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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Honesty leads to true satisfaction

 •  New system meant to cut sandbagging

By Greg Nichols

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The Advertiser, with help from Ko Olina director of golf Greg Nichols, is offering this question-and-answer feature on the rules of golf. If you have a question regarding the rules of golf e-mail cmurayama@honoluluadvertiser.com. Nichols recommends readers go to PlayGolfAmerica.com for information on golf programs in their area. For additional rules information, ask your local Aloha Section PGA professional or go online to www.USGA.org.

While keeping a score at golf is certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the game, most people who play golf do like to keep score.

These scores, if kept accurately, are then the substance for establishing a "handicap." Without getting too technical, a player's course handicap is the number of strokes a player would receive to adjust their scoring ability to the level of a scratch or "0 handicap" player.

One of the inherent charms of the game is that players of quite different abilities can play an exciting and fair match against each other because the lesser golfer receives extra handicap strokes. This allows Tiger Woods to compete against a hacker named Joe Duffer.

Can you imagine Andre Agassi wanting to play a tennis match against someone who can barely hit the ball over the net?

The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. Herein lies the rub.

Two basic premises underlie this system namely that each player will try to make the best score at every hole, in every round and that the player will post or record every acceptable round for peer review. This basically means that the player will give his best effort and be honest. Further, by posting his scores for all to see, this will allow other players (his peers) to acknowledge that his scores are honest.

Sadly, anybody can easily try to cheat the handicap system. In casual rounds that don't mean anything, they can miss a few short putts, intentionally hit a couple of balls out of bounds or even worse, simply record or post scores higher than what they actually shot.

With this artificially inflated handicap, this player can enter every tournament and easily win the major prizes. Left unchecked, this type of practice, known as sandbagging, discourages other players from competing since they feel the competition is unfair.

Everybody knows who these culprits are but unfortunately, in the past, because of the ease for golfers to attain a non-USGA approved handicap in Hawai'i and lax enforcement of the rules, these sandbaggers have been allowed to play in tournaments with false handicaps. The good news is that the HSGA and Aloha Section PGA and their 230 member clubs are now taking positive action to stop this practice.

Every honest amateur golfer in Hawai'i can join the HSGA and help fix the problem of sandbagging.

The funny part of this whole affair is that these unscrupulous players actually think they are fooling everybody, when, in reality they are really only fooling themselves.

They are sadly cheating themselves out of the satisfaction of always trying to play their best. There's a great quote by the famous sportswriter, Grantland Rice, that sums it up:

"For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game."