The essence of handicapping is to put all the players on a common level - to give the poorest player an equal chance to win with the rest of the field. In order to adjust the handicap fairly it is necessary to work upon some definite principle. As a general thing this is comparatively easy, especially if a record is kept of the scores of the players. To assist the handicap committee in establishing the status of each member, at least three consecutive scores, duly attested, should be handed in by every player, and a detailed record should be kept for future reference. Scores made in competition should also be recorded. Any failure to hand in a competitive score should be visited by a penalty of a stroke in the delinquent's handicap. With some such system it would not take long to arrive at a fairly definite idea of the capabilities of each and every player. As a further aid it is not a bad plan to get each player to fix the handicaps of all the other players, particularly in newly formed clubs, until something is known by the han-dicappers of the members' respective abilities.
The handicap committee should consist of not more than three, who should be in frequent touch with the active players. After every competition, revisions, if necessary, should be made in the official ratings, which should be kept posted, in alphabetical order, in the club-house.
In establishing the handicaps it is customary to work up from the best player in the club, who is rated at scratch. By far the better plan, however, is to take as a basis the par - not the bogey - of the course, which is a fixed quantity. Par golf, it may be remarked, is perfect golf, determined according to the distances of the holes and with two strokes allowed on each green, while bogey simply represents the score of a good player who occasionally makes a mistake, not very glaring, but sufficient to make a difference in the round of four or five strokes. Bogey is an elastic quantity, however, so much so, indeed, on some courses, as to furnish no true criterion of the game of the player who now and then beats the Colonel.
If all clubs adopted the practice of handicapping from par it would be an easy matter to fix the standing of every player throughout the country. As it is, however, a scratch player at Stumpville may conceivably be entitled to a handicap of nine strokes from a scratch man at Bunkerville. This, of course, has to be taken into account by the handicap committee in an open handicap tournament, and adds materially to the difficulty of placing all the competitors on an equitable footing. So far as New York and its immediate vicinity is concerned the Metropolitan Golf Association has accomplished a very good work by classifying all the players of the various clubs in the association up to a limit of seventeen strokes. The handicaps are fixed at the beginning of the season, and, necessarily, are based upon the performances of the preceding season. So far as it goes this official ranking of the players has proved of much assistance, but it would perhaps be of greater value if the list were revised at least once during the season - after the local championship meeting, for instance.*
* Editor's Note. - Since the foregoing was written it has been decided by the Metropolitan Golf Association to readjust the handicaps twice each season - at the beginning of the season, and again in August.
The Metropolitan Golf Association ratings, in common with the large majority of individual clubs' handicap lists throughout the country, rest upon score play only. Each club, however, should compile a separate table of strokes for match play instead of, as is usual, allowing three-fourths of the difference in handicap allowances, counting a half-stroke, or over, as one. As a general thing such difference is applicable to most players, but, obviously, not all. For example, A, the scratch player of a club, may average eighty, while B's average score is ninety, generally due to a few poorly played holes. To average eighty on a good course presupposes fairly consistent play. Now in match play A would have to concede B eight strokes on the latter's handicap of ten strokes in score competition. Let us take the hypothetical average cards of each and see what the result would be:
A's score, out:43454455 5-39 B's score, out: 4 3 6 5 4 3 7 5 7-44
A's score, in :5545455s 3-41 B's score, in :6547456s 4-46
Playing level, A would beat B four up and three to play. Conceding eight strokes, however, one each at the second and each alternate hole up to the sixteenth, it will be seen that B would beat A three up and two to play.
This is an example of simply an ordinary case. There are, of course, a few more pronounced, where the difference would be much greater, both in favor of and against the scratch man. It is quite possible for a player to be good at medal play and poor at match play, and vice versa. A poor score-card may show remarkable strength at hole play, stronger, indeed, than one aggregating half a dozen strokes less for the round.
In order to gauge the game of a player as a match player - which, after all, is the supreme test of golfing ability - it should be incumbent on the handicappers to carefully analyze the score for each hole, such analysis embracing at least three or four typical or representative cards, before any fair allowance can be made applicable to hole play, considered alone. Nor is this the only essential. Regard must also be had for the known strength or weakness of the player at both score play and match play, as the case may be. Few men are relatively good at both. No hard and fast rule can be laid down, as temperaments vary, and sometimes in opposite directions.
Sufficient has been said to indicate the necessity of fixing separate handicaps for score play and match play, certainly in some cases, instead of simply accepting the aggregate medal score as the basis and universally allowing the regulation three - fourths of the difference.