their balls. After a masterful tee shot, he drained the putt for another birdie. He was eight under par after eight holes of golf.

With a par on #9, he recorded an almost unbelievable 28 on the front side.

It’s hard to imagine someone being a bit disappointed to shoot a 32 on the very challenging back nine of Ambiente, but that’s the score Chip had to live with … a mere four under par 32. All golfers come to the scorer’s table with the thought of “If only that one putt would have fallen …” In Chip’s case, he narrowly missed a putt on #18 that would have left him with a 59. Poor guy – he’ll do his best to own up to his record setting and personal best 60. We saw Camelback history made yesterday. A rousing cheer for Chip Nelson for an absolutely spectacular round of golf.

Chip with card
Ten holes with 3 or lower!

All Hail! The Cup is Home

The CupFor the first time in three years, The Camel Cup has been brought home. With sixteen spirited and competitive individual matches and eight tough team matches, the team from Camelback Golf Club defeated Gainey Ranch 15-9 on the Padre course. Camelback golfers had the edge 9-7 in the individual matches. They also prevailed 6-2 in the team matches.

Gainey’s Sam Engel took home low gross honors with a strong 67 from the White tees. Sam’s opponent, Chip Nelson, threw four birdies at him, but he couldn’t quite overcome Sam’s six birdies and fell to Sam one down.

Camelback’s Peter Arena and Gainey’s Bill Petsas shared low net honors with excellent scores of 68. Camelback’s Hans Birkholz and Gainey’s Jr Grow ended up one stroke back at 69.

An interesting sidelight to the match involved the skins match. There was a lot of time and effort invested in putting the competition together. Negotiations between the clubs were lengthy and at times, complex. One of the issues discussed was whether or not the skins should be validated, i.e., where a skin is not won unless the winner gets a net par of better on the subsequent hole. The Gainey team felt strongly that there should be no validation requirement.

When all the cards were evaluated, there were five skins. Jim Mantle (Gainey), Hans Birkholz (Camelback), Matt Flores (Camelback), Bill Burleson (Camelback) and Bill Petsas (Gainey) each walked away with $120 for his efforts. However, had the validation requirement been in effect, only one skin would have been paid and that would have been a $600 skin.  Four out of the five did not validate. What’s surprising is that the four that failed to validate were the players with the four lowest handicaps in the group. The only validation came from the golfer whose handicap was more than double the average of the other four. Jim Mantle would have gone home with $600.

It seemed like all the participants had fun and some new friends were made while old acquaintance were renewed.

A special, albeit mysterious, thanks to Aaron Thomas and Bill Newton. They contributed handsomely to the victory for the Camelback team. Shiloh Hagey also contributed to the effort and as always, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his efforts. Course Ranger Rick Issac did another fine job of player assistance while monitoring the tournament.

Finally, a very special thank you to Camelback member Bob Joselyn who spent hours sitting in hundred degree heat in order to capture some memories of the event.  A few of his images are shown below. Click on any one of them to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Diabolical Plan Rattles the Group!

With an understanding of and an abiding faith in the USGA Handicap System, we have permitted participants in our games to play from any rated set of tees. We have adjusted handicaps accordingly as stipulated by the USGA Handicap System. With literally thousands of rounds of golf to analyze, I can say the Handicap System works. It has its flaws, but by-and-large, it does the job of leveling the playing field as it was intended.

With the said, let’s look at what we did yesterday. Unlike in nearly all of our matches where the arbitrary selection of the “base tees” is the forward men’s tees, yesterday’s chosen base tees were the tips, i.e., the championship tees (Black) on the Padre course. The end result was that anyone moving forward (and everyone did) actually had to give up strokes. For example, Mike Clifton elected to play the forward tees (Yellow). He actually had to give up five strokes to the field. So instead of a course handicap of 20, he had to play with a course handicap of 15. Everyone else in the field also gave up strokes by moving forward. You can see in the images below exactly how many strokes everyone had to yield by comparing the “Hdcp” columns in the two images.

