ARE YOU GETTING STROKES ON THE RIGHT HOLES?
by Ross Goodner Golf Digest, July, 1985, pages 32-33
New Handicap Surveys May Change the Stroke Allocation at Your Course
With the exception of sandbaggers and last month's bar bill, the biggest controversy at the average golf club is over the allocation of handicap strokes. Are we getting our shots on the right holes? The only thing most of us agree on is that the present system is no good.
In general, golf courses have allocated handicap strokes strictly according to length. Occasionally, the longest par 4 may be the No. 1 handicap hole, but usually it's the longest par 5. This often results in the par-3 holes being ranked the easiest, even though one or more of them may be the hardest holes on the course.
Two good examples are the famous 16th at Cypress Point and the 17th at Pebble Beach. The 16th, a 233-yard par 3, is rated the No. 6 handicap hole at Cypress, which is ridiculous. There may not be five holes in the world tougher than the 16th; it had the highest stroke average above par on the PGA Tour last year. The 209-yard, par-3 17th at Pebble--often into the teeth of an ocean gale--is rated the No. 15 handicap hole!
This iniquitous condition exists at most courses, and it's no wonder the arguments rage. However, the U.S. Golf Association, well aware of the problem, has a solution, which it calls Stroke Hole Allocation by Need. Here's how it works:
First, collect about 200-300 scorecards from players at your club with handicaps of 8 or lower (14 or lower for women). You should have scores from at least 50 different players, and they should be hole-by-hole scores, not just totals. Call this group A.
Calculate the average score for each hole for the group without applying Equitable Stroke Control.
Now, do the same thing for a group of higher-handicap players (Group B). The average of the handicaps of the players in this group should be 15 to 20 strokes higher than the average for Group A. Preferably, the handicaps for Group B should range from 20 to 28 for men and from 26 to 40 for women. Again, calculate the average score for each hole for Group B, not applying Equitable Stroke Control.
Next, subtract Group A's average score for each hole from Group B's average score, thus establishing a differential between the two groups for each hole. Now list the holes in order from one through 18 and the average-score differential for each hole. Then rank the holes, with the hole with the highest differential being ranked first, and so on.
According to the USGA, a handicap stroke should be an "equalizer"--available on a hole where it most likely will be needed by the higher-handicapped player to halve the hole. The No. 1 handicap hole is not necessarily the toughest hole. Rather, it is the hole where the higher-handicap player most needs a stroke from a lower handicapper. Problems sometimes arise when two low-handicap golfers play each other. It is the concept of halving the hole, rather than winning it,that is causing adjustment problems at some clubs.
An example is the par-5 15th hole at Sleepy Hollow, in New York's Westchester County. The 514-yard hole used to be the No. 14 handicap hole, but now is rated No. 3. "A 7-handicapper hates to give a shot there to a 10-handicapper," says Bill McTurk, club handicap chairman. "But a 16-handicapper needs a shot. Even though it's only moderately long (a plus for the 10-handicapper, who still has a chance of hitting near the green in two), the third shot is blind, and the green is such that a ball can kick off the back."
Member adjustment is also under way at Harkers Hollow in Phillipsburg, N.J., according to pro Peter Dachisen. "They're having to learn that the strokes are allocated according to need," he says. "The idea is to halve, not win. The best example is our seventh hole, a 419-yard uphill par 4. It was the No. 3 handicap hole, and it's now No. 11. Because of its difficulty, low-handicap players had almost as much trouble with it as higher handicappers. Thus, the differential between the two groups was lower than other holes.
"The reverse situation is found on the second hole, a 365-yarder with bunkers in front," Dachison says. "It's fairly easy for the good players, but is tough for the high handicapper and therefore has a wider differential. It was the 13th handicap hole, but now ranks No. 5."
Unlike handicapping and course rating, which must be done by following USGA procedures, stroke allocation is up to the club itself. However, the USGA does offer its assistance, as part of its GHIN (Golf Handicap and Information Network) computer service. As director of handicapping Dean Knuth says, "Clubs send us a shoe box full of scorecards, and we tell them where strokes should be allocated."
By a shoe box Knuth means a minimum of 300 cards and a maximum of 500. Names are not required, but each card must clearly show the player's handicap. Clubs that are interested should contact their local golf association. The USGA charges a local association $50. for the service.
So far, hundreds of clubs have availed themselves of the opportunity to straighten out the allocation problem. In the interests of fairness--and a lower boiling point in the locker room--everybody should.
More details can be found in Section 17 of the USGA Handicap System manual.
Same Holes, Different Strokes
The effects of changing handicap stroke allocations can be seen on the fifth and sixth holes at Spook Rock Golf Club in Suffern, N.Y., whose old and new scorecards are shown here. The fifth, although relatively short(392 yards), is fraught with peril for the high handicapper and now is rated the No. 1 handicap hole. The much-longer sixth(544 yards) formerly was No. 1, but dropped to No. 9.