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Pope Of Slope

Navy’s-Knuth: A walking computer in golf

A16 The Ledger-Star, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 1979
Navy’s-Knuth: A walking computer in golf
By DICK WELSH Ledger-Star Sports Writer

NORFOLK — If Dean Knuth ever decides to write a book, he could entitle it "How to Live a Triple Life," In his work-a-day world in triplicate, Knuth is a young Navy officer on the rise, a scholar, and a consultant to the United States Golf Association on handicapping.

Knuth, just 32, is also whiz in computerization and statistics and, on sea duty in the Navy, he's an admiral staff consultant on antisubmarine warfare.

Lt. Cmdr Knuth is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and currently a PhD. candidate in applied mathematics at Old Dominion University night school.

He and his wife have two children and they live in Kempsville, just off the Kempsville Meadows golf course. Dean is stationed at the Naval Base.

Although he's a man in a hurry, he drives a vintage automobile— a 1941 Plymouth--and he's his own mechanic, of course. Knuth has played golf since be was eight years old growing up in his native Northern Wisconsin. He's a long-hitting lefthander with a 9-handicap and a deft putting touch.

Some say he's a walking computer on the golf course, but. Dean says, "I've never seen a computer y«t that could putt.”

Knuth seldom plays golf competitively "I love the game but I guess I get more of a kick out of the research end of it now than I do playing in tournaments," he said.

His work for the United States Golf Association has not been confined to handicapping. He's an expert in course rating (measuring the difficulty of a course based mainly on yardage) and has measured—and computed—U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and even some PGA tour courses.

On the morning of the last round of the 1979 Hall of Fame tournament over the No. 2 course at Pinehurst this fall, Knuth began at dawn and measured the course, hole-by-hole, to give the USGA and PGA data for later evaluation of that day's scores, as compared to the course rating.

Knuth has developed his own system of rating courses. Yardage is not his only criterion. He considers such other factors as hazards, the thickness of rough, number of bunkers, fairways (flat or hilly, wide or narrow), and course design.

His course ratings have proven very accurate and his assessment of courses fair. Last summer, the USGA put Knuth in charge of the Tidewater section of its eight-region, nation-wide handicap research program and Knuth appointed Eric Shiel, manager of the Hampton Golf and Tennis Center, his coordinator.

Knuth contacted local golf clubs for assistance and in only a few days he had 10 volunteers from each course, all amateur golfers with handicaps of between 18 and 22 (an average of 20). to comprise the Tidewater Research Team.

"This level of player was chosen because he represents the middle of the handicap scale, which comprises the majority of the approximately 13 million golfers in this country," Knuth explained.

The TRT club coordinators and their clubs: Bill Cotten of Lake Wright, Clarence Hatchet of Newport News Municipal. Joe Miller, Oceana NAS; Squire Pridmore of Sewell's Point, Bill Sargent of Sewell's Point. Ken Bums, Kingsmill; Andy McCrone, Princess Anne, George Stoneham, Eagle Haven; Clyde McLemore of Langley AFB, and Leroy Hunnicutt of the Hampton Golf and Tennis Center

Here are the nine courses played by the research team: Hampton. Sewell's Point, Elizabeth Manor, Newport News Municipal, Oceana NAS (blue course), Williamsburg Country Club. Kingsmill, Princess Anne and Cedar Point

The object was to determine the difficulty of each hole (on the average) and the high handicapper's ability to cope with these difficulties. Holes were rated on a scale of one to five, five being the most difficult, with regard to: Topography, fairways (width), recoverability and rough, out-of-bounds, water hazards, trees, bunkers, greens (size and undulations), environment and psychological Psychological? "Yes, there's a strong psychological factor in golf.,” said Knuth. "For example, take the 18th hole at Kingsmill which requires the tee shot to carry 180 yards over water (from the white tees). This may be no problem for the scratch golfer, but the water could present a psychological problem for the high handicap golfer He may have doubts about his ability to hit over the water."

Each golfer filled the data charts for each hole at the nine courses and it was Knuth's job to analyze the hundreds of pages of information and make his in-depth report to the USGA. Later this month in Chicago, Knuth will address the USGA's annual business session and report on the Tidewater end of the experiment.

Tidewater courses, Knuth said, are generally well-conditioned and well-designed, but are low in difficulty factors compared to other sections of the country. "The courses are generally flat, except for Kingsmill and the Williamsburg Country Club, and the most common characteristic is dense woods," he said.

Knuth said the USGA was keeping an open mind about the handicap research program. "This is a wide-ranging experiment and we really are not sure about what kind of results we'll arrive at," said Knuth. "We could wind up making no changes in the handicap system or we could alter it or maybe even dispose of it altogether in favor of a new system— which is not likely.

"We are proceeding slowly became we're dealing with the very foundation of amateur golf as it is played in America.

"In a survey of USGA associate members, 89 percent thought the present system was fair. However, there are two major problems: sandbagging and portability of handicaps on different golf courses."

"Sandbagging" is the deceptive practice of shooting high scores purposely in order to raise a handicap.

The term "portability" refers to the fact that a golfer's handicap, for the most part, is based on his scoring ability at his home course and may not be accurately applied at other courses.

When all the data from all the regions is analyzed, the USGA will make a decision about the future of its system of handicapping, and, as Knuth pointed out, Tidewater will have played an integral part In the decision. .

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