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What Is Your Real Handicap?


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Some years ago the golf handicap system was changed. The reason expressed for the change was that the then handicap system was too complicated for golfers to understand. The old handicap system was calculated on the best ten of a golfer's last twenty scores based as is the current system.

 

Both systems adjust for unusually high scores on any one hole. The old system never counted strokes over a double bogie. And there was a limit of how many double bogie's were counted depending on the golfer's handicap. I don't remember exactly how many double bogie's were counted, but for example a golfer with a handicap of 15 might be allowed no more than two double bogie's during a round for handicap purposes. Lower handicaps could have fewer, higher handicaps more.

 

For some reason the handicap gurus felt that this was too complicated. So now we have a system that is easier. Under the current system a golfer with a handicap from 1 to 9 cannot record a score on a hole more than a double bogey. However, a golfer with a handicap of 10 to 19 cannot record more than a 7 on any hole, and a golfer with a handicap of 20 through 29 no more than a 8 and so on.

 

This means that on a par 3 hole a golfer with a 10 handicap can record for handicap purposes a 7 or a quadruple bogie. Now you will say that it is unlikely that a 10 handicapper will score a 7 or more, but of course, it happens.

 

My point is this. A 10 handicap golfer plays a par 72 course and shoots his handicap except for two terrible par three holes in which he has to pick up his ball before he finishes so records 7's. So maybe the golfer's final score was an 88. If he does this very often, his handicap will probably rise to 14 or so, but he is still really playing to a 10 except for his two lousy par 3's a round. Guess who's winning all the money in his Saturday foursome.

 

Worse yet are the sand-baggers, who when they know they are out of a hole, knock their ball into the water on a par three so they can record their 7. Now I know the handicap rules assume that all golfers are always trying to play their best, but unfortunately, we all know of golfers who do this. They are usually pretty well known at their golf club.

 

So my recommendation is to return to something like the old system that put more limits on recording a high score on a hole. After all a player with anything more than a double bogie is probably out of the hole anyway. Why not just limit any player's score on a hole to no more than a double bogie for handicap purposes. I believe it would result in much more equitable handicaps for all. And everyone would have more fun playing golf.

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you make a good point ,you articulated your argument very well. good post.

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First of all, thank you for explaining equitable stroke control very clearly. I was familiar with the term before, but mainly as a joke on a certain member of my family who frequently invokes it to keep from writing down numbers bigger than 8.

 

I think you're 100% right about this. Why is limiting players to a double bogey complicated? That seems very simple to me. The "Maximum Score" rule only leads to, as you pointed out, people taking quads to inflate their handicap. It seems that limiting it to double bogeys is both simpler and leads to more honest scoring.

 

As someone who doesn't play in any tournaments/events or cash games (unless I know the people well), this doesn't really have a big impact on my life, but I would like to play in some events next year and I certainly hope I will be playing against players who are my equal, not sandbaggers.

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I thought we were going to talk about having 1 mouth and 2 hands being our handicaps....

 

Good post though.

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Strong 3 wood: Taylormade M1 15* w/ ProjectX T1100 HZRDUS handcrafted 75x
3 Hybrid: Adams PRO 18* w/ KBS Tour Hybrid S flex tipped 1/2"
4 Hybrid: Adams PRO 20* (bent to 21*) w/ KBS Tour Hybrid S flex tipped 1/2"
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LW: 60* Scratch Tour Department (CC grooves) w/ Dynamic Gold Spinner
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Have a ton of back-ups in all categories, but there are always 14 clubs in the bag that differ depending on the course and set-up. Bomb and gouge. Yes, I'm a club gigolo.

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  • 1 year later...

Good post. Sand baggers are true evil so I am on board with your ideas. In the meantime we will have to suffer their wrath. I actually wrote my own rant about this very subject. http://threeguysgolfblog.com/sandbagger/

 

+1 on that. My club was notorious for sandbagging and it got to the point that I absolutely refused to play any events that involved handicaps. We had a group of 6 to 8 guys that should have been low single digits that ran their handicap up to a 9 or 10 in order to place well in handicap events. Each one would manage to have a career weekend in the biggest tournaments of the year....also the one's with the most side cash as well.

