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Golfers are Getting Better, Handicaps are Dropping

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1 hour ago, rolopolo said:

if we take todays golfers and gave them the same courses and equipment as 20 yrs ago, would handicaps be the same?

So for me, handicaps are lower: fact; golfers are better: no evidence :-)

20 years ago, golfers made improvement, although there probably wasn't many who maintained a handicap.

Yes there is evidence golfers become better. One would truly notice this if they: Had a child who started playing golf and followed them over the years to practice, lessons, through school and later though their years. Or ask any Head Pro about customers they known for a period of time. Follow High School, College players, over a period of time. They are many parents now who pursue kids to play golf, with hopes they can obtain scholarships to continue their Childs education and ease their financial burden.

Two areas which has increased the number of players has been the young and old. Baby Boomers (a rather large population) are retiring and many both husband and wife have learned or intend to learn to play. Junior Golf programs are full at all clubs.

Golfers in the mid-age category, may find less time for golf, but they are looking to improve and will.

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The fact the information being analyzed is taken from a sample that is not representative of the general population that plays golf makes the argument difficult.  There are many variables that need to be accounted for before you can make a strong argument.  Has the number of golfers who keep a handicap increased? If it has increased, is the handicap of the new players lower than the average?  Does the average handicap control for people just establishing a handicap (i.e. those who have only played 5 or 10 rounds)?  What percentage of the golfing population do not maintain a handicap?  These are just a few variables that could skew the interpretation that players are getting better.  

Edited by Snap Hook

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17 hours ago, SavvySwede said:

Two strokes better since early 90's... I'd say 98% of that is 460cc drivers and lower spinning balls. I don't remember the exact stats but a very significant portion of golfers didn't use/didn't even bother to carry a driver. Now every high handicapper has a 460cc cannon because it's actually easier to hit than a 3W or 5W of the tee, no chance at whiffing the ball.

Early 1990's is when the Big Bertha was rolled out and many other manufacturers started following suit.

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Just now, natureboy said:

Early 1990's is when the Big Bertha was rolled out and many other manufacturers started following suit.

Yep. Largest jump in PGA Tour driving distance was also during that period (1995-2005).

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2 hours ago, iacas said:

The "tougher courses" is taken care of by course ratings and slope, though. That's not necessarily a valid argument.

Yes fair point, but wouldn't your slope ratings and course ratingscalculations be adjusted from time to time to reflect tech advances?

I do not have proof of this but would be interesting to see if the course rating formula have changed over the years.

As mentioned earlier, we don't have slope ratings here, only course ratings. Here, a course at sealevel with a course rating of 72 would have to be more than 6700 yards from the club tees.

In my area (at altitude), there are really only 2 courses I can play and access that have a course rating of 72. One is called Wingate Park and the other the Els club, both around 7200 yards from club tees.

Anyways, I don't have evidence, but I wonder if these courses would have had the same course rating with such length 20 years ago?

All in all, I am a bit frustrated with the length of courses. I often feel that I would enjoy it much more if I could play of forward tees, even if they were to have a rating of 69 or whatever. It's just really frowned upon here and unless you are playing by yourself, folk would probably tell you to play the proper tees :mellow:

 

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42 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

As mentioned earlier, we don't have slope ratings here, only course ratings. Here, a course at sealevel with a course rating of 72 would have to be more than 6700 yards from the club tees.

I've seen plenty of courses rated 72 in the 6400-6500 range.

44 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

In my area (at altitude), there are really only 2 courses I can play and access that have a course rating of 72. One is called Wingate Park and the other the Els club, both around 7200 yards from club tees.
 

Altitude can  make 7200 play like 6500. A course I play that is 7200 (and very close to sea level) is rated 74.

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13 minutes ago, SavvySwede said:

I've seen plenty of courses rated 72 in the 6400-6500 range.

I belief you :-), not where I am from though - I have never ever seen a course here in SA with a course rating of 72 yet only 6500 yards long, regardless of how difficult it is.

Anyways, not the point. The point that I am trying to make is that it seems to be that courses are getting longer yet the course ratings have been adjusted over time to accommodate advances in technology. I was wondering wether this is in fact true, and if anyone maybe has evidence that these formulas, espcially the length factors, have been adjusted over the past 20 years or so?

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18 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

I belief you :-), not where I am from though - I have never ever seen a course here in SA with a course rating of 72 yet only 6500 yards long, regardless of how difficult it is.

Anyways, not the point. The point that I am trying to make is that it seems to be that courses are getting longer yet the course ratings have been adjusted over time to accommodate advances in technology. I was wondering wether this is in fact true, and if anyone maybe has evidence that these formulas, espcially the length factors, have been adjusted over the past 20 years or so?

I started looking for the historical definition of a scratch golfer and came up on Scottish golf which stated that back in 1911, the par lengths were defined as such: 

http://www.scottishgolfhistory.org/origin-of-golf-terms/bogey/

par 4 was up to 425 yards, so I would guess that a scratch player from back then could hit 425 in 2 shots rather than 470?

Would be interesting to find a plot of scratch golfer tee shot length versus time in decades over the past 100 years.

