Back to Basics
by Ron Gaines, GAM Handicap Chairman

All golf clubs must complete a GAM/USGA certification process by November 2011 or lose their ability to use the USGA Handicap System. In traveling the state, I’m asked a lot of really great questions. Here’s a “Survival Guide to the USGA Handicap System.”

Q: What’s the purpose of the USGA Handicap System?
A: Think about it this way: I can’t hit a Justin Verlander fastball or guard LeBron James, but I can play a match against Tiger Woods and have a fair chance to win. The system allows golfers with different abilities the opportunity to compete evenly.

Q: Why is my Handicap Index different than my Course Handicap?
A: A Handicap Index reflects your potential ability (what you should shoot about one in every four rounds) on a course of standard difficulty (one with a slope of 113). A Course Handicap is the number of strokes you need to play to the Course Rating for a specific set of tees. It’s calculated using your Handicap Index and the Slope Charts. Your Handicap Index is transportable, and converts to a Course Handicap.

Q: I get 15 strokes at my home course. Why would I get 18 strokes at another course?
A: Because the other course is harder (has a higher course and slope rating). If you play an easier course (one with a lower course and slope rating) you’ll receive fewer strokes. Be sure to use the conversion charts (starting on page 111) whenever you play at a different course.

Q: If I pick up on a hole, I record my Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) maximum, right?
A: Not exactly. Record your most likely score. That’s the number of strokes you’ve already taken, plus in your best judgment, the number of strokes you would need to complete the hole more than half the time. ESC is applied after the round and is only used when the actual score (or most likely score) exceeds your maximum number.

Q: I lose a match, 4 and 3, and we don’t complete 18 holes. Do I turn in a score?
A: For the holes you did not play, record a par plus any handicap strokes you would have received using your full Course Handicap. If you’re playing in a tournament that is based on 80 percent of a handicap, you might be entitled to a stroke for handicap purposes even if it’s not marked on the scorecard.

Q: If I go to Florida in January to play, do I have to post that score?
A: Yes, any round played in an area that has an active season must be posted. If you played on Thanksgiving in Michigan, you would not post a score because it’s not during our active season. (Click “Handicap” at gam.org for the 2011 revision schedule).

Q: I spend the winter in Arizona and post all my scores to my Michigan Scoring Record, but my club does not want to use those scores. Is that OK?
A: No. Your club is licensed to use the USGA Handicap System with the understanding that it will follow the complete system, not pick and choose. Usually, you’ll see this type of practice at a club that does not have a Handicap Committee (or has a very weak committee).

Q: Can my Handicap Index be reduced in other ways?
A: Yes. The Handicap Committee has the ability to adjust your Handicap Index if it does not reflect your potential ability. For example, if you started as a 26 handicapper and improved more rapidly than the system could react, the committee should lower your Handicap Index. The committee should also adjust the handicap of a golfer who scores much lower in tournaments than in informal play. See section 10-3 in the USGA Handicap System manual for a more lengthy explanation.

Q: I had bypass surgery during the offseason but am starting to feel better. I’d like to play in our club’s opening event. Can I ask to get more strokes?
A: Sure. The committee would be justified in making an upward modification to your Index — but only for a specific period of time. You are going to get back to 100 percent and the guys don’t want you taking their money all year.

Q: We have one player who continually stretches the limits of the Handicap System and is not posting all of her scores. What can we do?
A: This is the ugly but necessary part of the Handicap Committee’s job. The committee has several options: (1) Track the player down and make sure the scores are posted. (2) Declare the round a penalty round, and post a score for her equal to the lowest differential in her last 20 rounds. (3) If it’s an ongoing problem, the committee should modify her Handicap Index to a level they feel is correct. (4) If the player has not been following the USGA Handicap System deliberately, her Handicap Index can be frozen at a certain level or withdrawn completely. The Committee could decide to withdraw or issue a new index until she comes into compliance with the USGA Handicap System.

Q: We are planning to attend a Handicap Seminar at Lost Lake Woods in June. Our PGA Professional along with a board member and Handicap Committee member are planning to attend. We would like our PGA Pro to be certified and serve as the Handicap Chairman. Is that OK?
A: The confusing answer is yes and no. The pro can certainly attend (he’ll even get PGA continuing education credits). He can also get USGA Certification and serve on the Handicap Committee. However, he cannot be the Handicap Chairman. Think of it this way: He is in the business of servicing and selling to all your members. How would it sit if the pro had to go to  Mr. Sandy Bagger and say, “We need to reduce your Handicap Index for the men’s invitational.” I think you get the point. The USGA does not want to jeopardize the PGA pro’s relationship with members. For those of you who have been a little frustrated or confused by the handicap system, I hope you have a much clearer understanding. Remember it just takes a few concerned members to make a significant change at your club.

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