New Course Ratings and Handicap Stroke Allocations

Pinewild Country Club of Pinehurst will unveil the new Course Rating and Slope numbers determined recently by Carolinas Golf Association.  New scorecards have been designed and will shortly be available.  There will be several other changes evident when the new cards are put into use:  Gold Tees will provide a new playing length on the Magnolia Course, intermediate between the White and Red Tees.  In addition, Handicap Stroke Allocation tables have been revised.


This work, done by the club’s Handicap Committee, Advisory Board and Management, is the second time that both courses have been revised simultaneously for men’s and women’s play.  The results will be described in more detail below, but the members of the Handicap Committee inspected thousands of scorecards to obtain the almost 1,600 properly documented complete rounds necessary to prepare the statistical side of this procedure.


Those of you with an appetite for detail will get your fill following the steps which the USGA Handicap System provides as guidance for creating a Handicap Stroke Allocation Table for one golf course (each set of tees is “a course”).


Foremost, the USGA says that the Handicap Committee must use its best judgment in allocating handicap strokes in hypothetical matches between two players in the order strokes are needed to cause holes to be halved (tied), starting with hypothetical players separated by only one handicap stroke (scratch versus 1; 20 versus 21, etc.).  But not all matches are played between golfers this closely matched in skill, and a lot of golf is played in formats other than match play, so the “guidelines” quickly get pretty complex.


But no matter how complex, stroke allocation still boils down to offsetting the different skill levels applied by golfers to the obstacles presented by the course.  Its about “difficulty”, but even difficulty is not simple.  A cluster of fairway bunkers 180 yards from the tee are difficult for most players but not for the long hitters.  A dog-leg left hole may be more difficult than a dog-leg right hole for faders.  A course could be built which would be a severe test for one 15 handicap player but relatively easy for his 15 handicap opponent just because of the nature and placement of obstacles.  The Handicap System, and handicap stroke allocation tables must necessarily deal with this dilemma at a very general level.  But it deals with difficulty otherwise very specifically.  Here we go:


First, analyze your membership.  Divide all registered golfers into four quartiles of “low”, “mid-low”, “mid-high” and “high” handicappers, men separate from women.


Next, determine the four sets of tees most commonly played.  Collect properly documented scores (all holes played, all in accordance with the rules, no X’s and no automatic pick-up upon reaching one’s Equitable Stroke Control limit, card signed and attested, etc.) for about 200 rounds played by “low” handicappers and 200 by “mid-high” handicappers from those tees, men and women.  Capture every score for every hole so that the scoring average can be calculated.  That is about 7,200 hole scores for one golf course, or 28,800 hole scores for men and women for our two courses.  Calculate the average score made on each hole by each group of golfers.


Next, calculate the scoring differential on each hole between the two groups.  This is the most crucial measure of scoring difficulty in a match between a “low” and a “mid-high” handicapper, men or women.  If all golf were match play between 10 handicappers and 25 handicappers, or between 20 handicappers and 35 handicappers, the stroke allocation table would be pretty easily determined straight off these statistical differentials.


But this is a measure of difficulty between two skill levels and is strongly influenced by the placement of obstacles relative to the skills which typically exist when a player earns a “low” handicap versus the skills typically existing when a player earns a “mid-high” handicap.  In a match between two closely matched players it is more than likely that such a stroke allocation table would not allow the one or two strokes given to serve as equalizers as the USGA suggests.


In the game between two closely matched players the one or two strokes available should fall on the holes with the highest absolute scoring differential compared to par (what players usually are thinking of when they say “that’s the hardest hole on the course”).  So calculate the absolute scoring difference versus par for the two groups.


But our statistics clearly demonstrate that absolute scoring difficulty varies according to the group of players you are looking at.  There are some holes that bedevil both groups of players, but some holes present greater challenges to the “mid-high” group only.  So while we keep one eye on “group differentials” we now need one eye on difficulty versus par for “low” handicappers and another eye on difficulty versus par for “mid-high” handicappers.  Three eyes.  Some trick.  And we’re not done.


The USGA wants us to allot the first stroke (and all odd strokes) to a hole on the front nine – so that it will be available in a nine hole match – unless it turns out that the back nine is “significantly” more difficult, in which case the USGA wants the odd strokes on the back nine.  Okay, so we split up the strokes odd and even.  And we decide whether one nine is more difficult than the other (so much for those great courses with “a brace of challenging closing holes!”).  But we’re still not done.


The USGA wants to make sure that strokes are available and that matches not be closed out before the low number stroke or strokes becomes available.  Now how about those 4 tough closing holes!.  At least now we’re just about done.


The USGA suggests that the lowest strokes (1 or 2) not fall on the First Hole, in the event an 18 hole match is extended to extra holes.  Now we’re done.


So this is how we did it.  We looked at the 3 most difficult holes on each nine as measured by statistical differential and by scoring difficulty for the two groups and generally found enough congruence to slot in the first 6 strokes where you see them.  Then we looked at the 3 easiest holes on each nine by the same measures and again generally found enough congruence to slot in the last 6 strokes.  The middle 6 strokes were pushed around with one eye on the numbers and one eye on “balance”.  We did this for men on the Magnolia, women on the Magnolia, women on the Holly and men on the Holly.  We hope you understand that these tables will not make perfect sense to anyone, but represent the best compromises dictated by the scoring abilities of our current membership and in three years a group of you will be doing this again!