Nov
24
2015
USGA reveals changes to handicap system
By Stephanie Wei under USGA

friar's head

On Monday the USGA announced several changes to its handicap system that go into effect January 1, 2016. Usually, no one really cares, but one particular new rule seems to have many golfers up in arms and ready to picket the headquarters in Far Hills, NJ. Which feels like a bit of an extreme reaction, but I’m among the few who don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

So, here’s the deal: The USGA says you can no longer post scores for your handicap if you played alone and your score needs to be attested by someone you played with who also keeps a USGA handicap (because only those golfers are trustworthy!). Here’s the explanation in the media blast: 

  • Playing alone and necessary peer review: To further support the key System premise of peer review, scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable for handicap purposes. This change underscores the importance of providing full and accurate information regarding a player’s potential scoring ability, and the ability of other players to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a posted score. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)

Sandbaggers and those with vanity handicaps are all SCREWED. You can no longer post that “70” you shot when you careered it because no one witnessed it. And you can no longer post that 103 you shot when you had a really, really rough day on the links.

Big deal. How many people play alone and how often do these people do so? I play alone a few times a year — usually when I’m in the UK. But I wouldn’t freak out that I can’t post it to my handicap.

There’s the hackneyed cliche: Golf is a game of integrity. Okay, if that’s the case, then what’s the point of this new rule since, you know, everyone is so honest. On a serious note, I do understand where the USGA is coming from — they’re trying to weed out the cheaters — but I also don’t really get all the outrage I’ve seen on Twitter. I’m up for listening to your gripes and hearing those really random rare scenarios where it might become cumbersome.

“The USGA Handicap System is constantly evolving to ensure that the System works for the game today and tomorrow,” said Steven Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of Handicapping & Course Rating. “As we examine the game domestically and globally, these revisions support the integrity and reliability that millions of players around the world expect of this System. We continue to explore substantive changes as we work toward a World Handicap System in the years ahead.”

I’m probably not so hot and bothered over this new rule because, well, I don’t mind not posting a score if I was playing solo. More significantly, though, as a junior golfer, I only posted official tournament scores. I felt like that was the most accurate representation of my true handicap because I was playing in tournament conditions with actual pressure (and no gimmes!). I didn’t think those 70s I fired while goofing off with my friends in a practice round should have counted as a proper score. Obviously, nowadays, as a casual golfer, it’s a completely different story and I post all my scores (as long as I remember).

Seriously, though, how many people are going to abide by this new rule? I can only imagine the weird conversation if you’re a single paired with a threesome, and at the end of the round, you shake their hands and then ask if they have certified USGA handicaps so you can complete the “peer review” portion and post the score.

Sandbaggers, cheaters and people with vanity handicaps will not be deterred. (Aside: I’ve never understood vanity handicaps since your peers will usually quickly see right through your B.S once they play with you a few times. Perhaps those people just want to sound cool at the office or the bar to say they’re a “2-handicap”.) If they already “bend” the rules or shave/add strokes, then I’m pretty sure they will have no problem posting a score for their handicap even if they played alone. It’s not like the USGA is Big Brother and have people monitoring satellite images of golfers every time they’re about to post an official score — it’s not like this is Augusta National (which has its own unique handicap system, naturally)!

Good news for Canadians, though. Golf Canada will NOT be adopting this particular rule change.

Here are the six most significant changes that will “affect 10 million golfers” who hold a USGA-approved handicap:

  • Definition of a tournament score: Additional guidance is provided to Committees conducting competitions regarding the definition of a tournament score, placing greater emphasis on “significant events.” The definition excludes fundraising events and regular league play, in favor of designated competitions such as a member/guest or club championship, local amateur tournament or national qualifying and competition. (Section 2: Definitions)
  • Adjusting hole scores: A revised decision provides clarity for acceptable scores in limited situations where the player has not played a hole(s) under the Rules of Golf, but his or her score would be sufficiently accurate for handicap posting purposes. Three areas covered under the examples include: 1) where the Local Rule is not in effect, but a player chooses to use a Distance Measuring Device or preferred lies; 2) where a player does not wish to cause undue delay; or 3) where the situation is outside of the player’s control, such as an incorrectly marked golf course.  (Section 4: Adjusting Hole Scores)
  • Posting scores when a player is disqualified: To improve alignment with the Rules of Golf, the revised Handicap System is clearer about what scores are acceptable when a player is disqualified. In general, a score is acceptable for handicap purposes even when a player fails to hole out, or apply a Rule that affects the rights of another player. If the disqualification breach is determined to provide an advantage for the player, the score is deemed unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Anchoring and posting: A new reference concerns a player who anchors the club while making a stroke during a round and fails to apply the appropriate penalty or an adjusted hole score (Section 4-2). Since the score would not be reflected as playing under the Rules of Golf, it would be unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Playing alone and necessary peer review: To further support the key System premise of peer review, scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable for handicap purposes. This change underscores the importance of providing full and accurate information regarding a player’s potential scoring ability, and the ability of other players to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a posted score. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Committee responsibilities: In an effort to assist the Handicap Committee with its responsibilities, this revision addresses a player with a temporary disability or permanent disability who has a Handicap Index that is no longer reflective of his/her current potential ability. In the particular instance cited, the Committee will no longer assign a local handicap (denoted with the letter “L” for local use only), but instead will issue a (temporary) modified Handicap Index (denoted by the letter “M”). This change supports the portability of a disabled player’s handicap, so that it can be used outside the player’s home club. (Section 8-4c: Handicap Index Adjustment by Handicap Committee)