Scott Simmons Interview – Part 1 – Solo Rounds and Handicapping

A Quick Nine with Scott Simmons, CEO of Golf Canada

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more

This is the first of a three-part interview with Golf Canada CEO, Scott Simmons, and will examine a January 2016 policy decision around Canadian players no longer able to record official rounds as solo players.  This was a change from November 2015, where Golf Canada chose not follow the USGA in their decision around solo rounds no longer counting toward a player’s handicap index.

  1. What changed between November 2015 to January 2016 that precipitated a policy decision reversal on solo round recording toward handicap indexing, especially one that was so positively received by the golf community in Canada?

SS – It’s a long story; I guess the basic thing was we made our decision really in isolation of trying to understand the rationale that the USGA had used.  Things happen quickly, they made their announcement and we had some social media inquiries and our committee met and decided to adopt all of the changes with the exception of the solo round provision.

36 – Ok.

SS – And I don’t think we could have ever anticipated at that time – and I don’t want to speak for the USGA – I don’t think they could have ever anticipated the amount of feedback and emotion that would be behind this.

36 – I know for myself I’m fairly active on social media and the USGA faced a significant firestorm as a result of this.

SS – Yes, and I think what happened around the decision is that it is hard to give people all the insight and background but I think the rationale where the USGA was coming from was perceived to be ‘we don’t trust people who play alone’.  And that was never meant to be the perception.

36 – That was my knee-jerk reaction.  Especially for a game that is grounded in integrity and those kind of values.  It smacked against that.  Now your organization took a couple months and deliberated, I imagine there were some conversations with the USGA, to get to the point where in late January you made a reversal around that original decision.  Is it a decision that you are comfortable with?

SS – Yes, and again even though we work very close with the USGA if you think about handicap and course ratings our systems are not identical.  I will give you two examples: one is in terms of timing.  If you and I go out and play tomorrow and post our scores our handicap factor is updated immediately.  Whereas the USGA still has a two-week waiting period.  So if you and I are both 10.0 factors right now, we go out and play 5 games over a week.  I shoot 100 in every game and you shoot 75 in every game, several days from now we will both be a 10.  But when it updates you will probably drop to an 8 and I’ll go up to a 12.  So instead of real time it’s a two-week lag.  As well, we differed around equitable stroke control. I’m about a 12 (handicap) so under the old system all I could count was a double bogey.  The USGA had a slightly different system where at my level the most I could count was a 7, didn’t matter if it was a double bogey, triple bogey or a quadruple bogey.  In essence, our handicaps are going to be slightly different.  If I go down and play in an event in the States, my handicap hasn’t been computed in exactly the same way the guys in the U.S. have been.  So that presents a little bit of a challenge, or I’d even call it an opportunity.  Time flies, I’m going to say it’s last year or the year before and we changed to adopt the USGA equitable stroke control so now when I can go out the most I can count is a 7.  It is no longer just a double bogey.

36 – I seem to recall that change coming in about a couple years ago, it wasn’t too long ago.

SS – I don’t want to speak for the USGA but I think it is only a matter of time before they change to our system of real time updates.  So again where you think about those two changes, what is the key benefit? Having that alignment especially between the United States and Canada means consistency.  There is so much cross-border golfing and people posting scores, it just makes sense to be consistent with the US.  That said, our committee decided we were going to continue accepting solo rounds.  Then we sat down with the USGA and talked a little more about their rationale, and the key thing is there are six handicap bodies around the world.

36 – Ok.

SS – I don’t think a lot of people know that.  The R and A is not involved in handicapping at all.  There are six bodies: United States, Australia has their own system, Argentina has their own system, South Africa has their own system, the European Golf Union, and then there is CONGU which is the system used in the United Kingdom.  But they are all a little bit different.  And I think there is an aspirational goal to try to create consistent world-wide handicapping, one system.  So if you and I travel to Boston or we go to Singapore or Scotland or South Africa, all of us who are playing the game and keeping an official handicap factor are playing by the same methodology, the same rules I would say.

36 – That’s really insightful.

SS – So in a long rounded way I am going to give you an answer to your question.  The USGA system is the only one in the world that allows solo rounds.  So in an effort towards – and it may or may not happen – an aligned global system, this change was made.  And it was more to be aligned globally and had nothing to do with, ‘we don’t trust you’.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with how handicaps are calculated in the United Kingdom for example, if people play ten casual rounds with their buddies they can’t count any of those scores whether alone a twosome, threesome or foursome.  They have a competition about once a month and you go out and play and those scores are attested and you have one score a month that counts toward your official handicap.   So when you think about our system where you and I can go and play alone or with each other, we count every single game we play.  9 holes, 18 holes.  And I am not saying one is right or one is wrong, I’m just saying look at how different they are.

36 – I appreciate understanding the scope of the systems that are out there.

  1. I’d like to ask more about a world handicap system because shortly after the communication came out from Golf Canada (about the solo round handicap policy change); you sent out some tweets and let people know that part of the rationale is to possibly align to a world handicap system. I am curious to know, Mr. Simmons, what can you share about this?  Is there any timetable for its launch and could implementation result in any other policy changes around handicapping?

SS – Well I wish I could give you a lot of information, answers to that question, but I can’t.  I don’t really know the timetable; I don’t really know what’s been talked about because it has been conversations among the six entities.  I guess from my chair I just want to be supportive.  I am supportive of an international alignment.  And if one step toward that is no more solo rounds than sign me up. Because Canada wants to be part of the international golf landscape and if the rest of the world is moving to an aligned system we want to be part of that.  As far as the timing, I really don’t have any information on that.

36 – I respect that.  So if this is in its early development phase do you see Canada having a voice or seeking a presence around the development of this system?

SS – Ideally that would be fantastic.  I have expressed our desire to help to the various governing bodies and to the USGA, whose system we fall under.  So for Canada, of those six bodies, we fall under the USGA.  We use their computation.  I have expressed to the USGA we would love to help and be involved in any way we can.  I think they are open to that input so I may be able to give you more information down the road if we are in the room having the discussions but right now we are not.

36 – Thank you, I will certainly keep my ear to the ground around any news coming from your office on this issue.

  1. What exactly is the problem this solo round decision is seeking to address and how serious an issue was this for Golf Canada?

SS – I think in isolation it is not a problem.  You mentioned it earlier; it goes back to the essence of the game being a game or honour and integrity.  In talking to the USGA, it was not about trusting people.  But when you think about the unique nature of a solo round versus say a round with peers or fellow competitors, and in fact some people say the reason may be some people don’t understand the rules and may account themselves for a 6 or 7 and maybe were entitled to a free drop and did not need to add a penalty stroke.  I think the whole concept of having peers with you allows you to enjoy the game more and is fair and equitable both ways.

36 – The integrity issue swings both ways between the sandbagger and the person with a vanity handicap.

SS – If you’re a golfer who plays a lot of solo rounds you don’t ever want to be accused of that.  So why not have the games that count toward your official factor be ones where your peers have been with you.  And again, this has nothing to do about trusting people, but boy if you’re a 15 (handicap) and shoot a career best 78 at the member-guest and walk away with all the prizes and no one has ever played with you, you’re only putting yourself in a position where people may question you when everything is legitimate and you’ve counted every stroke and you really did have your career game.  Peer review is so essential in the game of golf.  It really has nothing to do with trust.

36 – I understand.

Tomorrow, the conversation with Mr. Scott Simmons will complete its look at solo rounds; will address the state of the game of golf in Canada as well as opportunities for greater youth engagement in the game.