Friday, February 1, 2013

Simplifying the Slope Handicap System

The Slope Handicap System has been in place for approximately 30 years.  The number of golfers who actually understand what a Slope Rating means, however, is still quite small.  The confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the Slope Rating is not difficult to believe given its obtuse definition:
Slope Rating – The slope of the line plotting a player’s average differential at a course versus his handicap at the reference course.
To make the system less mysterious and simpler, two changes are suggested. First, rename a player’s “index” and make it his “Standard Handicap” (measured to the nearest tenth).  The USGA’s “index” is really not an index as commonly defined.  Introducing this non-golf term into the lexicon of handicapping only added another layer of obfuscation.
Second, change the definition of the Slope Rating to the old Slope Rating divided by 113.  (Note: The term "Slope Rating" is kept to minimize confusion.)  The new Slope Rating is the percentage of a player’s Standard Handicap that is allowed at a particular course. To demonstrate the simplicity of the revised system, assume a player has a 10.0 Standard Handicap.  When he plays a course with a new Slope Rating of 120, he is allowed 120 percent of his Standard Handicap and his Course Handicap is 12. In essence, the Slope Rating can be viewed intuitively as the "slope" of a hill.  The steeper the hill, the more handicap a player needs to reach his goal (i.e., have a net score equal to the Course Rating).

Here are the advantages of the proposed changes:
1. It has intuitive appeal and is easily understood. If you are going to a course with a New Slope Rating of 120, you know your Standard Handicap will be increased by 20 percent.  If you are going to a course with an Old Slope Rating of 136 (which is the same as a New Slope Rating of 120), both your ultimate Course Handicap and its meaning are less clear.
 2. If the New Slope Rating is implemented, the ubiquitous number “113” will be hidden from view.   A Slope Rating of 113 has been represented as the Slope Rating of a course of average difficulty.  That is not necessarily correct.  If the USGA had chosen Pine Valley for its reference course, the Slope Rating at Pine Valley would have been 113.  The “113” stems from the USGA’s assertion that at any course, a player’s average differential will be 1.13 times his handicap.  In other words, “113” represents the bias in the Handicap System that favors the lower handicap player.   It is not prudent to remind the knowledgeable player of this inequity every time he computes his handicap.  The reference course would now have a Slope Rating of 100.  Since the Slope Rating is an "index," its reference standard should be 100 and not 113.
3. The changes would simplify answering the question, “What is your handicap?"  Under the present system, if your answer is "My USGA Index is 11.2," you will get a lot of quizzical looks if the questioner is a non-golfer. You could patiently explain that a golfer has a myriad of handicaps depending upon the Slope Rating of the course.  By the time you are finished with your explanation, the questioner will have excused himself and moved on to someone more interesting.  It would be so much easier to say my Standard Handicap is 11 (or 11.2 if you want to add some spurious accuracy your audience cares little about).

It is unclear why the USGA chose to describe courses by what it measures (i.e., the Slope Rating) rather that by what golfers can easily use and understand (i.e., the new Slope Rating).  Because of that choice, golfers have suffered and will continue to suffer needless confusion.

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