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21 minutes ago, Lihu said:

I started looking for the historical definition of a scratch golfer and came up on Scottish golf which stated that back in 1911, the par lengths were defined as such: 

http://www.scottishgolfhistory.org/origin-of-golf-terms/bogey/

par 4 was up to 425 yards, so I would guess that a scratch player from back then could hit 425 in 2 shots rather than 470?

Would be interesting to find a plot of scratch golfer tee shot length versus time in decades over the past 100 years.

A great read, thanks for sharing!

4 hours ago, iacas said:

The "tougher courses" is taken care of by course ratings and slope, though. That's not necessarily a valid argument.

Found this: " Every year, the USGA Course Rating Committee meets to discuss changes to the existing rating procedures. Although the formulas used to compute the final numbers are never altered, the techniques to obtain the numbers may be changed. "

So yes, you are probably right (FFS do you ever lose an argument?:mellow:

 

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Just now, rolopolo said:

So yes, you are probably right (FFS do you ever lose an argument?:mellow:

Yep. All the time. Just ask my wife… ;-)

BTW, I'm the captain of my course rating team for NW PA. Been doing course ratings for nine years now.

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Another possibility of why handicaps have improved in the last 2 decades is more golfers knowing and abusing*** more rules. :-D

 

***This is a thought (partially a joke) that crossed my mind as I read through more of the "divots" thread.

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The article mentioned 5 million golfers maintain a USGA handicap. I read somewhere (can't remember where) a few years ago that there were about 20 million golfers in the US, so that would mean that only 1/4 of golfers in the US maintain a handicap and the rest are everything from good players not wanting to mess with one (unlikely) to the duffers who go out twice a year to the hordes of people you see banging balls at the range, getting their driver to about 160 yards (I was one of them once), not playing by the rules and stil not breaking 100. Equipment and instruction improvements (and the Internet) hasn't made a dent in improving the ability of those "golfers", I feel.

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On 1/11/2016 at 11:21 PM, SavvySwede said:

Two strokes better since early 90's... I'd say 98% of that is 460cc drivers and lower spinning balls. I don't remember the exact stats but a very significant portion of golfers didn't use/didn't even bother to carry a driver. Now every high handicapper has a 460cc cannon because it's actually easier to hit than a 3W or 5W of the tee, no chance at whiffing the ball.

21 hours ago, natureboy said:

Early 1990's is when the Big Bertha was rolled out and many other manufacturers started following suit.

The 1994 Big Bertha was 190cc.  That's the driver I played in college, and I used to hit it off of the deck all the time.  The Titleist 975J (late 90s) was 312cc.  The 983k was 365cc; I bought one in 2004.  I think the 905 was Titleist's first 460cc club, which would have been released at the end of 2004?   So 10 years to get from 190cc to 460cc. 

I mention this because thinking of the Big Bertha as an "oversized" driver is laughable now.

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Golf is easier to play now than it's ever been, for me. ;-) The only reason for that is the equipment.

The clubs and balls I use now are so much more forgiving and easier to swing. I'm 55 and I started playing when I was I was 25. Instruction, especially the video and electronics have improved, but they aren't utilized every day like the clubs are. Heck, most of the guys I play with never get a lesson and most of them are playing as well or better than they ever did.

Boy if I could still swing it like I did when I was 35, with todays clubs!!!???!!!

 

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I have no reason to disagree that handicaps are dropping. I just don't see it while golfinfing 2-4 times a week. I see the same games being played all the time. Heck, even my own handicap went up over the past few months. 

If true, that they are dropping, then I might think due to costs/economy, that fewer higher handicappers are continuing to play. No real basis for that thought. Just an opinion.

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16 minutes ago, Patch said:

If true, that they are dropping, then I might think due to costs/economy, that fewer higher handicappers are continuing to play. No real basis for that thought. Just an opinion.

That was my first thought, that if the economy is driving some people away from golf, its more likely the more casual golfer, which in my mind is more likely to be the higher handicapper.  Even in the smaller subset of golfers with USGA handicaps, I'd expect that to be the case.  If you eliminate some higher handicappers form the field, you end up with a lower average handicap.  I don't claim to have any data to back up my interpretation, just my gut feeling.

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45 minutes ago, Patch said:

I have no reason to disagree that handicaps are dropping. I just don't see it while golfinfing 2-4 times a week. I see the same games being played all the time. Heck, even my own handicap went up over the past few months. 

If true, that they are dropping, then I might think due to costs/economy, that fewer higher handicappers are continuing to play. No real basis for that thought. Just an opinion.

I tend to agree, I took a fairly long hiatus from golf and returned only a few years ago.  Since I've been back it does appear that there are fewer casual golfers out there these days, particularly within the 20 and 30 something crowd.  Not sure if that would be reflected in the results though since, presumably, casual golfers probably didn't  maintain official handicaps back then any more then they do now. I can't seem to open up the article link from my current location so this information may already be contained in it, but it would be interesting to see the data further segmented by golfer "type" if you will (ie. by average number of rounds played per year), that way you could compare improvement in casual golfers now vs. 20 years ago and more serious golfers now vs. 20 years ago.  I would think that information would be readily available since the system tracks rounds entered.

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So a more accurate statement would be that among golfers who keep official handicaps with USGA approved organizations (GHIN, US Handicap), the average golfer has improved two strokes since the early 1990s.

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