As Played (Black)
Handicaps with the Black tees as base tees
Play yellow base
Handicaps with the Yellow (forward) tees as base tees

When I made the announcement that the “Black” tees would be the base tees, I wrote I did so “… just to cause trouble.” Well, what do you know? It worked. People fretted over which tees to play. “I can’t afford to give up five strokes,” some said. The psychological piece of the pie was a real show stopper. It’s funny to see how traumatic it was to “give back” something, but that it’s never a concern when the base tees are designated as the forward tees. You’re giving up five strokes by NOT moving back to the tips, but that’s not a big deal, presumably because you never had them in the first place.

Truth be known, it really doesn’t make much of difference what your handicap is as long as it is set to a number that reflects your scoring ability relative to the rest of the field. If you’re playing against Bubba and you’re two strokes better than Bubba, you can play scratch and give Bubba two pops or you can claim a handicap of 30 as long as you give Bubba a 32. As further evidence of all this sleight-of-hand, the images that follow show the match results from yesterday with the “Black” tees set as the base tees. Below that, the image shows the match results as they would have been with the “Yellow” tees set as the base tees.  Not much different!

Results as played
Match results – Black tees as base
Results (Yellow base)
Results with Yellow tees as base

 

There is some impact on the prize money in the area of skins. Those who move back may find it a little more difficult to win gross skins. You might be adding thirty or forty yards to your tee shot on some holes. There a good chance that birdies will be a little more elusive when you’re playing another 500 or so yards of golf course. Note that there were four gross skins awarded yesterday, but there would have been five if the yellow tees had been the base set.

A couple other comments are in order lest this diatribe run off the rails. This leveling of the playing field occurs if and only if the following conditions are met

  1. The course rating and slope are property determined,
  2. The course is setup as it was rated,
  3. Player handicaps are “honest” in that they truly represent the player’s ability.

In reality, picking your tee set can give you a slight edge or put you at a slight disadvantage. A thousand-and-one considerations come into play in selecting your best tees. If you’re not a good trap player, pick the tees that take the traps out of play from the tee box. If there’s a strong wind blowing, the shorter course means you’re ball will spend less time in the air being blown around by the wind. There are other examples, but you get the drift.

Also realize that a significant component of a course rating is its length. As a general rule, the course rating increases by one full stroke for every 220 yards of length. If your average drive is 240 yards or longer, you’re basically getting a little extra bonus relative to the course rating and your handicap. Play the longer tees. On the other hand, if you typically hit your drives 190 yards, playing the shorter course is to your advantage from a handicap (not to mention pace-of-play) standpoint. Move it forward.

Golf Erotica for Mathematicians

Math chalkboardI recently received an email from one of our golfers asking for an explanation of the “Odds” column on the Gross Score Report found at the bottom of the “Match Sign-Ups” page on this site. It dawned on me that others may have that same question. What follows is a copy of my response to the email.

If you have something important to do, like watch your grass grow or look for dust bunnies under your couch, skip everything in black below and go directly to the answer in red at the bottom of this diatribe. Either way, let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers.

What time is it, you ask? Let me tell you how to build a watch!

Years ago, the number crunchers at the U.S.G.A. analyzed (I presume) a couple million rounds of golf. They built a chart showing the probabilities that someone with a given handicap index would shoot a particular gross score on a golf course with a specified rating and slope. That chart was published in the USGA magazine and a variety of other places. When I saw it, I was enraptured. (Mathematicians and engineers like me are frequently aroused by statistical challenges. Yes, we’re a strange lot.)

When I saw the chart, I was driven to analyze the data in much greater detail. I called the USGA and spoke with someone in the appropriate department. I asked if they would share the raw data with me. The guy was aghast. “We don’t share our data with the public” he responded with arrogant contempt dripping from his voice. When I told him I wasn’t “the public” that I was in fact a USGA member, he was almost as impressed as if I had told him I was owned a pencil and knew how to use it. He wouldn’t budge. I’ve always been of the ilk that the only challenges worth pursuing are those that aren’t supposed to be possible. The guy just made me more determined than ever.

