Handicap Pioneer Dr. Scheid Dies At 90

By Ken Klavon, USGA
March 4, 2011

Dr. Fran Scheid (third from right) poses at a New York City gathering with members of the USGA Handicap Research Team, which includes (from left to right) Dr. Mark Broadie, Dr. Lucius Ricco, USGA senior director, handicapping, GHIN, regional affairs and information services Kevin O'Connor, Col. Warren Simmons, Dr. Frank Engel and Dr. Richard Stroud. Scheid passed away on Feb. 24 at the age of 90.

 

In 1971, Dr. Fran Scheid wrote a story for Golf Digest entitled “You’re Not Getting Enough Strokes!,” in which he challenged the USGA Handicap System. Soon after, Dr. Fran Scheid was asked to serve as a member of the newly formed USGA Handicap Research Team.  

Joe Ewen, chairman of the USGA Handicap Committee, tapped Dr. Scheid for the post after he had put in more than 400 man hours and a year-and-a-half studying the Handicap System, surmising it was inaccurate. The plan was for the Handicap Research Team to perform a two-year, low-profile study that would evaluate the current USGA Handicap procedure, identify any shortcomings, and, if necessary, recommend and test alternate methods, according to Dr. Richard Stroud, a former USGA Executive Committee member. 

“He was one of the early pioneers in golf handicapping,” said Dean Knuth, the USGA’s former senior director of handicapping, and with Dr. Scheid one of the eight charter members of the Handicap Research Team. 

Dr. Scheid, an Ike Grainger Award recipient, loved mathematics and statistics. He was also a computer specialist. Often called “Professor Golf,” he wrote several books on the subject matter, four of which tied mathematics and statistics to golf including: You Can’t Get Lost On A Golf Course, Golfers Come In All Shapes And Sizes, Student Of The Game, and Tiger Numbers And Annika Numbers. More important, he helped introduce a handicap study that led to change in the USGA handicap formula. 

On Feb. 24, with his daughter and her family by his side, Dr. Scheid died at age 90 at The Huntington in Nashua, N.H. 

“It was of course not unexpected since he has been in physical decline for a few years, but it is still a heartbreaking loss for our family and his many friends,” said his daughter, Betsy Westgate, via e-mail. “My husband, son and I were with him, and it was all very gentle and peaceful. We had continued to watch golf together during his last week.” 

Dr. Scheid was instrumental in research that helped determine the USGA formulas for implementing SLOPE, the current USGA Course Rating System and numerous handicap allowances for various forms of team play. He spent 12 years as the mathematics department chairman at Boston University and later served as a consultant at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He created more than 100 television programs for the Harvard Commission on Extension Courses. 

In the late 1980s, after nearly 10 years of testing and analysis, the USGA added Slope Rating thanks in part to Dr. Scheid. Slope Rating represents the relative difficulty of how a course will play for golfers of varying abilities in relation to a scratch golfer. Slope Rating takes into account certain aspects of a course’s layout that will affect a high-handicap player’s score more than that of a low handicapper. 

“He was a pillar in the handicap research area and of probably everyone on the HRT group, the most important,” said Warren Simmons, a veteran of the USGA Handicap Research Team and past executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. “When he spoke, his words were real pearls of wisdom.” 

Knuth said the Handicap Research Team would meet four times a year, three days at a time. Although his specialty was Course and Slope Rating, Knuth would come away mesmerized by Dr. Scheid’s preparation and facts.  

“He was very meticulous,” said Knuth. “He was constantly thinking. He was a great professor and had a professor’s air about him. He always wanted to help people.” 

Born in Plymouth, Mass., on Sept. 24, 1920, Dr. Scheid’s interest in golf began when he was a Fulbright professor in Rangoon, Burma, in 1961. He started applying mathematical concepts to golf, which led to a study of golf statistics. Soon he was writing articles in Golf Digest and making presentations at technical meetings, one of which included St. Andrew’s Scientific Congresses of Golf in 1990 and ’94.  

In 2008, the Myrtle Beach Golf Conference inaugurated the Dr. Francis Scheid Award For Achievement, which is given annually to a person or organization that makes a major contribution or impact to golf in Myrtle Beach. 

“He had a pretty good [golf] stick,” said Simmons of Scheid, a former senior champion at his home club, Plymouth Country Club. “He was in love with the game and contributed a great deal.” 

Scheid was predeceased by his wife Barbara in 1981. His survivors include his daughter Betsy and son-in-law Brad Westgate of Nashua, New Hampshire, his daughter Lisa and son-in-law Ross Ramey of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, his daughter Sarah Scheid of Westford, Mass., and his brother Harold Scheid of Manchester, Conn. He is also survived by his five beloved grandchildren: Kate Radke, Ian Ramey, Barbara Halevi, Brad Westgate and James Ramey.

A celebration of Scheid’s life will be held at noon on  March 26 (Saturday) at the Plymouth Yacht Club in Plymouth, Mass. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Huntington Scholarship Fund at The Huntington at Nashua, 55 Kent Lane, Nashua, NH 03062, which supports employees seeking to further their education.

 

 Ken Klavon is the USGA's online editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org. 

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