Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ask Linda #370a-Response to #370


I have some serious issues with your reply to this question regarding hole handicaps in match play events when players are playing from different tees. Your answers seem to imply that hole handicaps are based on the relative difficulty of the holes, (presumably in relation to par?), for a given set of tees.  For example, you write: "In order to help make your competition fair, the Committee will need to rank the handicap holes from the senior tees in their order of difficulty." As you know, of course, this is NOT the USGA criteria that is used to establish hole handicaps. The number one handicap hole is the hole where a higher handicap player most needs a stroke to secure a halve with a lower handicap player in match play, and so forth for the number two handicap hole, etc.  It is NOT necessarily the most "difficult" hole. So I simply don't agree with the idea that one person, or even the event Committee, can simply arbitrarily re-rank holes, for a different set of tees, while at the same time preserving a fair competition. What do you do if two persons are playing a match from the Golds and the Committee has re-ranked the holes based on criteria that is not in accordance with the USGA Handicap Manual? It seems to me that this is much like a few people gathering at the bar after a round and establishing  course hole handicaps based on their own personal opinions. 

It is a lot more complicated than you seem to make it, and I'm not sure how one can make it otherwise.  I have thought about this matter a bit, and I don't have an answer to the "fairness" issue when a competition is match play and there are players playing from different tees.  My current view is that there may simply be some inherent "unfairness", but which may well balance out when opponents are  competing from different tees. In any case, I'm not buying into your "solution."

I enjoy your posts very much, and think that you almost always give very complete, clear, and accurate answers to your readers' questions, but I do have problems with your solution to this particular issue. I'm looking forward to your response; maybe I'm just not following what you are proposing. 

Best Regards, 

Dear Lou,

As a woman who often plays matches against men, I am particularly aware of the difficulty of playing a fair match when a course has neglected to rank the handicap holes from different sets of tees. My home course, for example, has only one set of rankings. On the #2 handicap hole, the forward tees are over 100 yards shorter than the standard men’s tees. The hole is a challenging par 5 for men, and a manageable par 5 for women. By observing the handicap allocation, I will win the hole with a net birdie a majority of the time. If the order of handicap holes were properly assigned to the forward tees, following USGA-recommended guidelines, the hole in question would have a higher number for women playing from the forward tees, and I would instead receive a stroke on a hole where it is more difficult for me to break even with a male opponent.

The point I was trying to make in my column is that the order of handicap holes is not necessarily the same when golfers are playing from different sets of tees. Committees should be cognizant of this, and take the time to rank the holes for each set of tees. If a tournament is being played at a course where there are no separate rankings, it is my opinion that the Committee has a responsibility to correct this problem. It clearly has permission to do so from the USGA [USGA Handicap System, 9-3a, third paragraph].

I will readily admit that I erred in stating that the handicap holes are assigned in order of difficulty. As you correctly point out, the procedure is a bit more complicated. This was a shortcut I used to avoid launching into a detailed explanation of how to rank holes. I was trying to address the reader’s question of how to compete fairly from different tees when the handicap holes are not ranked differently. My concern was to point out that in many cases they should be ranked differently, and to remind Committees everywhere of this responsibility.

I often receive questions where I have to choose between a brief answer that gets right to the heart of the matter, or a more complicated discussion that addresses all aspects of the question but runs the risk of losing the reader’s interest. In opting for brevity here, I misspoke about a secondary matter. Thank you for the reminder to be more precise in my language when I gloss over side issues.

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