How to Start a Golf League

Introduction

The following is a guide for golf league organizers as well as golf league members. It is intended to provide useful information and insight about starting a golf league. It is periodically updated with new information.

General

There are several different types of golf leagues. One may be a company golf league, a church golf league, a retiree golf league, a golf course golf league, a community golf league, or perhaps just a bunch of friends golf league. They can range from highly organized to loosely put together.

Starting A New Golf League

The following describes considerations for a company style, weekly, 9-hole, organized type of golf league. The information may be applied to other types of golf leagues with modification where necessary.

Picking a Course

One of the first things to consider is where to play. Considerations should include where the course is located, the quality of the course, the difficulty of the course, course amenities, price, and availability of tee times for your league.

Ideally, the course should be centrally located for everyone. If the course is far away or difficult to get to, members may have difficulty getting to the course on time. If the course is not of good quality you may have trouble attracting and keeping players. If the course is overly difficult it may not be enjoyable for all players and may contribute to slow play. It would be nice if the course had a beverage cart, snack bar and a place to gather inside after the round or when it rains.

You may find the most limiting factor in selecting a course to be the availability of tee times. Golf leagues are very popular throughout the week and golf courses may only have so many tee times available for your league.

Booking a course may require a year long wait or more to get in. You may have to get on a waiting list and some courses may require a deposit to hold your place.

Try to negotiate your best possible deal with the course. Try for a reduction in per player cost or free riding carts for your league or several free rounds that you can give away at the end of the season.

The course will usually quote a per person per week fee for your league. You should have a general idea of how many players you potentially will have and how many weeks you intend to play as these factors will play into the quoted price. Read and understand any contract before signing.

Players

Once you know where you will play and how many tee times are available to you, you can start recruiting players.

You may find that signing up players for your league is an easy task. However, you may also find that when it comes time to collect league fees you get a lot of dropouts. For that reason it is best to overbook your league. Once you think the league is full, start putting names on a waiting list and let those people know that there is a good chance they will get in. If they don't get in, ask them if they'd like to be on the sub list.

You may ask players for a deposit to hold their slot. A deposit is a good sign of commitment. A deposit may be necessary if there is any financial obligation at stake with the course.

It is likely that the course will be able to use any tee times they allotted you and you later determined you can not fill. It is best though to have that discussion with them up front and make sure your contract does not require you to pay for unused tee times.

League Fees

The final per person league fee will include the cost of playing the course each week plus additional costs to cover league expenses.

It is customary that the league fee for the manager of the league be paid by the league members. The manager has many responsibilities and puts in a fair number of hours running the league, recording scores, posting results, dealing with the course, etc.

If you plan on having an end of season banquet, the per person league fee should include an additional amount to cover that cost. Many times companies will subsidize the league fee or the cost of the banquet and perhaps even door prizes. As part of your contract with the course, they may offer an end of season banquet at a reasonable price as well as a discount for door prizes purchased in their pro shop.

Collecting the league fee from players can be a difficult task. Experience has shown the best method is to collect the entire season fee up front before play begins. Depending on the course, you may not have a choice, however, if you do, know that breaking the fee up into halves is potential disaster. Players may leave the company, be transferred out of state, etc., and if second half dues are pending, they may not get paid. The league is still obligated to pay this amount in accordance with your contract.

It's a good idea to open a checking account for your league. Never commingle funds in your personal account. Open the account in the name of your golf league. Give one other person authorization to use the account. Update league members periodically with the account balance and any transactions that occurred.

League Format

The endpoint of a golf league season is a league champion and a trophy. There are several ways to get to that point.

One is to play all league rounds, accumulate points and the team with the highest number of points after the last round played is the league champion and takes home the trophy.

Another way is to make the last round played a "position round" whereby all teams are ranked by total points earned prior to the last round. The team with the highest points plays the team with the next highest points, etc. The team that ends up with highest points after the position round or "championship" round is the league champion.

Yet another way is to divide the league rounds in halves. At the end of the first half a position round is played to determine the first half winner. Points are reset and the second half is played along with another position round to determine the second half winner. The next and final round will be the championship round whereby each team's points from the first and second halves are summed, the teams are ranked by their total points for the year and play the final round as a position round to determine the overall league champion, second place team, etc. Alternatively, the winner of the first half could play the winner of the second half.

The above league formats are the more common types but it is possible to create your own custom format for your league.

Team Structure

The number of players per team is typically 2 or 4. Consideration for any team format may be the size of the league. If your league has a large number of players you may want to use a 4 player team format so that you don't have too many teams. Alternatively, you may not want a team structure that results in too few teams.

The number of teams in your league may play a part in considering how many weeks your league plays. The intent would be to assure all teams play against each other at least once and possibly twice depending on the size of your league and weeks of play. Further consideration of the number of weeks of play involves the overall cost and how long people may want to commit to this weekly event.

The number of teams should be an even number so as to avoid "byes". If the number of teams is odd, one team will not have an opponent each week. The bye situation can be handled if necessary via league rules.

