Unleashing a silent accomplice
He failed to post an 84 so as not to upset further the dyspeptic balance of a 24-handicap
By Jerry Tarde
February 24, 2000
There's a school of thought today that all life's activities fall into one of two categories: either Internet or anti-Internet. Golf is the ultimate anti-Internet pursuit, because the main reason you come to the game is to escape the cell phones, computers and clatter of your busy lives.
The only concession to computers we make in the act of playing golf is the one that sits in the golf shop or locker room and into which you punch your daily scores.
In the old days, before microchips, we posted our scores on an oversize piece of paper tacked to the most visible wall in the most public part of the clubhouse. As the world walked past, you could look up and see plain as the markings of a No. 2 pencil that Mr. Bill Gates had failed to post his 84 so as not to upset further the dyspeptic balance of his 23.9 Handicap Index. You could also spot a Mr. Donald Trump, whose withering 0-handicap stood in the face of countless unreported 80s. Every club had them, and still does, except for the fact that there is no longer such opportunity for "peer review." The computer terminal is a silent accomplice to the phonying of handicaps.
The subject came up this month when the editors of this magazine were updating a story on the handicaps of the golf-playing CEOs of America's largest public companies. When we did the original ranking in 1998, I recalled having several spirited debates with CEOs who felt their handicap was a private matter. Funny how the most intimate details of their personal finances could be published in the daily business papers, but what they objected to was the revelation of their Handicap Index in GOLF DIGEST. (I noticed with some satisfaction that a couple of the more disputatious debaters had been "merged" right off this year's list.) The crux of my argument had always been, and still is, not the right of a free press, but the right of peer review. Golf is played best in the sunshine, I told them.
The only reason to have a handicap is if you want to play with strangers or in organized competition. The very basis of the handicapping system is for handicaps to be public information. It's our way of keeping each other honest. "I can't see a downside to full disclosure," says the USGA's CEO, David B. Fay. "I don't have a problem with Handicap Indexes or even individual scores being made public."
Queries about individual scores routinely occur when insurance companies investigating disability fraud want to know how often and how well claimants are playing their golf. The Metropolitan (New York) Golf Association, for instance, gets 20 to 30 such calls a year and refers them to the golfers' clubs unless subpoenaed.
"I totally agree with the conclusion that USGA Handicap Indexes are public information," says Dean Knuth, once the chief engineer of the USGA's handicap network. "However, most organizations, including the USGA, don't proclaim that position and are overly cautious.
"To effectively deal with sandbagging, I would take it a step further and propose that all top-10 percent tournament scores be posted on the World Wide Web for public viewing. Since a majority of "away' tournament scores somehow seem not to be posted back home, wouldn't it be wonderful to track the good scores so that not only handicaps of visitors could be checked-but their great performances could be, too?"
In this age of the Internet, we need to restore the concept of peer review to the handicapping system. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when you'll be able to call up every golfer's handicap and tournament scores on the Web, and it will be one intrusion of modern technology that makes golf a better game.