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Here is my problem. Well, not as much my problem versus my competetions or my playing partners problem. While I have been working hard to overcome this and made swing changes to become more consistant, I play better the fewer people that are playing with me. When playing in pairs, I almost always shoot in the 70's. I shoot in the 80 with 5 people and with 6 I end up in the high 80's. However, I never record more than a double bogey. Honestly, I rarely score more than a double bogey. I usually have at least pick up for double. When I play badly it is not because I have blow up holes with 7 or 8 or more, it is because I have multiple doubles.

 

I seem to have overcome this problem by developing a better routine before each shot, but this lead to an inflated handicap last year. But when I would get in a tournament with few people on the green I would play much better than my official handicap.

 

Having said that, I did have a 12 on a par 4 several months ago, but I think it got entered as a double.

 

In both groups that I usually play with double bogies are as bad as you can do.

 

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All my h/c cards are tournament/competition cards.

 

Sounds like your ESC differential maybe a little different from what we use. Using your 10h/c as an example. They can make a maximum of a 6 (or triple on any other hole) rated a stroke index hole of 1-10. If the hole (par 3) is is rated 11-18 the most they can make is 5 (double any other hole).

 

To count a quad counting towards your h/c down in this part of the world, you would have to be at least on a 19 h/c and even then only on stroke index hole #1.

I have a revolving WITB policy.

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Yikes...

 

I keep trying to decide if I want to allow myself to get caught up on handi caps or not... I work on the weekends, so there aren't too many tournaments and stuff that I can play, I don't know if it really matters for me.

 

I'm must consistently amazed that with smart phone technology, they don't just get rid of the human factor and have everything entered into your phone, and the software could track your handicap and know what to count and what to cut off without you having to think at all.

 

I guess that doesn't help when someone's working to inflate their handicap, but it would make worrying about how many doubles and such to count a lot less "confusing"

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is no system that will stop a cheater from cheating, so there is no reason to try to develop a system to prevent it. ESC is not designed to deal with sandbaggers any more than the old system was. If someone is going to cheat, they will find a way.

 

My understanding of ESC is that it is designed to mitigate the impact of scoring anomalies on a golfer's handicap. Seems to work pretty well imo, I don't understand the original poster's issue. A well established handicap is fairly resistant to upward change. A few bad rounds are never going to be factored into the equation. So neither will a few bad holes that comprise those bad rounds. If a score truly is an anomaly, then it will not have an impact, nor should it. If the bad scoring is a regular occurrence, then it will start to move the handicap upwards as the lower rounds fall out of the calculation and are replaced by rounds that include those bad scores.

 

Its the 10 best scores that count. If you want to see some crazy stuff happen to your handicap, try shooting near or below your handicap in a tournament round or two! Then the real suck begins!

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I help run a Saturday morning golf Association that has 75+ members. There are 4 of us that run the weekly games.

 

Our Ass'n has a general rule, that all golfers, regardless of their handicap must pick up at double bogey.

 

We play +/_ net points based on a Modofied Stableford System as follow:

 

Bogey 1

Par 2

Bidie 4

Eagle 6

 

 

On a Par 72 course (which ours is) the total of the gross score plus points is always 108, unless they have a Birdie. So when the scores are reported, it is easy to ensure that the scores and points jive. We pay 25% of the # of players based upon the net +/- of their weekly points average. We have a max of +3 per week with your average rising 1 point for every +3 and -1 for every -3 with a downward max of -2 per week.

 

This somewhat keeps the sandbaggers at bay.

 

Every 6 months, we hold a 2 day tourney, where each player's points will be based upon their YTD Average for the six months, then their net + points for Day 2 are adjusted by 50%.

 

Currently, we have golfers playing that have their weekly points quota from 5 to 35. So we may have a High Hcapper win as often as a low Hcapper.

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Very well written and I enjoyed the read, however I have a couple of comments about handicap as a whole. I see a few issue in the old system primary being the idea that a max number of double bogies be put in place for all handicaps.

 

First, before I go into a rant about rules and handicap I just want to say that majority of golfers out there are not tournament golfers and out to enjoy the day with friends and smack around a ball a little. Pace of play would be important to these people.

 

I feel that the handicap system as it stands both the one you suggested and the current system are flawed. Let me explain why I feel this way and warning this will get long winded. I think that an Average score is more telling then a handicap number for the simple fact an average calculates ALL rounds to the end score, not by hole.