I set about the task of mapping all the data points from the chart that I thought necessary to accomplish the task. I then performed a nonlinear multiple regression analysis on all the manufactured data. I developed the following formula:
PFunc
With that formula, I can produce a reasonably reliable estimate of the probability of a person shooting a given score.

Since I developed this tool, I have entered many tens of thousands of rounds of golf into my personal database. The formula has proven to be quite accurate when applied to my database, so the snooty dude at the USGA can go suck on his own database.

Needless to say, my formula – like the USGA predictor – is contingent upon a number of assumptions that suggest stasis, i.e., the golfer isn’t in the midst of a series of lessons, hasn’t had his legs cut off and the course is properly rated. Nonetheless, it provides an interesting metric that’s useful in a number of ways, some not terribly obvious. Think about using it as a tool for the handicap police to root out cheaters and sandbaggers.

So, in answer to your question … the “Odds” column reflects the probability that the golfer will shoot the score that was turned in. If the number appears in brackets, it means the number is actually the inverse of the probability, i.e. less than even odds.

One for You Number Junkies

I can’t help myself. Statistics have intrigued me since I was a little kid. I read Darrell Huff’s “How to Lie with Statistics” when I was in the fourth grade. I was calculating the “Earned Run Averages” of baseball pitchers when I was in the third grade. Statistics are my drug of choice. What are the odds?

Stats overallWednesday’s golf match on the Ambiente course was played under the agitated hand of Mother Nature. Winds for most of the competition hovered around ten knots and gusted to twenty for most of the day. For the most part, winds were at our backs for the first ten holes then spit in our faces for the last seven. As expected, some of the players chanted the mantra of how difficult it was to score with the wind whistling as it did. However, I observed no instance where the wind blew only as one particular player put his ball on the tee and stopped when another prepared to tee off. Everyone played the same course under the same conditions. In other words, it was a fair match.

But for the number junkies, it was an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the wind. So like a kid in a candy store, I dug in. Here’s what I found after analyzing 2,606 rounds of golf played from the Camel tees of the Ambiente golf course.

  • Under “normal” circumstances, the back nine on Ambiente plays about a tenth of the stroke easier than the front side. That’s probably not terribly significant statistically – call it even.

 

  • With ten knot winds like we had Wednesday, scores were relatively unaffected when the wind was at our back. You no doubt got a little distance boost, but shot making was complicated by the need to estimate the effective distance. Everything seemed to work itself out with (if anything) a slight increase in difficulty.

 

  • When the wind was in our faces, we still suffered the same complication of estimating correct distances, however, that problem was compounded by the loss of distance when hitting into a headwind. The end result is the back nine played a little over one full stroke harder than the front side. Little slices were big slices; little hooks were big hooks. The back nine played at least one full stroke more difficult than did the front.

 

  • The biggest positive impact on scores when the wind was at our back came on the par five holes. The biggest negative impact appeared on the shortest holes. Yes, with these observations, it’s clear I have a keen sense of the obvious.

 

  • With the wind in our face, the reverse was true, i.e., longer holes issued greater punishments, another revelation of the obvious kind.

 

What can we learn from all this? It’s harder to play in the wind!

Upon closer scrutiny, there probably are some little tidbits that can be extracted from the data that will give you a competitive edge. But in the final analysis, it will undoubtedly amount to the following adage; “smart golf” carries a premium under adverse conditions. You might want to give a little more consideration to club selection. “Grip it and rip it” is NOT necessarily the best advice for windy days.

With all that said, here are a couple of quotes to put in your quiver for defense against number junkies.

“There are three kinds of untruths: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Torture numbers enough and they will confess to anything.”

“Four out of three people have trouble with fractions.”

