Handicap Hub: Chill Out, Old Man Winter | Oregon Golf Association

Handicap Hub: Chill Out, Old Man Winter

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Dir., Handicapping & Course Rating
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In this day and age of hyper political-correctness, I nearly thought twice about using the term “Old Man Winter,” but then the much maligned “Mother Nature” was considered and I decided we’re (sort of) even. At least we can take comfort and praise impartiality by noting that tropical storms and hurricanes have been given both male and female names since 1978.

But still, I am not entirely sure that everyone is going to batten down the hatches for “Hurricane Bob” like they might for “Hurricane Hattie.” Just sayin’.

Given that we are nearing the end of the season, and the last day for posting a score in our region of Oregon and Southwest Washington is Monday, November 30, it seems opportune to share some timely Q&A. While we might not be faced with Old Man Winter meting out absurdly extreme weather here in our typically temperate region (though would anything really surprise us in 2020? Bring on the typhoons, large hail and murder locusts – we can take it) this time of year does bring with it a few compelling conundrums.

Regardless of what Mother Nature and Old Man Winter dish out, we will always applaud hearty (or is that foolhardy) golfers who just don the raingear and play on.

I assumed that the new feature in the World Handicap System, the Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC), would take care of adjusting for our winter conditions so we could post year-round. Why are we still seasonal?

This has been an oft-repeated statement during the inaugural year of the WHS, but is worth bringing up again: The PCC was designed to be conservative in nature. Statistics show that 96% of the time there are no adjustments, which is exactly what the USGA expected. The PCC can respond to bad weather but it is a rather limited and subtle response. It was not designed to extend a season.

Important to remember is that factors other than weather can trigger a PCC. Course set-up can also have an effect on scores and allow this feature to kick in. During the season, minor course set-ups are normal, but in the winter, more dramatic ones are common in our region.

Tees are moved up (sometimes WAY up) and balls are plugging versus rolling (we know what you’re thinking: Thanks for the reminder, Captain Obvious). Any PCC adjustments would not be enough to compensate for loss of yardage and the downright sloppy conditions that can occur during our winter period.  

Though choosing our off-season dates (Dec - Feb) is not a perfect science, we try to be consistent – considering the golf community as a whole – in determining a season that will suit most situations across a large geographic region.

May each golf course decide their own active season? The reason I’m asking is because in November our course conditions are pretty rough. For example, we have copious amounts of leaves on the ground and therefore often cannot find our golf ball. Typically there is snow on the ground in November as well. What about adopting Preferred Lies for all of November? It does seem to make sense to change our active season to March 1-October 31.

A three-part answer is required here because we like things to be convoluted and cumbersome. All joking aside, please note that a Rules of Golf question was cleverly slipped in and that complicates everything.

  • No, sorry – a course cannot set their own season dates. We set the whole region up with the same dates as we stated in the answer above, to keep it consistent and fair for all players posting scores in the region. That said, individual courses have latitude in adapting to deteriorating course conditions by carefully considering adopting Model Local Rules as found in the Rules of Golf. 
  • When faced with a problem of leaves, the Committee would want to turn to Model Local Rule F-14 Accumulations of Loose Impediments. Leaves may not be an issue on some holes, so free relief should not be granted for a couple of leaves touching a player’s ball. Also important to note that the Committee should only invoke the Rule during the time frame when leaves are a big problem, and not just a minor inconvenience.
  • For guidance on drafting Preferred Lies, please refer to Model Local Rule E-3, as players are often confused about proper procedure. It is crucial to remember that invoking such a policy should have nothing to do with the calendar, rather is a condition of the course to be determined on a daily basis. A declaration of Preferred Lies for a wide swath of time, say all of October and November, might be easier for players to understand but would be overly generous (The Rules Gods are NOT Santa Claus, for Pete’s sake).

    Very important to note is that scores must be posted while using Preferred Lies while we are in our active season. If conditions become so adverse and widespread that the course cannot be maintained properly, the Committee has an option to temporarily suspend score posting until the course recovers. Please call us so we can talk you out of it.  

Since scores can’t be posted during the Northwest winter “off season” because of rough conditions, why doesn’t the same hold true in Southern Cal and Arizona? Don’t their courses suffer from being too dry part of the year?

The USGA Course Rating System covers the normal conditions for the region. In the case of Southern Cal and Arizona, the Course/Slope Rating already considers the fact that fairways can be dryer and cause more roll. Many of those courses that have been dealing with severe drought conditions have stopped watering areas that have little to no play. That can include rough, desert, areas between tee and fairway landing zones. Their regional Golf Associations have updated their ratings over the last few years to reflect that information.