 

Under the current handicap system more times then not their are more vanity handicaps then sandbagers. This is for two good reasons 'maximum strokes per hole', 'gimme putts', 'winter rules', 'roll them in the fairway', 'ob is a drop with 2 stroke penalty instead of distance and stroke', etc. All of this is designed to speed up pace of play for average golfers and bring in money for the course. HOWEVER, it will turn you into a vanity handicap in no time.

 

If you play all year long always picking up at double bogie as a single digit, 7 as a mid, or 8 as a high then you are not getting a true representation of your ability as a golfer in a tournament situation where max amount of strokes could be a lot higher. I played in a couple tournaments where the max was double par + 1 stroke, 7 on par 3s, 9 on par 4s, 11 on par 5s for all handicaps. Now that still keeps pace of play reasonably fast and gives a better idea of actual ability.

 

I am a single digit the must the handicap software I use will report towards my handicap is double bogie... Lets assume that I shot an 80 on average but the score card is normally 2 holes that have huge numbers instead of spread out over a round. two holes at 4 over par (call it two 8s on par 4s), towards handicap that reduces me to a 76 that I clearly didn't shoot. So the system is already skewed to lower my handicap from my average score.

 

Now on top of that I didn't putt a single putt within 5 feet, hell even tour pros only putt 50-60% (depending on the player average is 55% roughly) how many strokes do you think that I have saved in a round of 80 never putting a putt within 5 feet?

 

So if you ever wounder why people can't play to their handicaps in tournaments it is because they don't hole out as much as they should. The idea of not holing out and taking 'max handicap strokes'. 'gimme putts', 'preferred lies', 'taking improper relief of a drop' when you practice will do nothing but harm you when tournament time comes. All of this that you can no longer do would probably put majority of golfers AT LEAST 10 strokes more then what their average score is and handicap that is given to them.

 

The biggest rule violations are these for an average golfer. If you are playing me for money or we are in a tournament I would call you on any of them you are in violation of. It is nothing personal but when the words 'money' or 'tournament' get involved I am out there to protect myself and the field from Rule violation cheating.

USGA Rule Book --> http://www.usga.org/Rule-Books/Rules-of-Golf/Rule-01/

Rule 3-2: Failure to Hole Out

Rule 13: Play the ball as it lies (specifically 13-2: Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play)

 

So if you truly want to be honest with yourself and your golfing ability to get a true idea then you should treat every round like it is a tournament round or money is on the line. 'Practice like you play' as the old saying goes don't get into bad habits.

 

Call me a traditionalist or whatever you want but that's how the PGA Tour works... holed out and no max score, just think how damn good they are when they are forced to play by the rules to a T?

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Your handicap is not supposed to represent your ability, it represents your potential.

 

If it represented your ability they would count every score not the best out of 10.

I have a revolving WITB policy.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Good post. Sand baggers are true evil so I am on board with your ideas. In the meantime we will have to suffer their wrath. I actually wrote my own rant about this very subject. http://threeguysgolfblog.com/sandbagger/

 

+++ One of the leagues I play in was plagued by this issue. We found that a good answer was to combine a match/medal play format. Since any attempt to sandbag has some consequence on the medal play point distribution, the end result was to eliminate the incentive to sandbag for at least 80% of all rounds. Of course, the same mentality rears its ugly head toward the end of a season where some golfers are essentially eliminated from contention. They then decide to throw away the last few weeks in an attempt to build up their handicaps for NEXT year.

 

However, considering all the sins of golf, I would gladly take a dozen sandbaggers and trade a dozen slow players anytime (and include a high draft choice). Five hours and fifteen minutes to play a 6500 yd course at a 112 slope will get a driver flung faster than a snap hook into the trees. Watching some idiot who struggles to break 95 waiting in a par-5 fairway with 250 to a heavily bunkered green baffles me.

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My handicap is 2 hands and 1 mouth. The more I drink the better I seem to play.

