Among Her Peers

A dozen women met every week for their spirited matches, and the camara-derie of their competition was evident on and off the course. Despite their varying abilities and handicap indexes, they were able to compete fairly in every format from singles to team events.

One Saturday early in the season, the women gathered after playing to post their scores and discuss their play. The newest member of the group, Kathy, apparently did not post her score. When a few of the women asked her about this, Kathy responded that because it was a casual round she did not have to post it, and besides, she computed her handicap index on her home computer. The conversation shifted and the matter went without discussion.

Kathy had made two incorrect assumptions: that she did not have to post every score, and could compute her own handicap index. Each assumption goes to the core of the regulations under which handicap indexes are computed.

Handicap indexes reflect a player's potential ability. Although we might like to regulate which scores are used to determine an index, the only valid reflection of a player's potential comes from the posting of all scores. According to the USGA Handicap System, acceptable rounds for posting include those of 13 or more holes, consecutive nine-hole rounds, scores away from a home club, those from match play and other forms of competition, and rounds played using preferred lies.

Many golfers are aware that a handicap index is issued to a player by a club, be it a course or a "club without real estate," such as a league or social organization. A key component of every club is peer review, which is the reasonable and regular opportunity to play with fellow members and the ability of fellow members and a handicap committee to review posted scores and handicap indexes.

Think for a moment of a handicap index as a letter of introduction presented by a stranger you meet at the first tee. In essence, the club that person belongs to vouches for the accuracy of the index. We know this person's ability because we play with him on a regular basis. Some people may snicker at that analogy, but it is one of the tenets by which strangers accept each other's index in good faith and play a friendly match.

In that vein, Kathy errs in not posting every score, even those she considers casual. But an error of similar magnitude was made by the other 11 women. It was their responsibility, as members of the club that issues Kathy's index, to make sure she posted accurately and promptly. The women should alert the handicap committee of her failure to post. The committee would be responsible for making sure Kathy was aware of the guidelines for posting and adjust her index if necessary.

Kathy makes one other error, believing that she can calculate her own index using a computer program or an internet site. Although players may track their performance, allowing each player to compute their own index circumvents the credibility provided by peer review and a committee. Without peer review, players can manipulate their scores to result in any index they wish to provide. Detractors say the same could be true of posting at a club, but the individual must circumvent peer review and a committee. Those are two considerable obstacles.

Kathy still tracks her scores and statistics on her home computer, but she posts every round as soon as practicable. And she takes a greater role in ensuring other club members understand the importance of peer review and proper posting.