Handicap Hub: Come to the Dark Side - Round 1 | Oregon Golf Association

Handicap Hub: Come to the Dark Side - Round 1

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Dir., Handicapping & Course Rating
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Come to the Dark Side – Round 1

You may have read the title and immediately assumed that this edition of the Handicap Hub is going to be about what many truly consider to be the Dark Side of Handicapping – the dreaded S-word – Sandbagging. Unfortunately, that could be a 10-part series or a bad reality show and nobody needs that. But because the scandalous subject of sandbagging is so darn entertaining, I will endeavor to delight and amuse you with at least one future article.

For now, the Dark Side I am currently referring to is a pack of procedures that lie within the depths of the USGA Handicap System, and are admittedly ones that you’ve likely not heard of or otherwise had the distinct pleasure of being exposed to. These particular rules fall under Section 8-4 of the USGA Handicap System – within the purview of Handicap Committee Responsibilities – and include a few special occasions where your club’s Handicap Chair must don a Black Hat.

But first let’s take a moment to appreciate – no matter what hat they are wearing – the unsung Hero of Handicapping, the club Handicap Chair. I know I’m always shouting from the rooftops on this, but these folks just do not get enough credit or support. They are asked to have a good knowledge of the Handicap System and GHIN – both of which have a lot of moving parts. They are asked to run audits of rounds played vs. scores posted. They are asked to harp on players to get their scores in quickly and accurately. They are asked to vouch for the Handicap Indexes of each member of your club. I know that last one sounds like a stretch – but it isn’t. It’s just part of what the Handicap Chair signs up for. (I’m stressed just typing this out. Please go find your Handicap Chair and pat them on the back immediately. Offer up an adult beverage. Caddie for them. Better yet, offer to be their Co-Chair, so you can eventually take over and get in on some of the fame and glory).

And now, come to the Dark Side – Round 1: Penalty Scores.

Note: It’s helpful to remember those beautifully simple (yet often times forgotten) tenets of the Handicap System – that a player must EARN a Handicap Index, and has no inherent right to a Handicap Index without providing full evidence of ability to the club’s Handicap Committee.

I’m proudly admitting right here that I’m a big fan of penalty scores. Yes, I’m waiving that flag and if I had a foam finger I’d wear it. And no, I’m not being mean (well, I am kind of mean, but not about this). I just know that once you carry a Handicap Index, it’s like signing a contract. You’re agreeing to post all your scores in a timely fashion so your Index will be correct. And the Handicap Committee agrees to help you comply.

The rule is very clear for failure to post (which is no doubt the number one reason for inaccurate handicaps):

“If a player fails to post an acceptable score as soon as practicable after completion of the round, the Handicap Committee has three options:

  1. Post the actual score made by the player;
  2. Post a penalty score equal to the lowest / highest Handicap Differential in the player’s scoring record;
  3. Post the actual score AND a penalty score.”


Notice there is no fourth option to do nothing.

What we really need in the Handicap System is real data, as every piece of data counts. It doesn’t matter if you stunk up your round, played lights out, or picked up a few times; in all cases you have a score to enter. Every time you’re on the course you are providing evidence of ability.

Your Handicap Chair just wants you to post your actual scores and be quick about it. But if you don’t, they’ll have to replace that missing data with penalty scores. These scores are NOT par, contrary to popular belief. Attaching a par value wouldn’t be entirely fair across all handicap levels. So, to allow for more equity, a penalty score represents the lowest or highest score pertinent to the player’s own scoring record. If the player someone who never seems to post their high scores, then a high penalty might be chosen – conversely, if the player is one who is failing to post low scores, a low penalty would be more appropriate. The penalty score should be posted with the current date, and not the date of the missing score, so it will be front and center. In addition, the Committee is not required to notify the player of the P score. So, if your Handicap Chair is sending you gentle reminders to post Saturday’s score, please don’t waste your time being insulted – you only received a warning, not a penalty score.

The whole point with penalty scores is not a whimsical power play by the Committee, but rather an easy and effective method to get the player’s attention. A penalty score is saying “Hey! I know you played golf the other day. Where’s your score?” (If I could, I’d automate this thing and set musical smartphone notifications to go off for every golfer failing to post scores. And they’d be only the really bad Justin Bieber songs, so there’d be a lot to choose from. And The Beebs would keep singing until you posted).

If the player has multiple infractions, multiple penalty scores need to be posted. It’s kind of amusing to think about the golfer who habitually posts only lousy rounds suddenly seeing a plethora of P scores in their record, accompanied by a Handicap Index that just plummeted.

As you can surmise, many Committees, though they are taught this rule in Handicapping School, opt out of using it. Whether they have a lack of support at the club or they are personally afraid of backlash, it’s a shame more don’t implement the penalty score tool. Failure to post scores is a problem that will not go away on its own and causes a breakdown in the system. It’s always a good idea to stop failure to post in its tracks, especially before tournament season begins and statistically-impossible net scores hit the leaderboard.

Having direct experience with advising Handicap Committees on the Penalty Score rule and seeing it enforced, I can confirm its effectiveness. I’ve seen clubs get fed up and begin auditing, discovering they have a surprisingly low percentage of scores being posted. Then they turn things around by enforcing a Handicap Policy with some teeth in it. They’ve experienced decreased tournament fields because no one wants to play; once the Committee takes the proverbial bull by the horns, they’ve enjoyed renewed participation.

Penalty scores will do more than simply jog the golfer’s memory. They can actually reverse behavior.

Next month – Come to the Dark Side – Round 2 (modifications & withdrawals)

Questions? Contact Kelly or Gretchen in the OGA Handicapping & Course Rating Department at (503) 981-4653 x226 or Click Here to Email Your Question

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