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A handicap is no disadvantage

Building and maintaining one is easy, and helps level the playing field.

by Greg FloresPublished: December, 2011

Chad McDermott -
In golf, handicaps are the great equalizer. A handicap serves to separate the men from the boys and the very good from the great exaggerators. It goes without saying that anyone seeking any level of legitimacy in the game makes the effort to establish a handicap.

This statement begs a very important question. With millions of golfers in Southern California, why are there only approximately 160,000 golfers who bother to carry the handicap badge?

“It’s a question the golf industry has asked for years,” says Kevin Heaney, executive director of the Southern California Golf Association.

It’s a heavy burden for the leader of the organization responsible for rating golf courses and managing handicapping for all member clubs in Southern California. “We have to keep looking for ways to overcome the barriers that keep players from making that leap,” he says.

For the uninitiated, the SCGA and other local amateur associations around the country rate the difficulty of virtually every golf course. This degree of difficulty appears as a numerical rating for each hole, as well as a slope rating for each set of tees, on every course’s scorecard. As a player builds and maintains a handicap by posting scores for every round played, the handicap index sets a scoring level the player should be able to achieve approximately 20 percent of the time. For example, if a player with a 10 handicap is playing a course with a rating of 70, the player should shoot 80 two out of every 10 rounds.

Handicapping allows the player to compete on an equal playing field against players of varying abilities. It’s also a mandatory component of competitive amateur play, which may account for another one of the barriers against it.

“The big three reasons we hear why people don’t play more are time, expense and difficulty of the game. There are pressures at work and at home. There are limits to what a person can put into a game, and the game takes time to play. There is also a misconception that you have to be a great player to have a handicap, which isn’t true,” says Heaney. “The handicap system requires peer review, so someone who wants a handicap has to join a traditional green grass golf club or a nontraditional affiliate club not attached to a course. We are searching for ways to make it easier to join a club and to provide more value in membership.”

Indeed, the SCGA is trying to find the right mix to attract and retain more players. The ability to gain a handicap through nontraditional means, such as through a Roger Dunn Golf Shop or through community groups like churches or professional clubs. Nontraditional clubs can bridge the gap for many players where cost may keep many players from joining a traditional club. The SCGA also is offering promotions to members beyond the handicapping and rating service that has become synonymous with the association, including discounted tickets to local sporting events, outings to private clubs, travel packages and more.

“Golf can be an intimidating game, especially for someone who might be a little older coming into it,” says Heaney. “Golf has to do a little better job in making that transition into the game easier. We have to make the game more open and accessible.”

For more information on joining an SCGA-affiliated golf course or club, visit the association’s website at or call (818) 980-3630.