Handicap Hub: Let the Strokes Fall Where They May
By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director of Handicapping
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On the copious list of controversial handicapping subjects that many golfers delight in arguing about, we find Handicap Stroke Hole Allocation, otherwise known as: What Holes Are You Giving Me Strokes On?
Though an important thing to know before teeing off, there are misconceptions swirling around this subject and usually the question circles back to us as: “Why has the OGA rated hole 5 as the number one handicap hole at our course? Everyone knows that hole 7 plays the hardest.” Within this typical debate are a couple of myths we need to address.
Myth 1 is that the OGA is responsible for handicapping the stroke holes at golf courses.
What we are responsible for – and we do this on a 7-8 year rotation – is Course Rating. These are two separate things, derived from the collection of completely different data. In simple terms, USGA Course and Slope Rating is the evaluation of the myriad of physical characteristics of a golf course, including yardage. Stroke Hole Allocation, however, is the determination of a “ranking” of the handicap holes – not on difficulty –but in comparing scores from players of varying handicaps. So, our rating process doesn’t include stroke allocation for holes; that’s up to each course to determine.
Myth 2 is that the hardest hole on the course should be your number one handicap hole.
Just because you have a hole that is notorious for producing high scores for all players, doesn’t necessarily make it the toughest for the high-handicapped player against a lower-handicapped player. It might work out to be one of the hardest holes, but it might not! Because the purpose of proper Stroke Allocation is to negate unequal abilities between players, it should be looked at in terms of two golfers competing in a net match play event. The number one handicap stroke hole should be assigned to the hole where the bogey golfer needs the additional stroke in order to halve the hole with a scratch player.
At the end of 18 holes, the match should be all square, right? Notice we are not bringing par into the equation here, as it’s not an effective indicator of the need for a stroke in match play. The USGA suggests comparing low handicappers and high handicappers because it’s easier to see the gaps in ability. Even though we are comparing extremes, this same concept still applies when players are separated by a single handicap stroke in a round.
How to Figure Out Your Course’s Stroke Allocation; or, Somebody’s Going to Have to Collect A Ton of Scorecards
Once at least 400 (yes, 400!) individual hole-by-hole rounds from the most commonly used tees are collected, ambitious Committees can delve in and do a lot of time-consuming and rather icky math, or they can manually plug scores into GHIN’s Handicap Stroke Hole Allocation Utility. Another idea is to use the tools within the GHIN Handicap Program Online to capture the scoring information and run the analysis. Committees can even ship a box of properly prepared cards to the USGA to complete the data entry and compile results for a modest fee of $175 per tee / gender.
USGA Handicap System Section 17 describes a few methods of allocating the handicap stroke holes for your course:
Comparison Method – Scores of low handicap players are compared to scores of higher handicap players from the same tees. 200 gross scores are collected from a low-handicap Group A, and 200 scores are collected from a higher-handicapped Group B. The average scores for each hole is calculated for both groups, and are ranked one to 18 where one is the hole with the largest difference between the scores of the two groups, and 18 represents the lowest difference.
Regression Method – Allows the collection of 400 gross scores from players of all handicap levels. Scores still need to be gross, not adjusted, and from the same tee for the same gender. Instead of comparing an average of scores among two distinctively-defined groups with a large disparity in Course Handicap, this method uses all scores covering the whole Course Handicap range to allocate strokes.
Relativity to Par – Some clubs also choose – though this is just an option – to have an alternate stroke allocation table, one specifically for stroke play, four-ball or Stableford formats. This allocation should be based on the difficulty of each hole relative to par, as players are either competing against the field (not just one opponent or team) or scoring points on a hole based on a fixed score, usually par.
(A Lot of) Important Tips –
• A handicap stroke should be an equalizer rather than a winning stroke.
• In order to equalize distribution of strokes, odd-numbered handicap strokes should be on the front nine, with even-numbered strokes on the back nine – but, if the back nine is markedly harder this can be reversed.
• Avoid allocating low-numbered strokes near the end of each nine; players receiving strokes should have the opportunity to use these strokes before the matches are decided.
• It’s best to avoid assigning low-numbered holes to the first couple of holes on the course. If players were in a hole-by-hole playoff, these strokes could be used too soon.
• There are no set rules, but Committees should review the allocations for both men and women every five years, when the course is re-rated, or after widespread course renovations.
• We recommend the Committee run at least the Comparison Method and Regression Method concurrently using GHIN tools. This way the results can be compared side by side.
• Even after all the number crunching, the Club Handicap Committee needs to review the numbers carefully, making sure they reflect actual play on the course.
• Though the final decision belongs to the club’s Handicap Committee, we do not recommend that a determination be based on mere opinions without taking on the work of a data analysis.
Questions? Contact Kelly in the OGA Handicapping & Course Rating Department – Kelly@oga.org.