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Driver: TaylorMade M2 (2017) w/ Project X T1100 HZRDUS Handcrafted 65x 
Strong 3 wood: Taylormade M1 15* w/ ProjectX T1100 HZRDUS handcrafted 75x
3 Hybrid: Adams PRO 18* w/ KBS Tour Hybrid S flex tipped 1/2"
4 Hybrid: Adams PRO 20* (bent to 21*) w/ KBS Tour Hybrid S flex tipped 1/2"
4-AW: TaylorMade P770 w/ Dynamic Gold Tour Issue Black Onyx S400

SW: 56* Scratch Tour Dept(CC grooves) w/ Dynamic Gold Spinner
LW: 60* Scratch Tour Department (CC grooves) w/ Dynamic Gold Spinner
XW: 64* Cally XForged Vintage w/ DG X100 8 iron tiger stepped
Putter: Nike Method Prototype 006 at 34"

Have a ton of back-ups in all categories, but there are always 14 clubs in the bag that differ depending on the course and set-up. Bomb and gouge. Yes, I'm a club gigolo.

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  • 1 month later...

Again I'm new here so just catching on - A couple of things on handicaps - they are only as good or accurate as the player reporting the scores and they most definately reveal potential which is why most golfers only play to their handicap about 20 percent of the time. If you are fudging on your handicap but not always holing out, improving your lie or whatever other means of not following the rules you won't even make it to that 20 percent mark but you're only hurting yourself. Sandbagging is supposed to be dealt with by tournament committees - we all know it happens - at least it doesn't in the league that I play in - we play modified stableford, play everything down, putt everything out, individual score - if for some reason a player is suspected of sandbagging one of the league officers plays with them for a time - we had two guys suspended from the league last year for sneaking out to play early - before the greens were aeorated. I love this league - keeps everyone honest -

 

I'm happy to report that my league handicap index and my USGA handicap index are currently within .2 of each other - 2.5 to 2.3 - the league one is up because our season just started and I had a bad score - it always ends up identical to my USGA handicap - means I'm doing a good job of playing by the rules when I'm not in league.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Prime example Jmiller. It's been a while since I've taken a proper drop. Until recently, I was just tossing the ball in the general vicinity and continuing play. A couple of weeks ago, my ball rested against a chain link fence. I took an unplayable. I took out my driver and measured two club lengths no closer to the hole, which should have moved me far enough away to get a full back swing - right?

 

Wrong. Problem is I measured too far back at a angle and the drop ended up too close to the fence. I ended up double bogeying the hole. I learned a good lesson, but would have hated to do that during a tournament.

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I'm basically fan of the handicap system, but mostly because it almost always works for me (financially speaking). I play by the rules (I don't fluff lies, I take proper drops, and I don't intentionally miss putts I don't need to make), but I'm also part of that low percentage that revkev mentioned that almost always shoots his handicap.

 

 

From my perspective, the problem with the Handicap System is that while it's supposed to represent a given golfer's potential, it's not complex enough to represent actual potential with considerations for penalty shots and on-course stupidity - and it doesn't translate as well as it should for match play competition (which, incidentally, is how the majority of competitive golf is played).

 

The system works as designed for most of the guys I play with/against (often to their detriment). More often than not those poor bastards never have to take their ESC limit for a hole, but will card mostly 5s, and a 6 or two..maybe 3 over the course of a 9 hole match. What makes it unfair is that...

  • I'm much longer off the tee than 90+% of the guys I play with regularly
  • I'm a better iron player
  • On a marginal day I'm still an above average putter...and when I get hot it's not unusual for me to get through 9 holes and only putt 12 or 13 times
  • I don't make make many sixes. I make pars, bogeys, the occasional birdie, and when I don't, I make 8s, 9s, and sometimes a 10. It can be a killer in a stroke play competition, but in match play a pair of 9s, and a pile of pars is almost always going to win (especially when you're getting strokes).

Where they have an (fair) advantage:

  • Most of the guys have better short games (I swear...touch with a wedge must be part of a retirement package, because it seems like the older the golfer, the better the short game). My short game is occasionally brilliant...kick-ins all day long, but I also have horrific days where I have to hit a wedge 2 or 3 times just to leave myself a 30 footer.
  • While part of me would tell you the guys I play with lack imagination, the truth is most of them play smarter than I do. Course management is a huge weakness of mine, and as GolfSpy X and I were discussing the other day, wisdom is the hardest golf skill to acquire. I still hit driver when a 3-wood or hybrid would put me in good-enough position (our testing numbers suggest guys like me are only marginally more accurate with a wedge than with an 8-iron, so even an extra 30 yards isn't always what it's cracked up to be). And I'll stick with the driver even on days when I can't hit it anywhere but sideways (which is how I shot a 103 two weeks ago). I still hit flop shots when I could probably get it close with an ordinary chip. When I'm in trouble I'll still try and hit a 5-iron through a 2-foot window instead a wedge through a 20 foot opening if it means there's a chance I could play my next shot from 30 yards farther up the fairway.

