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Pope Of Slope

It just wouldn't compute

So USGA is testing new handicap system

Psst. Hey, buddy. Yeah, you, the single-digit-handicapper. It's safe to take a double bogey on a par 5. Pass it on.

The U.S. Golf Association has authorized a dozen golf associations, including those of Southern California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, to test a modification of its handicap system that will allow single-digit players to record double bogeys. If the results are positive, the USGA will implement the changes in 1998.

In the current format (known as Equitable Stroke Control), which was adopted in 1993, players with handicaps of 9 or lower cannot register a score of higher than 6 on any hole, regardless of the hole's par. Players in the 10-to-19 range are limited to seven strokes per hole, 20 to 29 handicaps to eight strokes, and so on.

Single-digit handicappers thus could take a triple bogey on a par 3 but no higher than a bogey on a par 5.

"The [current] system was implemented to make the system simpler to use," said Dean Knuth, the USGA's senior director of handicapping. The previous system limited 1- to 18-handicappers to posting the number of double bogeys equal to their handicap (a 1 could post one double bogey, an 18 could post 18); limited 19- to 36-handicappers to the same number of triple bogeys as their handicap exceeded 18 (a 19 could post one triple, etc.); and limited 37s and up to as many quadruple bogeys as their handicap exceeded 36.

"The previous system was not being used correctly by a majority of golfers," Knuth said. "We're quite happy with the results of the [1993] procedure but we do read our mail. We received quite a bit of input from golfers, especially the low handicaps, who think the system should be par-based."

The proposed procedure

A Look at the maximum number of strokes golfers are allowed to post on any hole under the current rules and a procedure being tested this year by the USGA:

Maximum number that can be posted

The proposed procedure

A Look at the maximum number
of strokes golfers are allowed to
post on any hole under the current
rules and a procedure being
tested this year by the USGA:

Maximum number that can be posted

Par 3

Par 4






9 or less




















Another change involves nine-hole rounds. Under the old guidelines, players were prohibited from posting two nines as an 18-hole score unless they were played consecutively. Now golfers simply can double their nine-hole handicap to compete at 18 holes, Also, nonconsecutive nines will be counted.

"We've run some scores through the computer," Knuth said, "and determined that these changes are relatively minor.... [the proposed system] will be tested by about 300,000 golfers and we won't know until we get solid feedback, but my gut feel is, golfers are going to embrace it."

In a separate matter, the USGA has won a lawsuit against the Arroyo Software Corp., which it had charged with service-mark infringement and misappropriation of the handicap system. According to Superior Court of California Judge Ignazie J. Ruvolo, terms such as "handicap index," "slope" and "course handicap" are the exclusive property of the USGA.

According to Judge Ruvolo, Arroyo falsely led golfers to believe they could obtain an official USGA handicap by using the company's software program.

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