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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, handicaps are part of the amateur golf existence. The governing body for golf in the United States is the United States Golf Association. The USGA was founded in 1894 and shortly thereafter in 1911, it was deemed necessary to establish a system that created an even playing field for amateurs of all skill levels. For nearly 70 years the handicap process was an inexact science to say the least. For the most part individual golfers just issued their own handicaps to themselves. Improprieties and abuse were policed by golf professionals and local golf committees. Widespread discontent with the established “system” led to a decade long review that commenced in 1979. The new handicap method took into account new variables. The slope rating now examined the difference in difficulty level among different golf courses. Also, the difference between casual and tournament rounds were studied and calculated in the new arrangement. The result is the current system that requires a PhD in Astrophysics to understand in its entirety. Let’s just break it down like this; a golfer’s actual 18 hole score minus his or her handicap should roughly get the number back to the 18 hole par for the course. If you have a bumper sticker on your car that says you’d rather be driving a Titleist, then you might be scoffing at my oversimplification of the handicapping system. Let’s put the slide rulers and Stimpmeters away for a moment and reexamine handicaps with a more amusing and entertaining approach.
I get the jist of this “handicap” thing. In a nice, neat, perfect world it’s a beautiful thing to have all golfers begin from the same starting block. I get that. I can shoot 2 under from the tips and some chump can fire 98 from the mortal tees and I can owe him drinks after looking for his wayward tee shots in the shrubs for four and a half hours. Hmmm…IS this fair? Genetics, advanced motor skills and an ample amount of eye hand coordination for the most part dictate your ability to achieve low scores in golf or any sport for that matter. My dad can get a golf ball in the air once in a while and my Mom is the best athlete that never was. I also have hit 8.2 million range balls between the ages of 12 and 27. Do these factors coupled together relegate me to forever be locked in death matches with 74-year old seafood wholesalers? Can there never be separation in a match based on ability alone?
The system has provided us three distinct characters that have evolved from the creation of this equal playing field scenario. First, and most dubious, is the sandbagger. The sandbagger obviously chooses to falsify his scores and error on the high side or omit good scores to pack on extra strokes to his/her handicap. The motivation is obvious. The sandbagger wins more matches. I never understood this creature because being a proud individual, I would never want someone to see that I was an 18 when I was a legit 12. Would you tell a potential date on Myspace© or Facebook© that you tipped the scales at 275 when you were really go 210? C’mon, folks. How about a little pride and integrity?
Next is the anti-sandbagger. This individual enjoys cruising the locker room and driving range telling fellow golfers that he/she is a four when the last time they broke 80 was off the red tees at an executive course in Myrtle Beach. I get it. You are searching for approval from your peers, but is it worth losing every bet before you tee it up on the first hole? Oh, and by the way, those of us with a golf IQ over 100, the gig is up. We have always known you can double you posted handicap to find a true measure.
Lastly, is apathetic golfer guy. This person shows up in the pro shop and explains to me that he needs a form signed validating his handicap for a scramble in Vegas that is rapidly approaching. Usually this person plays an ample number of rounds but can’t be bothered to put the scores in the book. He pleads his case to me that he is a 14 when he is really a 10 or so. Apathetic golfer guy also usually fits into the sandbagger mold. How do I handle the situation being a golf professional? I tell the individual that we settle on 14 and then I mail him in as a 9.
What have we concluded from the rants and raves of a grumpy golf professional about the good, bad and the ugly of golf handicaps? Not much I suppose. Low handicappers will always grumble about giving two shots to a hack on a par three and dudes that can’t get the ball in the air will always be battling for more juice on the first tee. Handicaps do keep the game interesting and allow for blaze battles between golfers that can hit 300 yard drives on a rope and folks that make divots while putting. I think that the 74-year old seafood wholesaler understands the difference between our skill sets, so after a little perspective, I think I’m happy to buy him a Bacardi and Diet Coke after our round.
Thank you to Josh Cupp – Casa de Campo’s newest Golf Professional for contributing this article.