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New math

These days it's becoming harder and harder to get in 18 holes of golf. Seems like everybody is busier than ever and can't afford to spend five or six hours on the links. As golf courses get more crowded, catching a quick nine makes more sense than putting aside an entire afternoon for 18.

One problem with playing just nine holes for serious golfers has been that they couldn't post scores for their handicaps. Golfers had to save a nine-hole score and combine it with another score from the same course, perhaps a month later. Otherwise, it was as if they never played the round.Now, thanks to a policy change by the United States Golf Association, golfers are able to post their nine-hole scores. The change should result in more accurate handicaps, which will benefit everyone.

"We've had a real influx of people posting their scores," said Jerry Marks, who handles the handicapping system for the Utah Golf Association. "There's a lot of people who don't play 18 holes and they're really loving it."

The way it works is this: Nine-hole scores from the golfer's home course are combined into an 18-hole score as they come in, while nine-hole scores from all of the other courses are figured in, using the course and slope ratings. So a golfer could play 20 different nine-hole rounds and they would be grouped into 10 18-hole scores.

"It's nice for my nine-hole players," says Nibley Park head pro Mike Brimley. "A lot of people used to want to double their nine-hole score, but that didn't work."

Women have been allowed to have nine-hole handicaps for many years as a separate handicap from their 18-hole handicap, unlike the men. However, Marks said next year the women will all switch to an 18-hole handicap, but can still get a 9-hole handicap for their leagues by cutting their 18-hole handicap in half.

While the change to 9-hole scores is improving the handicap system, no solution seems to be in sight for its biggest problem - sandbagging, or as Marks puts it, "golfers toasting their scores."

In covering tournaments for nearly 20 years now, I've been amazed to see many of the same names year after year winning the net portions of tournaments. These are the guys who claim to be a 16 handicap, then suddenly shoot a net 63 in a tournament, which meant they shot a gross 79. How many of you 16 handicappers out there feel you could shoot a 79 from the back tees?

While some golfers may flat-out cheat and post a wrong score, others do it more subtly. Instead of posting an illegitimate score, many will conveniently forget to record some of their scores, usually after a good round.

Marks notices that there is a difference between men and women in how they sandbag their handicaps.

"Women will try to get their scores lower so they can play in team events," said Marks. "But men will try to get a higher handicap so they can win those net prizes."

Marks said the Utah Golf Association gets a lot of complaints about sandbaggers, but he says it isn't the UGA's responsibility to police the cheaters.

"We have 100 golf courses, actually 150 member clubs, and they're the ones who should be responsible for handicap review and control of their players. They're responsible to talk to the golfers, not the UGA."

Brimley says most players at clubs will police each other to make sure handicaps are legitimate. He says the biggest problem is golfers who mostly play in best ball and scramble events who purposely get a higher score on a hole when their partner has a good score, which results in a higher overall score and higher handicap.

Marks said the UGA has a trigger in its system to catch golfers who suddenly post better scores in tournaments than in their regular Saturday morning foursome. He also said clubs have the authority to freeze a golfer's handicap at a lower number if they can prove he's been cheating.

According to UGA executive director Joe Watts, the handicap system is getting better every year and he has noticed "fewer and fewer repeat winners" in the net portions of local events.

It should get even better in the future, now that golfers can post all of their 9-hole rounds along with their 18-hole rounds.



What's your handicap?

Your score can be adjusted according to the handicap scale on the right. EXAMPLE: If you have a handicap of 13, the maximum number of strokes you must post is 7. You reduce all scored higher than 7 to 7. There is no limit to the number of holes you can reduce.

Handicap Maximum strokes

18-holes at any hole

9 or less Double bogey

10-19 7

20-29 8

30-39 9

over 40 10