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Calkins Par versus Cracknell Scratch--1907

(Knuth Notes:(1) The newspaper is quite old and unreadable words will be indicated with "###". (2) There was a great debate amongst the two major golf associations of the day over what the standard should be for determining handicaps. At the time, golf clubs were permitted to determine their own course rating of "bogey", often based upon the best player in the club, who rarely could compete at the level of a national level amateur. Eventually, when the USGA adopted the Calkins handicap procedure in 1911, the USGA decreed that only golf associations could issue course ratings and they were to be based on the expected score of the top amateur of the day--Jerome Travers. The following article is an interesting insight into the raging debate that went on between 1907 and 1911, until the USGA stepped in.)

New York Sun, May 12, 1907
Advocates of Par Basis Oppose Massachusetts Plan

Calkins Gives a Call Down to Cracknell, Yet Praises His Energy--English Estimate of the Value of the Methods of Scratch Score. Not Commended.

Is the great Massachusetts Golf Association, which prints each year the handicaps of 3,000 to 3,500 players, up against it? The handicaps are based on the scratch and not on the par scores, which is a cause of umbrage to the handicappers of other golf associations who have long since discarded the scratch basis and deem it of no more consequence than the priority of the egg or hen.

"My system", remarks Ralph Cracknell, chairman of the Massachusetts handicappers, "is based on what the best men do day, after day. It is not arbitrary nor drastic, merely a realization of actual golf. It is the one true basis on which to handicap."

The remark is as a red rag to a bull in stirring up the advocates of the par basis of handicapping.

"I know Cracknell's theory, but it is wrong," said Leighton Calkins, handicapper of the Metropolitan(NY) Golf Association.

"Cracknell's basis is a scratch score. Now, what is a scratch score? He complains of par because it's arbitrary and of bogey because it's both arbitrary and imaginary. How his scratch score is infinitely more objectionable because it neither represents perfect play, which is par, nor the so-called bogey or average good play, but rather something in between the two, neither perfect nor an average good play, but some kind of score which might be turned in by the best man in the field at the time, during a tournament.

"Thinking golfers long ago gave up handicapping on the basis of bogey, because bogey is too indefinite a standard of measurement. To a neophyte in golf who might ask: 'How does one arrive at bogey?' the only answer is: 'Why, it represents an average good first class game, making a few allowances for slight mistakes here and there.' If the neophyte goes back to his home links and reports your definition, and if no really good player has ever really tested that links by frequent play, how, in heaven's name, is he or any of his board of governors to fix the bogey?

"Now, there is even more uncertainty with regard to the Massachusetts scratch score. Let us be honest about this. The Massachusetts handicapper admits that he called A.G. Lockwood in and asked him what he could do the different courses in! There you are! The scratch score, which is used for the basis in Massachusetts, is really Lockwood's best average game. Now, Mr. Cracknell, is not that the truth of the matter?

"Let Lockwood and Chick leave Massachusetts and a new man must be found to go at scratch and to become in person the living definition of the so-called Massachusetts scratch score theory.

"The real trouble seems to be that Massachusetts has not got a scratch man--on a 'par' basis--and does not want to issue a general handicap list with no players at scratch. This, they frankly admit when they say, 'Beginning a list in this State at five or six strokes would not be approved by ###". But why not? According to that theory, the Golf Association of Northwestern Maine, if there is one-would be named me having my general handicap that might be at fifteen handicap. #### Arbitrary to me, experts, but ###. Nothing has ever been invented which can approach it. Everybody can learn exactly how to figure it out.

If the best amateurs can play in par when they compete, Handicapping should be on a player's best score average, which does not mean his best average game. This means his best game--the game he cn play and does play every now and then and Mr. Cracknell admits that. Travis or Travers might be able to do Myopiar Garden City or St. Andrews--abroad-- in par, but he fears it would not be a common achievement. That is true. They would not do it every day, or every week. But they could do it, and might do it any time. Before the recent changes at Garden City, the par was 75, and Travis did 74 and 75 many times and 70 once. Put either Travis or Travers or Egan or Byers, or any first rate professional, on any hard links and give him the opportunity to get familiar with it and King Par will surely get a knockdown. It must not be forgotten that while pare represents perfect play, it does not stand for the lowest possible mark. That has never yet been touched anywhere.

"But par is something which has been clearly defined, can be figured out with great certainty, represents a close approximation to faultless play, and stands today as the accepted measurement in handicapping. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Cracknell's work in Massachusetts, but he must invent something better than his so-called scratch score to take the place of par."

In the clash of American authorities, a foreign opinion may be of interest. Quite apropos in this essay, by C.H. Alison in the current issue of Golf Illustrated on the various methods of handicapping, Alison was in this country with the Oxford and Cambridge Society's team. He says, "In the first place, some standard of scratch play must be recognized. This should preferably be a severe standard. It is probable that in any ordinary club it would be possible--even if that club had no real scratch player--to get a line to form through one or two of their best players who had played with players of good class. By a real scratch player I mean a player who would be scratch at St. Andrews or any other club where the handicapping is on an equally high basic.

"Having recognized a standard of scratch play, the handicap committee can, if they think it convenient, convert this idea into figures. If they do so, they will find that a real scratch player, playing well, but not abnormally, will do a score worse than par, but considerably better than bogey as it is usually reckoned. People may tell me that bogey is an even match for a scratch player. But, as a matter of fact, bogey on most courses would fall an easy victim to a scratch player of the St. Andrews standard. Such players are very much rarer than most English golfers suppose. Also, bogey plays a very indifferent game on most courses.

"In handicapping on this scratch basis, it must be clearly understood that wind and weather must be taken into consideration. And it must be also understood that players should have their handicaps increased or reduced on any reliable evidence which the handicapping committee can obtain; and not only on the evidence afforded by returns in medal competitions. One of the chief objects in handicapping is to make it easy for people who are arranging matches with one another, though this fact is sometimes obscured by the present blight of medal play.

"Reverting for the moment to the differences between par, scratch and bogey, I should point out that a par score is a score made by perfect play without flukes. The scratch player does not play perfectly though he may counterbalance some. Nobody knows how bogey scores, but in most of his scores he makes a large number of indifferent strokes. And if a man who can halve with bogey under normal conditions is to be called a scratch player, he will be a (problem) if he ever wanders out of his own class.

"Let me repeat that no standardization is possible, if by that word it is recant that a 5 handicap man on one course will play a 5 handicap game on all others. And this is so from the very simple reach than a scratch player can give a 5 handicap man more on a long and difficult course than he can on a short and easy one."

The trend of the argument seems to be against the scratch score in use for general handicapping. Massachusetts is premier in many ways, must join in the procession.

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