Saturday, December 26, 2015

What's "Age" Got to Do With It?

A Member/Guest tournament has a condition that if a player’s combined age and handicap equals 90 or higher, he can play the forward tees.   The Tournament Committee explains the inclusion of age as a determinant of the tees played is intended to increase participation from an increasingly older membership.  (This begs the question of why the tee prize for participants is a quasi-walking golf bag.)  

This attempt at affirmative action for the elderly is misguided for two reasons.  First, it is “tacky.”  In a Member/Guest, do you really want to inquire about your partner’s age?  And how would you vet the age of a player?   Require a photo-id like he is checking into a Motel 6? 

Second, to ensure equitable competition, golfers should be measured by their ability (i.e., their Index) and not some extraneous attribute.  An example should demonstrate why age is an inappropriate criterion:

Assume Lance and his twin Larry are 16-handicaps from both the back and forward tees—there is only a small difference between the two Slope Ratings.  Since they are both 75, they qualify to play the forward tees. There is a one stroke difference in the Course Ratings so each would be assigned a 15 handicap for the tournament.  Since the event consists of a series of nine hole matches, Lance and Larry would each be assigned an 8 handicap for each match (15/2 = 7.5 which is rounded to 8).

Twins Justin and Jim are a couple of years younger than Lance and Larry, but are also 16 handicaps.  They too would play the back tees as 8 handicaps for their match.   Both teams are of equal ability and handicap, yet Lance and Larry would have the advantage of playing from the forward tees.   This would not be fair on its face.  (Justin and Jim could be assigned ½-stroke, but that presents other problems in equity, ease of administration, and user friendliness not discussed here.)

Competitions between players from different sets of tees are inherently inequitable.  The handicap adjustment under Sec. 3-5 , Players Competing from Different Tees, may not be equitable even for singles stroke play, and there is no evidence  its makes for equitable competition in four-ball.[1]  To obtain the best chance for a fair competition, all matches within a flight should be played from the same set of tees.  This would eliminate the need to invoke Sec. 3-5, increase equity, and ease the burden on tournament administrators. 

If there is a playoff among flight winners for an overall championship, it too should be conducted from one set of tees.  If three sets of tees are used, for example, the middle set could be selected for the playoff.  This would minimize grumbling from those who might otherwise have to give a stroke and distance to their less skilled opponents.

[1]  The theoretical problems with Sec. 3-5 are discussed in “The Problems with Section 3-5,”, March 4, 2014.  A small empirical study reports Sec. 3-5 did not correct for the difference in tees.  In this case, the players competing from the back tees were at a disadvantage--see “Is Your Tournament Equitable,”, October 22, 2012.

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