Pounding the Rock

USGA needs to revamp format of tourneys

The tournament season, for us everyday hackers who enjoy the competitive side of golf, is basically over for 2006. Unremarkably, this year was just as flawed as every other season I've been a regular on the local USGA tournament trail, which dates back to 1991.

The problem with USGA-sanctioned tournaments, of which the majority of us golfers play in, is the dilemma posed by sandbaggers.

The USGA, the governing body of amateur golf, has done next to nothing to correct this problem. Tournament-in and tournament-out, sandbaggers are always on the scene, there to "steal" the winnings from the majority of those golfers who abide by the rules. Some may question if the word "steal" is appropriate here, since sandbagging requires nothing more than forgetting to post a score once a practice round is completed.

The sad fact, unfortunately, is that sandbaggers conveniently only forget to turn in the scores that will lower their handicaps significantly. We tournament regulars have seen this, first-hand, on a far too often basis. Instead of entering tourney play with a handicap that accurately reflects their playing prowess, these sandbaggers inflate their handicaps so they have an advantage over the rest of the field. Some might refer to this advantage as an "edge." I call it "stealing."

Once upon a time, golf was a game of integrity. Only the upper crust partook. Specifically, it was a game for gentlemen...those individuals who treasure such concepts as honesty and fair play. In a nutshell, it was a game of honor. Because the game has been opened up to the masses, that isn't always the case today.

The club professionals who oversee USGA tournaments have it in their power to clamp down on these sandbaggers, by arbitrarily readjusting or freezing handicaps. But as is too often the case, nothing is done (I'm guessing because there is a fear a customer might not return), and these sandbaggers are allowed to enter tournaments with whatever handicap they've deemed they deserve.

This has been a long standing problem, one which I believe cannot be remedied under current USGA protocol.

But, I do believe there is a solution. Simply put, divide the tournament fields into three equal flights, and three flights only. The club pros would place a third of the golfers into a championship flight, those with the lowest handicaps; the next third of the field (based on individual handicaps) would be put into the first flight; and the third of the field with the highest handicaps would compete in a second flight. Eliminate net play (the actual score of a round minus a golfer's handicap), and only award prizes based on actual (gross) scores.

The argument can be made that many of the golfers who carry handicaps of more than 18 would be at a distinct disadvantage under this type of system. No question about that. A golfer with a handicap of 28 would definitely have his work cut out for him competing in the second flight against what would probably work out to be golfers with 14 or 15 handicaps. But utilizing a little bit of Lee Trevino's reasoning, a golfer who averages higher numbers than bogey golf really shouldn't be out on a golf course in a competitive setting.

Granted, a golfer on the bubble of one flight could still manipulate his handicap to play in a lower ranked flight of competitors, but the potential for abusing the system is much lower.

I don't expect any changes to be made. It's all about the almighty buck, and as long as the masses continue to frequent local golf courses, the USGA will be content serving whoever ponies up the money at the cash register.

Golfers like myself, unfortunately, will just continue to cut our tournament play down to a couple events a year, until one day we can't even stomach those and we just give up the competitive side of it altogether.


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