Handicap Hub: The Complicated Case of the Posting Season
By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director of Handicapping
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In the thought-provoking world of Handicapping and Course Rating, many questions are raised. At this time of year, we’re often asked a very good one: Why do we start our season on March 1st and end it on November 30th? Nope – it’s not so we can take the winter off, like hibernating bears. There’s really one basic and crucial reason: Course Rating and its effect on handicaps.
Because the OGA has been given the task by the USGA to rate the courses in our area based on “normal, mid-season conditions”, we also must decide what the length of our season will be. How long can the course rating numbers hold up before inclement weather has an impact?
While no timeframe we choose can perfectly reflect what Mother Nature is going to bestow upon us, we have reasonably determined the months of December, January and February are when weather patterns will likely result in deteriorating course conditions. Many times, coastal and valley courses are saturated due to prolonged rains. In central and eastern areas, it’s a different problem with extended periods of ice and / or snow. Regardless, both have the effect of compromising the effective playing length* of the golf course, a primary factor in establishing a Course Rating.
For each comment we receive of “we should be posting all year!” we get the opposite “we need to have a shorter season.” It’s only natural that golfers would be thinking of current conditions – whether good or bad – on their home course, but we have to consider a large geographic region that includes Oregon and Southwest Washington, and must declare our inactive season to the USGA in advance. Last October happened to be one of the wettest on record, yet this year, we were lucky with dry and sunny days. As you can see, declaring an off season is not a perfect science. Since we want all golfers to have access to the most accurate course ratings possible for the sake of consistency in handicapping across the whole region, we’ll probably continue to stick with our current dates.
Another query we’ve gotten is pretty interesting: “Why don’t we have one rating for the regular season and also a second, winter rating?” This one is easy – there is no provision in the USGA Course Rating System that allows for two official ratings; only one based on normal, mid-season conditions. It’s out of the realm of possibility to come up with a second rating that would hold up in the changeable daily weather of a wet, windy or snowy Northwest winter (this might be a better way of saying “isn’t this stuff confusing enough without two ratings?”).
Another comment worth mentioning was made recently by a member who resides in Palm Springs during the winter: “My fellow OGA members aren’t posting scores while they are still playing in Oregon – I shouldn’t have to post either.” Unfortunately, this member was momentarily forgetting that course conditions in the desert are ideal during the winter, and conditions in Oregon are not. Year-round golf associations are those in the southern half of the U.S. (sun-belt states) and rounds played in those regions must be posted at any time to a Handicap Index. This is an integral rule of the USGA Handicap System. When it comes to posting scores, the determining factor is where you are playing, not where you are from.
Finally, it’s important to point out that even though the season dates are established by the OGA, your club Handicap Committee can exercise some controls that may be pertinent to your own golf course. For example, the new season opened on March 1st and it’s been raining off and on for weeks (can’t imagine that!). Adverse conditions are now widespread throughout the course and your Committee decides it would be in the best interest of fair play to invoke a Local Rule for Preferred Lies, or even suspend score posting until conditions improve. In addition, the USGA Course Rating System provides recommendations that the Superintendent can adjust the placement of tee markers due to abnormal weather and turf conditions, depending on what is necessary to try to achieve normal playing distance.
*Effective Playing Length – The measured length of the golf course adjusted by factors such as unusual roll, elevation changes, dogleg/forced layup, prevailing wind, and altitude above sea level that make the course play longer or shorter than its actual measured length.
Questions for the Handicapping & Course Rating Department? Contact Kelly Neely (Kelly@oga.org) or Gretchen Yoder (Gretchen@oga.org).