League Schedule

League schedules are calculated using a round robin tournament calculation. This is a complicated formula but there are numerous round robin tournament calculation sites on the web, including this website. Wikipedia gives a good explanation and shows a manual method for calculating schedules. The formula assures that there are no duplicates within a round and no repeats within one cycle of the schedule.

The league schedule calculation is based on the number of teams in a league. The schedule is repeated as necessary to cover the number of weeks in the league. If N is the number of teams in a league, N-1 is the number of rounds for one complete cycle of the schedule.

Handicap System

The USGA Handicap Index method is often not practical for 9-hole, weekly company golf leagues. For that reason, these golf leagues tend to develop their own handicap systems.

A typical golf league handicap calculation starts by subtracting course rating from player score for each round played. The next step is to average the obtained values, multiply them by a percentage and round to the nearest whole number. Some leagues may select the best 3 of the last 5 values to average. Others may throw out the high and low values and average the ones in the middle. Others may average all values. Percentage of handicap used may range from anywhere up to 100%. The variations go on and on.

Caution must be exercised to avoid the possibility of incorporating a bias in any handicap calculation. Some calculations may inadvertently favor high handicap players whereas others may inadvertently favor low handicap players.

A good handicap calculation will be based on three basic USGA principles which include using the better half of scores posted as defined by score minus rating, specifying maximum hole scores and specifying a maximum handicap.

Handicap systems that use the best 3 of the last 5 or best 5 of the last 10 scores posted would work fine. Keep in mind that the length of the golf league season may not readily permit the development of some handicap calculations. You wouldn't want to use the best 10 of the last 20 if your season is 15 weeks long. Conversely, if you are using the best 2 of 3, you may find a fair amount of variation week to week in player handicaps.

For handicap calculation purposes, the USGA specifies maximum hole scores based on a player's course handicap, however, in a golf league situation you may want to take a simpler approach. Some leagues specify that hole scores not exceed triple bogey, quadruple bogey or simply twice par. This is often used not only for handicap calculation purposes but for scoring during the round in an effort to speed play. If a player reaches the maximum allowed score, they simply pick their ball up at that point.

The USGA specifies maximum handicap index values of 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women for 18 holes. As a guide to help you determine maximum handicaps for your league you can calculate the maximum USGA handicaps for your course as follows:

Maximum USGA Handicap Index X Course Slope / 113

Divide by 2 for 9-hole leagues. If you wish to have one number for all players you may do so.

Be cautious not to create a complex handicap system. Simple is best. You may find that added complexity doesn't add value to your handicap system, has no real significance in the final calculation and may even create a bias.

You should verify that your handicap system is effective and fair by monitoring player net scores and points. Make sure that low handicappers are not favored over high handicappers or vice versa. If you detect a bias, then an adjustment should be made. Player scores and handicaps will tend to vary the most in the beginning of the season, therefore, you should give it about 5 weeks or more before making a judgment.

It is important that players understand how their handicap is calculated. This is often a closely watched number and source of questions for the league manager.

A final note on handicaps is how to get started with a new league when no one has a league handicap. It is likely that your league will have a range of players from beginner to advanced and you will need a method to "level the playing field" for the first round. One method is to try to get an estimate of each player's ability and assign an initial handicap to them. You can do this individually or by category of beginner, intermediate and advanced. After the first round you can either throw the initial handicap out or average it in for the second round.

League Rules

Every golf league should have a written set of rules which govern every aspect of how the league is to be conducted. The rules should also state any allowed deviations from USGA rules. Often these rules deviations are necessary to speed play.

League Competition

Teams may compete against each other either by medal play, match play or a combination of the two.

In medal play, winners are determined by net score. One or more points are awarded to the player with the lowest net score at the end of the match. Usually a combined team net score winner is also determined and points assigned.

In match play, winners are determined by most holes won. One or more points are awarded to the player who wins the match. Alternatively, points may be awarded for each hole won. One or more team points may be awarded to the team with the highest combined number of holes won.

In competitions where both match and medal play are used, players may win points by holes won and by net score. Team points are usually awarded by combined net score.

The number of points awarded is a matter of preference. Equal weighting may be given to the player element and team element or one may be weighted higher than the other.

Within either team format is a ranking of players by handicap. The lowest handicap player is referred to as the A-player, the next lowest B-player, etc. In league competition the A-player from one team plays against the A-player on the other team, etc.

In match play competition, players compete against each other for the most holes won. Handicap strokes are applied in accordance with hole handicap values specified on the scorecard. The hardest hole is given a hole handicap value of 1, next hardest 2, etc. So if the A player from Team 1 has a 2 handicap, this player will receive one handicap stroke on the two hardest holes (hole handicaps 1 and 2) wherever they may fall on the scorecard. If the A player from Team 2 has a 1 handicap, this player will get one handicap stroke applied at the hardest handicap hole (hole handicap 1). Because this is a "head to head" competition, it is important that the handicaps of competing players be subtracted to determine a net handicap value for each player in the match. In this example, we would subtract the lowest handicap value from each player's "full" handicap. So Player A from Team 1 would have a 1 handicap for the match and Player A from Team 2 would have a zero handicap. Player A from Team 1 would receive 1 handicap stroke on the hardest handicap hole and Player A would receive none. If we did not subtract the two player's handicaps, each would receive a handicap stroke on the hardest hole and would be playing even on that hole, thus favoring the lower handicap player.