Finally, one more statistic that conclusively proves it is well within the realm of possibility to play well in high winds. Observe the scorecard. Then congratulate Dr. Bill Yarbrough.

Yarbrough Ace

Don’t Jump! Life Is Worth Living!

hangmans-nooseI pen this missive to encourage today’s competitors to not commit suicide. Yes, it was horrible. Yes, you looked like someone that isn’t ready to play on the big course, like someone who should be sticking to the course where putting through the witch’s mouth is nirvana, where you’re a hero if your first shot gets past the blades of the windmill. Most of you (like I played well) should have been putting with a white cane rather than a $300 putter. But sometimes, that’s the way the cookie bounces. And besides, the way you played today, even if you tried to shoot yourself, you’d most likely miss anyway.

I am a mathematician. To me, statistics have always been more exotic that any porn I’ve yet to see. Today’s statistics were true hard core. Here they are!

Scores20170529

At first glance, they are merely numbers, cold, hard, uncaring numbers. But look closer. Note the following …

The average “differential” was 11.0. “Big deal,” you say? Consider this; the average differential is normally on the order of 3.0 strokes. As a group, we were nearly four times the average today.

The average score was 91.1. With the handicaps carried by the group, the average score should have been roughly 85. The average was six strokes higher than expected!

Under normal circumstances, the average score to handicap is plus three, i.e., three strokes over the difference between course rating and gross score. Generally, about one in five golfers will shoot his handicap or better.

Here are the facts …

No one, not a single golfer shot better than four strokes over handicap today. One golfer (name withheld to protect the guilty) shot 24 strokes over handicap. Another was 19 over handicap.

Why did this happen? Because the course (Padre) was in a bad, very, very bad, mood. The greens were lightning fast, the fairways were as receptive as my first wife with a headache, the wind was constantly changing. I haven’t seen the golf gods this pissed off in years.

Now the up-side …

Everybody had to compete on the same course. If you had a bad day, so did everyone else. The field was level. Quitcherbichen.

Many moons ago – in my days of climbing the big mountains – I learned  that when the mountain’s in a bad mood, she’s not going to have any guests. On other days, she embraces even the novice climbers. Such is the case with a golf course. The Padre was not accepting guests today. If you survived, you did well.

There were some great shots hit out there today. In fact, on one hole (#2), I had six of them.

Wednesday’s another day. Suck it up. Play well. The field is level. If it’s tough for you, it’s tough for everyone. Oh my! I say that, but I’m going to quit golf altogether if I don’t do better, a lot better.

Kennedy’s Flourish Before Winter in Winnipeg

bob-kennedy-kicks-putt
Bob Kennedy kicks in a putt

After Wednesday’s torrid competition, it wasn’t surprising to see scores fall back into the statistically “normal” range, at least for most of the golfers that is. The big exception was Bob Kennedy. Bob recorded a net 63 with an outstanding round on the Camelback Ambiente course. Given his handicap, that’s a better than 200-to-1 odds round of golf. It really paid off in the day game, especially after his partner, Maddie Levy, posted a 10-to-1 odds round. They walked away with half the pot for winning the front side and then escaped with the other half of the pot by winning the back side by one stroke over Jack Summers and Jim Funk.

Speaking of Jack Summers, he continued to play with a hot hand with a one-over-par 73. When his handicap hits bottom, it will probably be the lowest he’s seen in ages.

Low Net

  1. 63 – Bob Kennedy
  2. 67 – Jack Summers
  3. 68 – David Harbour

Low Gross

  1. 73 – Jack Summers
  2. 81 – Maddie Levy
  3. 82 – Bob Kennedy and Howard Jones

The course seemed to play a little tougher – or should I say, less easy – than it did Wednesday. There were only nine birdies in the group. Bob Ewing accounted for one third of that total. Summers, Jones and Bob Kennedy claimed the rest. The scores returned to normal with players averaging three strokes over handicap. The weather was perfect. The course is in great condition. And smiles decorated the faces of all the participants – even Sandy Wiener’s!