My Final Thoughts on Handicaps

From the Santiburi Members blog — it’s been the headline since July 6th.

It’s coming…

…and Santiburi Members and Friends will be ready for the new World Handicap System, set to go live worldwide on 1 Jan 2020.

Here is also the text of an Instant Message chat between a SMAF administrator and Shane from BIRDIE:

  • SMAF Admin:Quick question: How will Birdie handle the changes coming with the World Handicap System coming on 1 Jan 2020?
  • Shane from BIRDIE: We’re already prepared, and have some of the rules already implemented.

Wow, what exciting news!   They will be ready.

My view is the World Handicap System will be great BUT only if the world which in this case includes Thailand accepts it and abides by the rules.  If the courses in Thailand haven’t been properly rated are they going to pay the necessary cost to do it? Why hasn’t the SMAF Admin asked Shane from BIRDIE why the Santiburi ratings are not the same as the published ratings?   Why hasn’t the SMAF Admin asked where the Happy City and Waterford ratings came from?   I’m guessing someone just made them up — maybe somewhat accurate or possibly way way off the mark.   How would we know? Why use BIRDIE?

 On May 24th SMAF announced the transition.  The stated goal for Santiburi Members and Friends is to “play golf and have fun”.  For years, we have been handling our handicapping “in-house”.  While it has worked, after a fashion, our current system is less than satisfactory for a number of reasons.  First, our scores and handicaps are not available for peer review. Second, it is a burden for the person designated as the Fairness Specialist to gather scores, calculate handicaps, and disseminate the handicaps to SMAF participants.  Most importantly, there are readily available alternatives that make our current system pale in comparison.  
How does BIRDIE help achieve the stated goal of “play golf and have fun”?  Does putting your own scores into a computer make your golf game more fun?   They claim the scores need to be available for peer review.  Over the past 3 months I have on numerous instances pointed out errors — were any corrected?  NO?   How many others have actually taken the time to review other scores or care?   They say it is a burden for the person designated to gather scores, calculate handicaps and disseminate the handicaps.  It takes a minute 3 times a week to enter the scores and possibly as much as 5 minutes every 2 weeks to put them on a blog.   Hardly a burden — and I have been doing it since they stopped.  How does BIRDIE make the handicaps I publish “pale in comparison”? 
Our handicap system is most useful for new SMAF participants (to initially establish their handicap), or for competitions with other golfers outside of SMAF, such as our annual community-wide tournaments (The Bernie, the Tony, the Canada Cup, The Community Cup, and others), and for competitions with other communities such as the Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai Cup.

Most Chiang Rai golfers are now aware that SMAF handicaps are now inflated due to BIRDIE.  How do you think it will go over when a SMAF member wins a competition by one stroke?

I emailed them and informed them that I was going public with the fact that BIRDIE is rubbish.  They responded by publishing my private email followed by a character assassination of me.   They said “Leo has advanced the following argument against transition away from his in-house system — SMAF members won’t/can’t update their scores or can’t be trusted to input them accurately, so their handicap will be wrong, and that will be unfair to other players.”  Have I not demonstrated that to be true?

 “There are over 2,000 subscribers to BIRDIE in Thailand.  That is a major vote of confidence in the BIRDIE system.”  There are over 2,000 subscribers to BIRDIE in Thailand.  After sampling the first 300 names I have found that 14% of them have ONLY the minimum 5 scores to get a handicap and that 58% of them don’t even have the 20 scores needed to get a proper handicap.   Hardly a vote of confidence when over half don’t have 20 rounds to enter.   I found 40% hadn’t entered anything during 2018 — apparently abandoned.  One had entered 129 scores up to Feb 2016 — none since — maybe he found a better way of keeping his handicap then again maybe he died.

 “To use Leo’s phrase, there is no way to know on any given day the “exactly right” handicap for any golfer with the skill level of the average SMAF participant.”  Exactly right is following the rules of the handicap manual, using the correct course ratings and inputting the correct scores. 

“We sincerely believe transitioning to an independent, portable, peer-reviewable system such as BIRDIE is far better than an in-house system that allows no insight into how the handicap is calculated.”   How is BIRDIE which uses incorrect course ratings “far better” than the in-house system that only accepted SMAF scores at Santiburi?   Since BIRDIE doesn’t give the course ratings I have “no insight” as to how the handicaps are calculated.  Do you?

I have demonstrated using actual statistics that several members have had their handicaps go up because of BIRDIE and have done better at skins because of it.   I have shown that a couple members have won fewer skins and done worse because they didn’t use BIRDIE correctly.  Would you say that BIRDIE is more fair?

The Administrators have claimed that BIRDIE is better but none of their claims have turned out to be true.  They have never explained why it was necessary.   It just seemed like a good idea at the time and they went with it.  They never bothered to ask the members if they wanted it and they haven’t asked if they think it is better.   There was the despicable attempt to baffle everyone with BS “When the range of likely scores is that wide, it becomes ridiculous to worry about whether a particular golfer’s handicap is 25.4, 24.8, or 23.4.  In technical terms, the “signal to noise” ratio is too great to fine tune the handicap to that level of detail.”  That statement shows a stunning lack of understanding of handicaps.  Ridiculous to worry about a 2 stroke difference?

I have chosen to accept the so-called “burden” of diligently and meticulously maintaining SMAF handicaps.  I have even offered to use any online service that SMAF prefers as long as only (correctly) rated courses are included in the calculations.   If they prefer I would set it up for them and they can do it (as long as it is done by only one person and done accurately).   Until then I will continue to be assiduous (which doesn’t mean I’m an asshole).

I was told in confidence by a member that this is extremely personal to the Administrators.   They would rather continue with rubbish handicaps than to admit they made a mistake.    Perhaps one day the members will realize that the Administrators are unable to put aside their personal differences for the good of the group.   Once they do their competitions will again be as fair as possible.