Is a golf handicap organized cheating at its finest?
by Ron Gaines, GAM Handicap Chairman

I read something the other day that started me thinking — which is fairly unusual, in and of itself. Usually the only thing I think about is my next trip out of town to officiate at a tournament, or where to go for dinner.

A fellow went to re-establish his handicap with a local golf association (not the GAM) after a period of inactivity. Getting started with the process, he selected a club to join, paid his fee and, after playing a few rounds, logged in to post his scores. The number he was about to acquire, his handicap index, was what he shot in relation to the course ratings of the courses he had played. So far, so good!

When he logged into the association’s Web site, big, bold letters across the top of the screen read: “A score is not eligible if the player plays with nonconforming clubs or balls.” That was the major warning? That’s what the association and Handicap Committee at his new club was worried about? That he might make a putt or hit a drive with a hockey stick a la the Happy Gilmore movie?

He thought long and hard about that statement — and about the fact that a person can enter whatever score they want with almost no oversight! Maybe, just maybe, that might be the bigger problem. He stood outside and gazed past the beer carts and the disgruntled suspicious dude picking up the range balls, and into the clubhouse. There, in the midst of the
schmoozey grill room crowd, loomed a very large elephant that no one seemed to see. Instead of presenting a scorecard signed and attested by several people — to an  actual “human,” like in the old days — a person can now enter their score at a kiosk ... alone!

Imagine — among the thousands of people entering their scores after a round, a select few might stumble across the notion they can be whatever handicap they want to be. “Let’s see, I shot 91 today, but I want to be a single digit. I know that if I had concentrated a bit more or didn’t rush, I would have made a few more putts. What the hell, I’ll just make that number 81, because that’s what it should have been.”

It’s like a group of toddlers in a room with a big jar of cookies. Sooner or later ...

So where does that leave us? If I can make that number anything, why not inflate it so that when I play in club events I have a better chance of winning a prize?

That’s why they invented the Handicap Committee. Its job is to oversee club members’ handicap indexes — or those of competitors in an event — and to modify those that do not reflect a golfer’s true potential.

At one of our net events a few years back, I looked at the scoreboard and, low and behold, I saw a 58 net score. For the mathematically challenged, a “net” score is obtained by taking the score you actually shot and subtracting your course handicap. For an honest golfer, that final number will usually be around the course rating — a 72.3 or 73.4, for example. Without getting too technical, you can determine that “net” 58 is 14 strokes below a normal course rating. If I’m a 14 course handicap and play my heart out to shoot 86, the 14 strokes I get takes me down to 72 — usually somewhere near the course rating. No one — not even Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson — has carded a 58 in their career on the PGA Tour. Do you really think that a 16 handicap got out of bed, threw on worn khakis, cleaned the grooves in his 1-iron, hopped into his Corvair, and played better than
every professional golfer in the world?

We’ve all heard it: “I had the round of my life”; “I didn’t miss a putt inside of 20 feet”; “Can you believe it? I didn’t miss a fairway all day”; blah, blah, blah. I don’t know how to say this gently, but it has to be one of two things. Either the handicap number he paid to get isn’t based on reality, or he’s plainly and simply a cheater!

Of course, this has been tongue-in cheek. But I hope you can see how important a Handicap Committee is. The job isn’t easy, the hours are long, and the pay stinks! But the rewards are priceless: Each member can walk to the first tee of a tournament knowing he or she has a chance to win.

The lesson of our story? Give the committee at your course a little help. If you play with a person who “forgets” to post scores, remind them or let the committee know. The only way to protect the integrity of the system is for every member to take responsibility. Let’s not have a 16 handicap shooting a gross 74 ... it ain’t gonna happen!
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