In hindsight it's all pretty stupid, but it's how I taught myself to play the game, and old habits are difficult to break.

 

When I play a little smarter, or when I stay out of trouble off the tee, it's simply not fair. Last Thursday my driver was extremely well behaved, and apart from a couple of hiccups, I played well. Last night I only hit the driver on two holes (one worked out great...the other I hit two shots OB and had to pick-up). The rest of the time I hit the fairway wood...hit all but one fairway, and apart from one of those chipping nightmares, never made worse than a bogey. The combined 9s went in the computer as an 84, which I believe is 9 strokes better than my handicap right now.

 

Now if we make a leap and assume that if I kept my head out of my arse on the two worst holes... a marginal chip on the par 3 I blew up would have saved me 2 strokes (assuming I make a bogey). If I hit the fairway wood instead of the driver on the two penalty shot hole, and assume bogey again (when I keep it in play off the tee I always make par or bogey there), then I'd have an 80 on the card. And while I've never shot an 80 before, if I'm being brutally honest, and slightly arrogant, while perhaps not 100%...80 sounds like a much more reasonable estimate of my potential than the 93 the handicap system says I should aspire to, but then again...I did just shoot a 103.

 

Here's the other problem with the handicap system...while I can't tell you if there is a better way to account for differences in course difficulty than a slope rating, I can tell that it simply doesn't work very well. My home course is extremely difficult by local standards. Many holes are narrow, all 18 have white stakes, and a few have them on both sides. The rough is thick (really thick right now...they've left it high since the US Open Qualifier we hosted last month), and where there isn't rough, there's 3 foot high heather. Basically, if you're not in the fairway, your nowhere, and a drive that's 25 yards offline, is often OB. That's all supposed to be adequately represented in the slope rating, but again...it doesn't translate to my game. The majority of my lost strokes come from balls OB...most of the rest come from poor chipping. Eliminate either from the equation, and I'm going to beat my handicap every time.

 

With the exception of a single area golf course (Saratoga National), my course handicap is probably going to be 2, maybe 3 strokes lower, but on an average to slightly below average day, I'm going to be at least 5 strokes better, and on a good day, I'll be closer to 10 strokes better.

 

Why? Because almost anywhere else in my immediate area is going to provide me with an almost infinite margin for error. A shot that leaves me with a stroke+distance penalty on my home course may leave me with an 8-iron into a green (from a parallel fairway), or better still, from tightly mowed "rough". 160 yard par 3s are practically charity when you consider my course has 2 that play over 200 yards (some guys can't reach them with their drivers). The rough is almost always shorter, and there's never any heather. Last year I played one of those other courses...sprayed my driver all over the place (I think I hit 2 fairways all day), didn't have much of a short game, putted poorly, and still shot 3 strokes below my handicap.

 

Conversely...the members love it when they're playing for money against a guy whose index was built on another course. It's truly like shooting fish in a barrel. The extra 3 strokes he may be getting doesn't come close to offsetting the actual change in difficulty...especially if you don't know where you need to place the ball on the fairway, or where the safe bail-out zones are.

 

You may recall one of our testers (Dan). He currently plays to a 3. He was a 5 or so the first time we played my course together. We don't play for money, but his first trip out on my course, I beat him by 2 strokes...straight up. Granted, he didn't have his best game, but I think it illustrates how poorly the slope system actually translates.

 

From my financial perspective, the handicap system works great...and as I said...I play honest golf. While it's supposedly designed to account for blowup holes, and to represent a golfer's true potential, from what I can tell...at least on the higher end of things, it only works as designed for the guys who seldom make worse than a double-bogey. It doesn't do a good job with guys like me who rarely take a double on a par 4. It simply doesn't level things out if you're forced to play against a guy who makes 3s, 4s, 5s, and a couple X9s.

