Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pacific Amateur Golf Tournament: If you go…

The Pacific Amateur (Pac-Am) golf tournament is held in Bend, Oregon every year.  It is run by the Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) to promote tourism in the shoulder season between golf and skiing.  If you go, you can expect good golf courses, good food, and a great selection of ales from Bend’s many breweries.  What you cannot expect is an equitable competition.

The Pac-Am attracts approximately 400 golfers each year and they compete in flights based on age, sex, and handicap.   The typical flight has 24 players.  After three rounds, the top four players in each flight compete in the finals at the Crosswater Course at the Sunriver Resort.

With so many golfers, it is likely that a few will not be in strict adherence to the USGA Handicap System. The Pac-Am assures its participants that they will have to pass a handicap background check before they are allowed to enter.  Here are a few warnings from the Pac-Am website: 

Any unusual posting procedures, such as ceasing to post scores for a period leading up to the event, may be grounds for disqualification.  Any participant found using a fraudulent Handicap will be expelled from the tournament and all fees will be forfeited.

Participants in the competitive net divisions will compete using an assigned Tournament Handicap.  The participant will need to provide a complete scoring history to the Handicap Committee.  This handicap is calculated using one to two methods.  The committee may assign a handicap from a previous month if it deems the participant’s historical handicap is a better representation of scoring potential.  (Alternatively), the Tournament Handicap can be calculated by using past Pac-Am tournament scores and scores from other tournaments.  Tournament scores (especially those from the Pac-Am) are weighted more heavily in the calculation to help prevent golfers from having “repeat career round” during tournaments.

The vetting procedure sounds so strict that no sandbagger could make it through.  In truth, the Pac-Am’s policy is essentially a paper tiger.  With a limited staff, the Tournament Committee cannot check the bona fides of all entrants.  Basically, if your entry check clears, you are in.
The 2014 Pac-Am demonstrated the Tournament Committee’s inability to conduct an equitable tournament.  In this tournament, the same player was a repeat winner of the over-all net competition. The Bend Bulletin (September 26, 2014) in an act of journalistic naiveté extolled the accomplishment.  Asked to explain his unlikely performance, the player said  “I really can’t explain it.  I love the course and I think playing four, five or six days in a row just helps me swing better.”  The Tournament Committee was equally impressed and featured the winner’s picture on its website along with an article on the remarkable accomplishment of being the first repeat winner in the Tournament’s history.

No one seemed to ask the obvious question “Is the player’s handicap legitimate?” [1] Though the player was from Washington State, he did not have a handicap with any golf club belonging to the Washington State Golf Association.  When this was brought to the attention of COVA, it responded:

We are happy to provide you with (the player’s) USGA handicap card, with his index dated 9/15/2014, issued by his home course.

COVA was incorrect when it wrote the player’s index was issued by his home course (emphasis added)His index was issued by an affiliate club (i.e., no course) through a company named MyScorecard.  MyScorecard sells a handicapping service for $14.95 a year.   Supposedly clubs formed under the aegis of MyScorecard have peer review.  But this is in theory only.  In practice, I bought a MyScorecard index that had no relationship to my potential ability.  I never received a query from my alleged handicap chairman who could possibly be a figment of someone’s imagination.
Even though the lack of peer review makes it is easy to cheat with MyScorecard, it does not necessarily follow that this player cheated.  To determine the authenticity of the index, it is necessary to examine his posted scores.  Here is what that examination revealed:

1. The player never posted a score from Crosswater even though he shot two net 66s in winning the Pac-Am finals in 2013 and 2014.
2. He never posted any round as a T-Score even though the Pac-Am Tournament Committee was supposedly to weight these scores heavily in arriving at the player’s tournament handicap.
3. The player played at a higher index in 2014 than in 2013 even though he won the tournament in 2013.  Apparently the Pac-Am Tournament Committee is not as vigilant in adjusting handicaps based on past performance as its website claims.

The missing 2013 tournament score (i.e., had it been posted it would have been in the last twenty scores and used in calculating the player’s index used for the 2014 tournament) means the player’s handicap was fraudulent and he should have been stripped of his title as the Pac-Am rules stipulate.  This did not happen.  COVA continued to defend the player’s performance as not extraordinary.  By any measure, however, the performance was extraordinary.  First, the player had to finish in the top four of his flight.  The probability of doing this is 1/6.  Then he had to win the finals against approximately 40 competitors.  The probability of doing this is 1/40.  The probability of doing this twice in a row is 1/57,600.  Even the probability of a defending champion repeating is 1/240—i.e., highly unlikely.

COVA did not hand down a harsh verdict on this player’s performance, and the reason is fairly clear.   To do so would reveal handicaps are not getting the close scrutiny the Pac-Am claims.  Prospective players could be turned off and participation could be reduced if they believed the tournament was not an equitable competition.   Since COVA’s real purpose is to fill motel rooms (from which it gets a percentage of the Transient Occupancy Tax), advertising the misconduct of the player and the ineffectiveness of its staff would not be in its interest.  Best just to forget about it and hope the player does not come back and “threepeat.”

[1] Dean Knuth, former Senior Director of Handicapping of the USGA, did pioneering work on the probability of exceptional scores.—see  Knuth recognized the weakness of the USGA’s handicap system in catching flagrant sandbaggers.  He invented the Knuth Point System where a player’s handicap is reduced based on what he wins and not on what he scores. 


  1. This demonstrates the basic flaw in having a handicapping system based on honesty of the player. You should NAME the player and link to his GHIN handicap. Only public shaming will ever have any kind of effect on this.

    1. You are right. If Eve had passed on that apple, the handicap system would work much better. The local newspaper, the tournament director, and the title sponsor are aware of the situation. They thought it best to protect the reputation of the Pac-Am and avoid any punitive action. I assume the player will not be welcomed back to this year's event. I will check. Thanks for your comment.