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Responses to our Editor's Letter on USGA changes to handicaps

January 24, 2016

Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Jerry Tarde's column on changes to the handicap system in the February issue struck a chord with some. Below are two letters representing the perspective of state and regional golf associations:

Dear Mr. Tarde,

As the current president of the International Association of Golf Administrators, an organization comprised of state and regional golf associations (SRGAs), provincial golf associations and national organizations (additionally as the executive director of the Southern California Golf Association), I would like to share our collective disappointment with a number of your comments in your editor’s letter in the February edition of Golf Digest. In particular, we believe your characterization of elements of the USGA Handicap System along with the value of SRGAs was off the mark.

With respect to handicaps, you imply that a fraction of golfers have handicaps and this is due to the cost; a fee only designed to prop up the existence of SRGAs. Further, you conjecture that the majority of handicaps come through golfers associated with private clubs. Finally, you infer that the element of peer review is nonexistent.

I apologize for the length of this piece but we wanted to react to what we felt was a misrepresentation of some of the items noted. I would conclude by expressing an interest to have a few colleagues join me in a dialogue with you and an editorial board to further discuss this topic. The golfing public should gain proper insight into the expanding and evolving roles of the SRGAs.

Thank you,

Kevin Heaney President, IAGA

Dear Mr. Tarde,

I’ve just read your Editor’s Letter in the February 2016 issue of Golf Digest and am quite disappointed with your comments regarding the role of state and regional golf associations (SRGAs) and the USGA and I’m certain I am not alone.

In doing research, I notice you are a member of a few clubs which belong to three different golf associations (MGA, CSGA and VGA), and you’ve been involved in the golf business for decades. With that being said, I am fascinated with your misunderstanding of who does what and for what reasons.

Firstly, the USGA does not sell handicap indexes as you suggest. The SRGAs provide handicap indexes to members of member clubs as one benefit of membership. The SRGAs do not pay the USGA for handicap indexes. SRGAs charge an individual fee to members of member clubs for all of the services provided by the association, including a handicap index. Many SRGAs pay GHIN (a USGA service) a fee for the use of its software to post scores and conduct tournaments. Please note, there are other software providers that SRGAs may use – and do use - that provide similar software programs but they, too, pay a fee for the use of that software. You mention less than five million golfers have a handicap index. This is true. Why? Simply because the majority of golfers don’t want a handicap index. If they wanted a handicap they can certainly find one somewhere on the net, maybe even the one GD tries to promote. Furthermore, you make an “educated” guess that approximately 80% of private club members have a handicap and only 10%-15% of public-course golfers have an index. I’m very interested to know how you arrive at your "educated" guess. The VSGA, for instance, includes a membership of more than 60,000 golfers and of those, approximately 60% are private club members and 40% belong to clubs that are open to the public.

Secondly, you state that SRGAs derive almost of their income from handicapping services. This, too, is incorrect. The VSGA, for example, derives 37% of its total revenues from membership fees (which include a handicap index, just one benefit among many). The remaining 67% is comprised of championship golf entry fees for men and women; a One-Day schedule for the less skilled golfer (more than 100 events per year and nearly 7,500 entries); a golf card which funds our college scholarship program (more than $2 million granted since inception); the VSGA Junior Golf Circuit (conducted more than 75 events in 2015 for nearly 700 junior boys and girls playing more than 2,000 rounds – 9-holes, 18-holes, 36-holes and championships); advertising revenue (print and digital); miscellaneous.

All SRGAs are non-profit associations and our mission is to promote golf throughout Virginia. We do so in myriad ways. We support public and private golf courses, their members and allied organizations, including the Middle Atlantic PGA Section, the Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Association, the Virginia Chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association and the Club Managers Association. We drive business to our member clubs by: conducting qualifiers, championships and One-Day events; through our VSGA-VIP Golf Card; conducting Rules of Golf workshops and Handicap seminars; and conducting committee meetings and board meetings to name several ways we support our member clubs. We belong to the Virginia Agribusiness Council and are founding members of the Virginia Golf Council both of which keeps us abreast of legislative issues that may affect the golf industry and our member clubs. We support the Turf Grass program at Virginia Tech with funding for scholarships every year. We support First Tee programs in different ways. We have been involved with two economic impact studies since 2007 and supported a Best Management Practices Guide for superintendents. Suffice it to say, we have not been in existence since 1904, solely, to provide handicap indexes for members of private clubs.

I’d also like to mention that not only are your remarks misleading but they are quite demeaning to all of the volunteers who give back to the game they love. They spend countless hours on their own dime helping promote golf in Virginia and around the country. The time spent with the VSGA is not just to provide a handicap index to more than 60,000 members but it’s time spent to rate golf courses, officiate at tournaments, help out with the kids at junior events, and to try to set strategies to help support more than 300 member clubs which we view as important small businesses. Many of these volunteers probably subscribe to Golf Digest.

I would hope you will print this letter as a rebuttal to your comments you made in the last issue of Golf Digest. If you so choose, I’d also like to chat with you to clear up any misunderstanding and confusion. I have found that if I am going to argue a point of view, I've got a better chance of getting my point across with facts and not conjecture. If interested, I can be reached at the number below.



JAMIE CONKLING | Executive Director Virginia State Golf Association