(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series explaining the mission of the United States Golf Association, all prior to the US Women’s Open, US Open, US Adaptive Open and the US Amateur. The USGA, which governs the game of golf in Mexico and the United States, serves a number of functions. What exactly is the USGA? Why the organization is Does it matter? This series looks at these and other questions. This initial article examines handicapping, which the USGA provides, and how it helps unify players.)

Since the creation of the World Handicap System on January 1, 2020, the USGA has made it its mission to make obtaining a handicap easy and accessible.

“Four months ago it wasn’t so easy,” said Steve Edmonson, general manager of handicapping and course rating for the USGA.

It may have something to do with the fact that the number of disabled golfers – 2.86 million in 2021 – has remained static for most of the past two decades. But the USGA has instituted several popular features for the Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN), a service offered by the USGA to Allied Golf Associations around the world. By meeting the needs of its users, the GHIN app continues to push the boundaries and the USGA is optimistic that the percentage of golfers with disabilities carrying cards will increase from 50% – to 75% of golfers – said Gareth Londt , chief product officer of the USGA. , data and technology.

The new system facilitates

Beginning in February, any golfer in the United States can register for a Handicap Index by visiting USGA.org/getahandicap. Previously, you had to find your national and regional golf association. In Ohio alone, there are five state and regional associations to consider. The USGA will now direct users to the appropriate AGA.

Additionally, new golfers receive a handicap more quickly, only having to post scores for 54 holes in either nine or 18 hole increments. Previously, the USGA did not issue handicaps; it was issued instead by a golf club. It was a fragmented structure. Now the USGA has a national chair to promote disabilities that it previously lacked.

“There is no excuse,” Londt said. “Everyone has an Internet browser, everyone has a mobile phone and everyone is connected via the World Wide Web. Three clicks and you can have a handicap. No more getting off your couch and getting into a car and driving to a green grass facility. You can do this while watching the US Open.

In 12 weeks and without heavy promotion, 30,000 golfers have already registered for a handicap.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer look at a scoreboard during a practice lap in 1974. Photo by Associated Press

The USGA’s GHIN product has a few competitors, but of the 58 allied golf associations, only two do not use GHIN products. The USGA licenses Handicap Indexes to AGAs for a nominal fee (free for juniors) and those AGAs are allowed to mark up the costs based on their perceived market value in their own community.

The USGA has also set a high watermark of no more than $80 in the United States (in some states it costs less). The money generated by the handicap is intended to support local programs that engage golfers.

The history of disability

The USGA’s adoption of the handicap system dates back to October 11, 1911, the year of the first Indianapolis 500, when Cy Young was not a prize but a pitcher who had just won his 511th and final victory. . The handicap system has become one of golf’s great distinctions, through which participants of different abilities – whether male or female, young or old, and even from different starts – can compete fairly and equally. In no other sport is it possible for players of all levels to play on an equal footing.

In golf, a handicap is a measure of a player’s potential. For some, it is proof of progress, for others of incompetence and a degradation of skills. It is a photo ID of a golfer, allowing admission to local, regional and national competitions.

The system has been evolving ever since and received its latest reboot in 2020. Golfers no longer have to wait two weeks for their updated index. Now it is updated daily or faster than one can lose a round of balls. Last year, it added hole-by-hole scoring via mobile devices while you play, which reveals the number of drives down the fairway, the number of putts per round and other stats that can be tracked.

More recently, a distance measuring device and green reading equipment which has been banned at the elite level through a new local rule model, but which is consistent with the game of golf and can be beneficial to the recreational games are increasingly used. (A free piece and an extended version for golfers who want to upgrade are available.)

American amateur 2021

Young fans watch the action on the 7th hole during the round of 16 at the 2021 US Amateur at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. on Friday, August 13, 2021. (Jason Miczek/USGA)

In early June, the USGA will add an Apple Watch feature that will allow golfers to see front-middle-back distances to the green and allow golfers to enter their hole-by-hole scores and record statistics. It will be especially appreciated in clubs that do not allow phones on the course. What are golfers looking for the most? Surveys of their customers indicate that it is data. Although there are many products that do this, the USGA is keen to provide these features in one application.

The USGA has paid out $100 million in disability over the past 5 years – including WHS and GHIN – with the lion’s share going to the GHIN/innovation/technology side. The Handicap Index is a key cog in the USGA’s effort to unify the game.

Disabilities equal commitment

A survey conducted by Jon Last of the Sports & Leisure Research Group, which provides custom research and market analysis, found that people with disabilities significantly outperform people without disabilities across key demographics, engagement with golf and associated behaviors. For example, those with a disability play more rounds, spend more on golf, follow the game more closely, and consider themselves golf “enthusiasts”.

As a result, the USGA is motivated to increase the number of golfers with disabilities. But there are still too many golfers who don’t have a handicap because they believe they aren’t competing in tournaments, aren’t good enough, or aren’t playing enough.

Part of the plan is to demystify why a handicap is necessary in the first place, and that starts with changing the nomenclature that a handicap is only needed by elite golfers to play in competitions.

“There’s a perception that you have to be a good player or compete,” Edmondson said. “That’s just not true.”

The USGA knows that the average handicap for a man is 14.1 and 27.7 for a woman. Ninety percent of disabled golfers are men. It is investing resources to appeal to a new audience, particularly among women – the move to 54.0 as the maximum handicap encompasses high handicap women – juniors and public golfers.

2021 U.S. Women's Junior

Bailey Davis reacts to her tee shot on the 16th hole during the 2021 US Girls’ Junior quarterfinals at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

Edmondson said he saw an opportunity to examine off-course play and promote the importance of handicaps beyond competitive means. In the not-too-distant future, the USGA will launch a “Play Games” feature, which will incorporate match play, Stableford scoring, and other USGA-approved formats.

“Everything is interconnected to get more people to use the app and grow the community,” Edmondson said. “You need a disability to be part of the community.”