Golf League Software

One of the more important duties of a golf league manager is to perform all necessary calculations for each league round played and report the results to the league membership.

Points won or lost will have to be calculated for each player and then each team. Handicaps will have to updated and ready to go for the next round.

Round reports including updated league standings reports will have to be created and made available for review or posting.

These calculations and reports aren't necessarily complicated, however, they are voluminous, time-consuming, and error-prone if they are manually calculated. Spreadsheet programs can relieve some of the work and reduce many potential errors but they are far from an ideal solution.

Golf league software programs are designed to automate all calculations and reporting functions. For most programs, after initial golf league set-up, users only need to enter gross hole scores for each player to automatically calculate a league round.

There are many golf league software programs for sale on the web including this website. Some programs are downloaded to your computer, others can be run online, and still others may be a combination of these two types.

Considerations for which program to purchase include cost, ease of use, compatibility of downloaded programs with your computer, up-time for online programs, accessibility, and availability of support.

Most websites selling golf league software will offer a free trial period. It is recommended that you try several before deciding which one to purchase. You should not have to pay anything to try the software.

When evaluating golf league software, take note of how much data entry is required to get started and how complicated the program appears to be. Is help readily available if you run into a problem? Does the program produce the information you want in your league reports? Can you easily navigate to other sections of the program to get the information you need? Are reports easily printed or capable of being copied and pasted into an email or as an attachment? How much time does it take from start to finish to enter a league round?

Some programs are needlessly complicated and contain reports and statistics that will rarely be used. Other programs may simply not produce all the information you need. With a thorough evaluation you should be able to select the program that is best suited to you and your league.


General Golf League Comments

Slow Play

A major problem for golf leagues is slow play. If one golf league is slow, they will impact all other golf leagues on the course behind them. Waiting to hit every shot makes for a very unenjoyable round of golf. Much can be done to alleviate this problem if all players are aware of this issue, are willing to cooperate and know what to do. Many slow players are not aware that they are slow.

The manager of the golf league should communicate early and often about slow play and publish suggestions on how to keep play moving. Many golf courses will have material available or postings with tips on how to avoid slow play.

Avoiding slow play starts at the first tee. Players must get to the course ahead of their scheduled tee time and be ready to go. If a player appears to be running late and another foursome is there and ready to go, they should go ahead and tee off. It's important that golf leagues hit their tee times on schedule. The sequence of foursomes as given by the schedule is not important.

Foursomes need to keep up with the group in front of them and should never be more than one shot behind. Players should not wait to hit based on "honors". Play ready golf. Give your competitor those short putts. If your opponent won't give you a short putt, do not mark the ball but go ahead and putt out. Always write down scores at the next tee and not at the green.

One of the major contributors to slow play is looking for lost balls. To help avoid lost balls, all players in a group should be watching each other's shots. If a player is looking for their ball, other players in the group should hit their shots first before helping look for the lost ball. Five minutes at best should only be spent looking for a lost ball. If a player loses a ball in the rough and there are no hazards nearby, league rules could allow a free drop without penalty. Additionally, rules should not require stroke and distance penalties for balls lost or hit out of bounds. Play "line of flight" with a one stroke penalty.

If a player in your foursome is playing slow, let them know that they need to pick up the pace. Multiple practice swings and freezing over the ball while going through a pre-swing checklist is okay for the range but not the golf course. Help each other with distances so that players aren't pacing off every shot.

Temperament

The mental aspects of golf are well documented. Your attitude on the golf course will likely affect how well you play. Confidence will help you to play better while anger will have the opposite affect.

Confidence is gained by hitting shots as you intended. You gain a feel, a rhythm and a certain focus for the golf swing when you're hitting the ball well and your enjoyment of the game soars.

But playing well is no accident. It comes from understanding the proper golf swing and a lot of practice. If you can consistently hit the ball well on the range you are more likely to hit the ball well on league night.

If golf is to be your hobby, you owe it to yourself to get lessons from a qualified PGA professional. Your friends and family may be well intended teachers but are likely not to know the technique of teaching golf let alone the correct method. The results may be disastrous and you may become so confused and frustrated that you give up the game. There are numerous myths about how to swing a golf club. These myths and sometimes your own perceptions will prevent you from becoming the golfer you would like to be.

Bad shots happen to everyone, including professionals. Throwing a temper tantrum has no place on the golf course. Doing so will not only continue to throw your game off but will negatively affect your playing partners. Your behavior on the golf course, positive or negative, says something about you as a person and if you are playing in the company golf league, it can have further implications.

Respecting the Game

Golfers respect the game of golf by being honest, by playing by the rules, by being courteous to their playing partners, by replacing divots, fixing ball marks, raking sand traps, placing litter in trash bins and otherwise respecting the course on which they play.




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