Handicap Hub: Come to the Dark Side - Round 2 | Oregon Golf Association

Handicap Hub: Come to the Dark Side - Round 2

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Dir., Handicapping & Course Rating
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Come to the Dark Side – Round 2

Even though to some readers this edition of Handicap Hub may represent simply a continuation of last month’s gloom and doom, fear not! It could be worse. At least I won’t be delving into the current sorry state of politics, or making preseason Pac-12 football predictions (which admittedly might only be tinged with melancholy if you’re an Oregon State Beaver fan. Which I am.)

Last month’s “Come to the Dark Side – Round 1” took a deep dive into The Penalty Score, that indispensable little gadget that a Handicap Committee has at the ready in their toolbox. To be used when a player fails to return an acceptable score for handicap purposes, a Penalty Score fills in the gaps not with par, rather with the lowest (or highest) score for that individual player. It cannot be understated what an effective attention-getting device this can be! Unfortunately it is an under-used tool that gathers dust. If more Handicap Committees applied Penalty Scores, we’d fix scoring records and fewer Handicap Indexes would need to be renovated. (Sorry. I think I’ve been watching too much HGTV).

Side Note 1:  Number of total rounds posted by OGA members from 8/1/18 and 8/1/19 – 1,144,818. Number of Penalty Scores posted by Committees to OGA member records in that same time period – 535. Not to be a Negative Nellie or anything, but does that number seem a bit low? Or is it just me?

Side Note 2:  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard complaints about the guy who wins his flight every other year in the club championship. Or the 12-handicapper from another club who waltzes in with a gross 74 in the member-guest. What often happens is nobody says a darn thing until a player shoots a net 59 in an event. Then everyone is up in arms, wringing their hands, crying foul.

They just knew he was going to win from the get-go. Since the proverbial horse has already escaped the barn, I’ll risk stating the obvious: The time to have an impact on the player’s handicap is well before the tournament. Yes, it’s the member’s obligation to be an active participant in a solution, and bring the issue to the Handicap Committee.

So, to follow up from Penalty Scores while still staying on the Dark Side, I’ve got a couple more corrective measures to clarify in Round 2: Modifications & Withdrawals. Admittedly, these little gems represent the most troublesome tasks imposed within the Handicap System.

In the current manual, there is an entire section devoted to Handicap Committee Responsibilities. Right out of the gate, we are faced with tough, unwavering language:

  • The club must appoint a Handicap Committee to ensure the integrity of each Handicap Index it issues
  • The Committee must ensure that the members comply
  • The Committee must verify that scores are reported
  • The Committee must make certain each player has a Handicap Index reflecting potential ability


That’s a lot of musts. So to those who think there’s nothing that can be done about creative handicaps, you couldn’t be more wrong. The Committee not only must do something, they are obligated.

Then comes a list of circumstances in which it will be necessary for the Committee to modify the player’s Handicap Index:

  • Improving Faster Than the System Can React
  • Numerous Away Scores Change Index
  • Temporary Injury
  • Player Manipulates Round
  • Continued Violations of Section 5-1e (posting unacceptable scores, i.e., scores made while playing solo)


One would think this just about covers the glut of ugly things that can happen to a Handicap Index, but no. Because there are too many scenarios to contemplate, the Handicap Committee is afforded carte blanche to adjust Indexes in one compelling statement:

“A Handicap Committee has the ultimate authority to adjust a Handicap Index under any circumstance that it feels necessary to do so.”

Though this certainly gives the Committee preeminent power, admittedly it is rarely exercised, and if so, is done with careful consideration. In all my years at the handicapping helm of the OGA, I’ve never witnessed a Committee modifying a player’s Handicap Index just because they can. At the end of the day, the Handicap Chair is first and foremost a club member, out to enjoy their golf game. The last thing they want to do is lay the hammer down on those who are fabricating fanciful handicaps.

Interesting fact: A round in which the player “merely” shoots to his Course Handicap (i.e., his net score matches the Course Rating) is actually a strong showing because that should happen in roughly only one out of every four rounds.

A net score of three strokes below the Course Rating is a once-a-year occurrence for most players with honest handicaps, while a net score in the low 60s is a once-in-a-lifetime thing – if you’re lucky).

However, if the Committee comes to the unpleasant conclusion that they must adjust a player’s Handicap Index, a letter must be sent, affording the player the right to explain themselves and / or appeal the modification. And not only does the Committee have the burden of ensuring the new handicap is crafted fairly, they must decide how long it will remain in place. Should it be one month, or three revision periods? Or until the end of the season? As you can imagine, these decisions are arduous.

But perhaps the toughest task a Handicap Committee would ever face is to completely withdraw a player’s Handicap Index. Most golfers would be flabbergasted to realize their handicap – that they thought solely belonged to them – could be taken away by their club. Truly, a withdrawal – publicly shown as a great big WD in the system – represents a last-ditch effort by the Committee to get through to a player who refuses to post scores or is otherwise manipulating their handicap to a flagrant degree.

Sorry for the morality tale, but there you have it. It’s simple. Stay out of the Dark Side and avoid Penalty Scores, Modifications, and Withdrawals by Just. Posting. Your. Scores.

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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