I think it's time to overhaul the USGA handicap system. It has been in place for a long time and I feel that the current system works too hard to make us all equally competitive. So why does competition hurt the game, you ask? Golf is a game played by people whom crave competition, simply for enjoyment of the game or a little bit of both. To compete, you need a handicap.
My issue with the current handicap system is that while it serves us all, it hurts the core avid golfers (avid does not mean single-digit handicap) and has slowed the pace of the game to a crawl. It is simply the truth that it takes longer to hit a ball 116 times than it does to hit it 82 times. Yet all individuals with the goal of establishing a USGA handicap, must hole out to achieve that goal. Imagine the revenue a bowling alley would lose if we changed the rules that limit the bowler to two balls per frame to clear the pins. I could see a new bowler taking six or more attempts to pick up that lone 10 pin. One game with four bowlers could last three times as long. That could tie up a lane for hours without any additional revenue. How do you learn to pick up that 10 pin? You practice! It's a double-edged sword because slow play deters the growth of the game and can have a huge effect on revenue as well. Kind of sounds like golf, doesn't it?
I think we should encourage people to practice and work on their game if they want to "earn" a USGA handicap. Perhaps part of joining the USGA system is a pledge to play in four hours or under. If it is your goal to be a competitive golfer, then practice on the range, get instruction, play with better players and study the game. There could be a threshold or maximum handicap limit put in place. And although it may seem a bit over the top, I think that threshold should be set at around 24 or less and possibly drop a stroke or two over the years. Golf is a unique sport in the fact that you pay to play without any stated limitations on the time it takes you to finish. And while I am aware course policies attempt to control pace of play, very few facilities are truly successful. The customer will simply proclaim, "I paid to play 18 holes.”
It's time we all get serious about pace of play and we need to take serious steps to make that happen. Bowling has rules in place to assure that a game can be completed in reasonable amount of time and golf needs to do the same. If golf is truly going to grow the game, then four-hour rounds are a must. Perhaps the USGA could tweak the handicap system and help speed up the game. Here are a few suggestions to speed up the game as well:
- Allow coolers and stop using beverage carts because they slow a typical round as much as one hour. Get them before they tee off and at the turn.
- Make double bogey the highest score any player can take. Bowling tells you how many times you get to throw at the pins. Golf should do the same.
- Outlaw ball retrievers.
- Reduce the height of the rough.
- Incorporate a shot clock on the PGA and USGA events. Every other major sport has one. There is no reason for anyone to adjust the line on their ball seven times before putting.
- Eliminate the stigma of the "ladies tee.” Don't have red tees. Have forward and junior tees. Everyone can play them without shame.
- Sell reclaimed golf balls at cost. The small loss of revenue is nothing compared to a foursome quitting because the group ahead has spent the day hunting their ball.