 

 

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From my financial perspective, the handicap system works great...and as I said...I play honest golf. While it's supposedly designed to account for blowup holes, and to represent a golfer's true potential, from what I can tell...at least on the higher end of things, it only works as designed for the guys who seldom make worse than a double-bogey. It doesn't do a good job with guys like me who rarely take a double on a par 4. It simply doesn't level things out if you're forced to play against a guy who makes 3s, 4s, 5s, and a couple X9s.

 

The problem is complexity of maintenance. Handicaps based upon total scoring work great for sports like Bowling where every frame and every lane meets the same core complexity and layout. It truly is an apples to apples comparison, so an average based upon a total score is perfectly sound.

 

The reason it doesn't work in Golf is that you cannot even play the same course three days in a row and get the same conditions and layout. Slope simply cannot account for that, or as you point out, the guys that shot par for 6 holes and then put up a pair of double pars with a mental mistake, that compounds itself (my personal nemesis is the misjudged the distance and bombing 10 yards past the green from my personal no man's land between 90-110 yards).

 

And that is the biggest problem with the current handicap system, is that it really does favor a group of people that can and will play par/bogey golf of 14 holes and have 3-4 brain farts per round that inflate a total score. I know that I fall into this category, and my score history clearly shows it. In my current 18.6 index, I have rounds from a low of 76 (on a par 70 @ slope 128) to a high of 105 on the same course. That kind of scoring disparity plays hell with the average less high/low formats that work so well for other sports.

 

I know that a lot of the 'games' that are so popular try to work around some of these issues to bring some balance to the better players, through the use of modifications like "80% of handicap" or "no shots given on par 3's", but this is an imperfect solution, because it still puts the bias heavily towards the erratic guys that are entirely capable of hitting 4's on par 5's where they get a stroke.

 

But I think there is another issue that really plays into this.

 

How many rounds are being played will playing side games that favor a high risk/reward style of play, like a skins game, or other per hole side game. These games are fun, but they lead players to play for the hole and not the round. This further affects the round scores, as the high risk, cut the dogleg over the trees shot is a low to medium percentage shot, but if it plays... So the player takes the high risk shot, fails, take the penally strokes and plays it straight, adding 2 to the round score on the possible hole win.

 

In short, I don't know that the system is great, but the complexity of tracking handicaps by hole averages rather than total score would certainly improve the system, but managing a slope rating on a per hole basis, along with entering scores per hole, is simply too complex and too much burden for most players.

 

So while it is not a perfect system, I do not know that there are viable arguments for much real change.

Dru - Owner, President & Janitor, Druware Software Designs

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How many rounds are being played will playing side games that favor a high risk/reward style of play, like a skins game, or other per hole side game. These games are fun, but they lead players to play for the hole and not the round. This further affects the round scores, as the high risk, cut the dogleg over the trees shot is a low to medium percentage shot, but if it plays... So the player takes the high risk shot, fails, take the penally strokes and plays it straight, adding 2 to the round score on the possible hole win.

 

 

 

This is an excellent point. There are times when, after a couple of horrible holes, I've basically shot myself out of contention for any points in my Thursday night league. It's stroke play, so while a 7 is as high as I can put in the computer, for league purposes, I still have to put a 9, or a 10, or one time, a 14 on the card. If I do it once, I might still pick up a couple of points...twice, and the round is blown... except...

 

skins are still in play, and when they're the only thing to play for, yeah...I'll hit driver on a narrow par 5, and then hit a 3 wood over water to try and get on in two. I'll go after every pin, no matter how well protected, and basically do whatever the hell I can to salvage a shot at taking home some money.

 

Fortunately...and I can't say how common this is elsewhere, I have a regular foursome in my Thursday league. It's stroke play against the field, but within the group it's team match play (losers buy winners a beer). A healthy percentage of the membership knows about the standing bet, so more than winning a beer, there's a tremendous amount of pride at stake. Winning the match means more than the league. The matches are always close, and that forces me to keep things mostly in check. The once exception...the 9th is reachable with a 280 yard drive. It's downhill, and I can get it there. It's OB on both sides, so it's the ultimate example of high risk, high reward. If my partner is in good shape, or if we've pressed, I will pull the driver...and I have made 9s and 10s because of it.

 

 

 

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