The USGA has more than 1,300 volunteers who serve on 39 committees, plus thousands more who help at our national championships. This is the second in a series of Volunteer Spotlight stories.
Handicapping and course rating are not necessarily two of the most glamorous aspects of the game of golf. However, those who take on these behind-the-scenes, number-crunching duties are at the forefront of making the game accessible and competitive for anyone who takes to the course.
Sheri Erskine has served as a USGA volunteer since January 1994, when she joined the Women’s Handicap Procedure Committee. Past USGA Women’s Committee member Karen Dedman had approached Erskine because of her efforts as the handicap committee chairman for her home golf club, Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, Calif.
“Karen just asked me and they needed someone, so I said, ‘All right, I’ll do that,’ ” Erskine said. “And I found it to be quite fascinating. So I stayed with it.”
And stayed with it she has. Erskine, of San Ramon, Calif., currently serves on three USGA committees: Course Rating (since 1998), Handicap (2002) and Handicap Procedure (which merged with the Women’s Handicap Procedure Committee in 2004). However, her work both on and off the golf course started long before her association with the USGA.
Erskine started as a course-rating trainee in 1982, and she was among those responsible for re-rating Northern California golf courses upon the institution of Slope Rating. She eventually became co-chairman of the WGANC’s handicap committee and has served as the sole chairman continuously since 1991.
“When we first started doing this, we had to re-rate every single golf course, which is a huge job,” Erskine said. “We did that in the early 1980s. By the late 1980s, everyone had converted to Slope.”
Erskine’s interest in course rating provided an organic transition to working with handicapping, two areas that she says go hand in hand. “The basic thing about Slope Rating, which has now gone all around the world, is that you don’t have the same handicap all the time,” she said. “When you go to a course that’s more difficult, you get a higher handicap and when you go to a course that’s easier, you get a lower handicap. So it makes perfect sense.”
Erskine still rates golf courses, a process that typically takes her six-person team a day and a half to finish.
“We go out and do preliminary measuring on the course,” she said. “We measure the fairways and the greens, what percentage of the bunkers surround the green, whether they are deep, how far it is to the out of bounds and that sort of thing. Then we go back another day and we play nine holes with two teams. One team plays the front nine, and one team plays the back nine. We play the nine, and we rate the nine. It takes two hours to do the rating, and then we have lunch and discuss it.”
While handicapping and course rating can seem overwhelming to many people, Erskine relishes the differences that they can make to everyone’s game.
“Over the years, through the changes the USGA made, I do believe that handicapping is becoming more important at the club level,” Erskine said. “Before, the handicap chairman was just sort of a figurehead, if the club even bothered to have a handicap chairman. But now, through the licensing agreement that the USGA started, people realize how important handicapping and handicap chairmen are.”
And while handicapping allows any two people to play a competitive match, it can go much further than that. For people suffering from illness or injury, a club’s handicap committee can provide them with the help they need to enjoy the game to the fullest.
“If people have had a stroke or a very serious injury,” Erskine said, “we can modify their handicaps to give them a little help in the time that they need before they get back to the level they were playing before their illness. People would never even know to ask about that in the past, I don’t think.”
Off the course, Erskine is a regular speaker and instructor for the WGANC and the USGA, sharing her years of knowledge through presentations at local, regional and national course-rating seminars.
“My presentations are the things I enjoy the most,” Erskine said. “You look out there at those faces, and then you’re talking about why they have a tournament score reduction and the little light goes on."
Her tireless efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, the California Women’s Amateur Championship honored Erskine with their Helen Lengfeld Award. Named for the WGNCA founder, the award is presented to an individual who has made an enduring impact on women’s amateur golf in Northern California.
“I was completely surprised and honored to win the Helen Lengfeld Award,” Erskine said. “I have great respect for so many things Helen did for women's golf.”
Erskine’s devotion to the game extends beyond her volunteer duties. A two-time participant in the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, she is also a seasoned USGA Rules official, having officiated at the past 10 U.S. Women’s Opens, along with two U.S. Opens and numerous U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Women’s Amateurs. It’s a family affair for Erskine, as her husband, John, is a fellow Rules official and a member of the USGA’s Regional Affairs Committee.
“I keep thinking it’s time I should leave!” said Erskine with a laugh. “But I like it so much.”
Christina Lance is the coordinator of championship communications at the USGA. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.