Editors' BlogNovember 3, 2008

The Genius of Handicaps?

See the well-researched piece on handicapping by John Paul Newport in the Wall Street Journal this weekend. Newport, after a trip to Atlantic City, lauds the handicap system's power to level a Buddies trip playing field.


A few players won big, a few others lost $50 or so, but not one soul got shut out and the final team score was amazingly close. This from a group of guys, some of whom had never met before, ranging in playing ability from a plus-handicap pro to seniors who seldom break 100.

Let's hear it for the golf handicap system! In what other sport is competition like this even remotely possible?

As a loyal, turn-in-every-score member of the system, I also think everyone should have a handicap. It's easy to do, it supports the USGA or your regional golf association, it makes you a real golfer.

Now, can we talk?  Here's my issue with the handicap system as most golfers use it: It's so good, so scientific (thanks in large part to the work of Dean Knuth, who comments here frequently), that it tends to point us in the wrong direction--by feeding our obsession with score. Despite the fact that most of us play match play, we're obsessed with what we shoot.  We count every shank and penalty shot even when we're not a factor in the hole. We're picking clubs when we should be picking up. To say this has slowed play is an understatement. Talk to a buddy after a round and his is not a good walk spoiled; it's a good score spoiled and he'll tell you why in intricate detail. We've lost the walk.

Clearly, it's not the handicap system that creates the problem. But I wouldn't oppose an adjustment that didn't require every kind of round to be turned in. (I know, I can always do that on my own, but I'll feel like I'm committing a mortal sin when I do. The system even asks me to turn in rounds of 14 holes!) The Scots count only tournament scores and my Scottish friends say U.S. handicaps are inflated compared to theirs. I'm not sure I want to go that far, but I remain open to suggestion. What do you think?

Dean?

--Bob Carney

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