In our area, playing conditions change so drastically that often tees are moved, balls embed causing little to no roll, bunkers turn in to mini ponds and other Northwest-y type stuff like that for us to complain about. It gets to the point where the PCC adjustment just would not cover enough of the difference. The impact of weather on golf courses tends to not be as severe in the Sun Belt, which is why they post scores year-round. So, no, sorry – you can’t avoid posting your scores from sunny La Quinta. Which brings us to...

My friend and fellow club member travels to Scottsdale, Arizona every winter and plays golf nearly every day. But I’ve looked at her record and she doesn’t post her AZ scores. What can be done about this?

I’ve always said that it should be easier to compel our friends to post scores than our enemies. Notice I said “should.”

Does she know she must post her scores (not a suggestion, folks) or does she think that since she’s a member of a club in the OGA and we are in our off season that she doesn’t have to? This is often the misconception (or ready excuse). Golfers always must consider where they are playing – not where they are from – when posting. If she is playing every day in stellar Sun Belt conditions she may very well be improving.

Failing to post those scores will not allow her Handicap Index to update properly, which is highly unfair to her fellow members and current playing partners. Please do not think you are ratting out your friend by bringing this information to your Handicap Committee (please know that all is fair in love and war and golf). While they may not have actual scorecards from her rounds, they have all the means necessary to address the situation and adjust her Handicap Index if needed.

Our course is reconstructing tees / greens, so temporaries are in place. Does this change the Course Rating? How do we post our scores?

This is another one of those questions that has no easy answer. Forgive the pithy response, but “it depends.” Each situation is a bit different and poses several considerations.  

If the course is rebuilding one or more tees:

  • How much is the yardage being affected?
  • Has there been enough difference to change par?
  • Does the difficulty change enough to update SIA (Stroke Index Allocation – the “ranking” of handicap holes)?
  • How long is the change going to be in effect?

If it is the green(s) that are under construction:

  • Is a Temporary green in use?
  • Is the hole cut to regulation size or is it a coffee can or larger?
  • What is the yardage change?
  • What else is affected: Bunkers, Trees, Penalty Area, Green Target, etc.?

Let’s start with Tees, as they are a bit less complicated than greens. The first thing that can be done is a simple yardage adjustment. For this, we consult the 2020 WHS Rules of Handicapping manual, where detailed information is listed under Appendix G, section f. It is very important to note that if the yardage difference is less than 100 yards, there is no adjustment to the Course Rating – the golfer would just continue posting as is.

There are some handy charts available either in the Manual or online (look for Appendix G) that tell the golfer how much to edit the Course and Slope Rating for posting purposes. This same info can be used for playing a Combo set of tees that does not have an official rating.

An example of a temporary tee brings to mind an unfortunately unplanned event last year at The Golf Course at Birch Creek (former Pendleton Country Club). Hole #2 is a short par 5. The creek that runs along the right side burst its banks and took out several tees and a good chunk of the fairway. Not only did it change the yardage of the hole we also made it a par 4 until the issue could be solved. Since it was going to take some time until the construction was finalized, all tees were updated in GHIN to reflect the temporary situation. The course has since returned to their regular set up.

The length of time the temporaries will be in play is always a consideration. If it is a short period of time, golfers can post scores by manually editing the Course and Slope Rating in GHIN. However, they will not be able to post using the hole-by-hole option. If it will take a while, or if the club wants golfers to have the option for hole-by-hole posting, we can update GHIN to show the temporary change.

If the temporary change will involve more than just yardage, that is when it is important to call us. If the yardage adjustment is enough to change par, we must edit GHIN data. If the change moves the temporary tee to a point where a dogleg is taken out or carry over a pond is eliminated, that’s another call to the OGA.

With greens, each situation at each course can be distinctly different. For example, Rose City Golf Course in Portland is currently rebuilding both #15 and #18 greens. Interestingly, from a Course Rating and Handicapping standpoint, we cannot treat them the same.  

The par 3 #15 hole has an actual second green available for use. It is cut to regulation green height and has a regulation 4 ¼ inch cup size. In order to adjust the Course Rating for posting, we must calculate the difference in yardage, change the carry over the water hazard, adjust for differences in bunkers, trees, green size and more. Then this adjustment is published to be available in GHIN.

For the 18th hole, the temporary green is just a round area cut in the fairway just short of the normal green that has a coffee can or bucket (definitely larger than 4 ¼ inch!). In this situation, there is no Course Rating adjustment. The golfer simply turns to Rule of Handicapping 3.2, which means posting par plus any handicap strokes the player is allowed on that hole.

One of the key principles of Handicapping is that the golfer is playing by the Rules of Golf. Since the hole does not conform to the Rules, the golfer treats the hole as if it wasn’t played, but without tossing out the whole round. Think about how many putts just miss the hole (short, left, right) when it is regulation 4 ¼ inch hole, vs. how many would go in for that hole if it is cut to 8 inches or more. How might that affect your score?

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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