Whether you belong to a small online golf club or are a member of a large green-grass facility, one of your peers is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of everyone’s scoring record and Handicap Index®: the handicap chair.
The role of handicap chair involves much more than peering through scores in a spreadsheet; it requires patience, communication and a cooperative nature. An ideal handicap chair is a dedicated volunteer looking to pass on their knowledge to others and ensure that everyone’s Handicap Index represents their true potential ability.
“Really, the role of the handicap chair is to be an educator,” said Dude Spellings, the former handicap chairman at Avery Ranch Golf Club in Austin, Texas. “The overwhelming majority of golfers want to follow the rules, so nearly all the compliance issues you deal with can be corrected with education. Once people know and understand what’s in the USGA Handicap Manual, they are eager to do things the right way.”
A club’s handicap chair is a spokesperson for its handicap committee and also plays an integral role as a conduit between a club, its state or regional golf association and the USGA to ensure compliance with the USGA Handicap System™. A committed handicap chair will be in regular contact with their state or regional golf association and possess a working knowledge of the USGA Handicap System. Through written publications, online materials and in-person seminars, access to handicapping information has never been easier.
“The USGA Handicap System Manual and its smaller reference guide, the USGA website and the Rules of Golf are all valuable resources and help us maintain a fair and consistent golf environment for all,” said Pat Edmundson, handicap chairman at Willow Creek Country Club in Heppner, Ore. “The USGA (GHIN) online handicap program makes it possible for me to post scores from home, which is a real help as we are a member-owned rural club.”
While golf is a game that inherently relies on the honor of those who play it, the reality is that a handicap chair will find – or be alerted to via peer review – scoring inconsistencies that need to be investigated to protect all of the players. This will sometimes lead to disputes or difficult conversations, as no golfer wants to have their Handicap Index questioned.
There is no single way to approach this situation, and the handicap chair should understand their club members and communicate in the most effective way for their group, with the aid of the guidelines within Section 8 of the USGA Handicap System. Here is a sampling of strategies from handicap chairs from around the country:
“We consciously try to prevent potential issues before they become real problems, and we’ve been quite successful with that. A few years ago, we started using a tournament points system for our majors that has been a very useful tool in maintaining equity in our majors. I can’t recall any major issue we’ve had that wasn’t readily resolved by clarifying the issue at hand with the member, personally. Face to face usually works well for me.” – Guy DeMars, Stone Creek Golf Club, Oregon City, Ore.
“Several years ago, as a tool to create more peer pressure, I consulted with the pro at our main course in putting together a publication using the pro shop's tee time sheets of rounds played and compared it to the rounds they posted on GHIN (Golf Handicap and Information Network). We call it ‘Peer Review Report.’ This report is published bimonthly or six times annually and a hard copy is placed by each posting computer and is also displayed on our country club website. It reflects the number of rounds played versus the number of rounds posted converted into the percentage of rounds posted for those two months. We give a generous allowance for unacceptable scores such as practice rounds, scrambles, limited club selection, etc. Any red flags, we consult with the association handicap chairman.” – Sylvia Wailes, The Woodlands (Texas) Country Club
“As far as disputes, we look at what information we have together and we determine if there needs to be action. The golfers are always a part of the solution when a dispute or problem is voiced. An example is, several years ago, it was brought to my attention that a local golfer played much better in competition than in regular play, so I looked at his history and found this to be true. I visited with him about this and we looked over his posting pattern of golf scores and, on his own, he requested that I get his Handicap Index lowered. I have found golfers want to know and do the right thing if you don’t let them, or force them, to paint themselves into a corner first.” – Pat Edmundson, Willow Creek Country Club, Heppner, Ore.
“I wanted there to be a very well-defined process that was written down and objective in order to take personalities and emotion out of the equation. So we have an audit process defined in our bylaws. We also have some things that will trigger an audit defined in our bylaws. We select several players at random every revision period to be audited, which is also in our bylaws. Having it written down in an official sounding document like ‘bylaws’ really makes it much easier for people to handle. When they ask why are you picking on me, we can very easily deflect that emotional response and say we aren't picking on anyone; this process is in our bylaws. … Each audit follows the process prescribed in the bylaws and the USGA Handicap Manual. The manual requires us to conduct peer review every revision period.” – Dude Spellings
A handicap chair occupies a very important seat at your golf club’s table. The role is as demanding as it is rewarding, and everyone on the club’s handicap roster reaps the rewards of that person’s efforts. It’s a job that requires intelligence, communication and passion, and it’s a great way to give back to the game you love. To learn more, visit usga.org/handicapping.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.