Guest Column

Playing Golf Under Educational Accountability Rules

by Jack McKay

What if we applied the guidelines of public education accountability to golf? Like school, golf has many of the same attributes, such as the thrill of improving friendships and the ups and downs of life.

Even with a wide range of ability among students just as there is among golfers, there’s a widely held idea that everyone should be equal to the opportunity.

But just suppose the accountability standards used in public education today were legislated for golf.

Competitive Decline
The policymakers for golf accountability believe that to improve the nation’s golf scores, there must be better methods of assessment and better methods of instruction. Even with all of the new technology, new equipment and improved instructional practices, the nation’s scores for an average round of golf were not improving. One policymaker stated at a public forum: “We cannot continue to spend money on our nation’s golfers unless we see some drastic improvement. Simply put, our golfers are no longer ranked internationally as before. Our nation’s golfers are at risk.”

This is what I speculate would happen to the game of golf if “No Golfer Left Behind,” or NGLB, accountability was imposed from above.

The first major change would be to establish a modest standard that all golfers need to meet to become a “real” golfer. The standard for a real golfer would be set by the Golfing Standards Commission. The passing score would be a round of 90 or lower.

One tournament day would be scheduled each year for all golfers to meet this standard. The Golfing Standards Commission believes that golfers who needed more than 90 swings to complete the round have to be challenged to become more proficient at the game.

Second, with the expectation all golfers had the same potential, physical makeup, and aptitude, the handicapping system would be eliminated. No matter where the less-able golfer played — from the exclusive country club course to the urban, par three theme park — or the equipment used, every golfer would be considered the same on the tournament day.

Third, in competition, all golfers would submit their scores to be analyzed and reviewed by the Golfing Standards Commission. The commission then will release scores of each club to the news media because the community needs to have a reference point for the well-being of its golfers and the effectiveness of the golf facilities and staff. Citizens could compare their golf course’s average score with courses in other cities and towns. In some communities, real-estate agents could direct the better golfers to where the good golf courses are located and those to avoid.

Fourth, each club professional would have his or her group’s average score for review. The assistant pro’s own evaluation, and in some cases promotion to head pro, would be based on the success of his or her group of golfers. If the average of all the golfers at the course exceeded 90 strokes, the golf course would be considered a “failing” golf club. More importantly, the average score would indicate to the golfing staff, management and the community that their golfers were failing and more time and effort would be required to change the failing pattern of behavior.

After an analysis of the results, the pros for the failing golfers would start to hold extra golf clinics on driving, chipping and putting and would distribute books and DVDs on how to improve at golf. They would conduct Saturday golf schools and special clinics for the discouraged and disheartened golfer.

Among the Golfing Standards Commission would be an unspoken implication that if only the less-able golfers would try harder, keep their heads down and their right elbows in when swinging, golf scores would improve significantly. If only the less able would be more serious and try harder at playing golf!

The less-able golfers soon would realize some golfers in their group were naturally good at the game while others had no chance of scoring below 90 by the time of the next annual tournament or any time in their lifetime. The more-able golfers and their pros would realize this difference in ability, too, and even encourage some of the less able to transfer to another golf course or even to sell their clubs and find another game — maybe gardening or boating. By eliminating the less able, the better golfers would realize, the average scores at their course would certainly improve.

Creative Scoring
However, behind the scenes, most of the experienced professionals at the failing clubs would be updating their resumes in hopes of finding jobs at the better golf clubs. Ironically, this would mean that the good golfers, over time, would have better instruction while those at the failing courses would have less-skilled professional instructors.

A fifth unanticipated outcome would be the increasing number of pros encouraging their golfers to purposely use multiple mulligans during the game to finish with better scores. (A mulligan is a shot retaken, due to an errant swing. A person can take a mulligan if he or she hits the ball out of bounds.) A new level of creative score keeping at golf might take hold through such new phrases as “sharpen the pencil” and “I had four strokes,” (when it was really a six- or seven-stroke hole) among golfers.

Sixth, some of the less-able golfers would start questioning why other golfers appeared to have better equipment and better instructors. The less able would believe it was unfair that they had to compete with golfers who had better clubs and golf balls and came from the better golf courses. Some community leaders in towns where the golf club was considered failing would talk about firing the staff and management since the golf course average score was an embarrassment.

Another unintended consequence of No Golfer Left Behind accountability would be golfers quitting the sport because they felt that without a golf handicapping system, it was impossible to compete fairly in the weekly events. What was once an enjoyment now would turn into a bitter and humiliating experience. It would seem unfair because the better golfers had newer clubs, came from nicer courses and some even had more natural talent.

Player Discontent
The Golfing Standards Commission, hearing there was a spike in golfer discontent, would hold hearings to find out why golfers were having such difficulty. In spite of vocal testimony about lack of proper equipment and poor course conditions, the standards board would conclude that changing the accountability policies would not prepare the golfers for real golf.

Despite comments from golfers about existing differences in ability, equipment, course quality and clubhouse amenities, the commission would declare that all golfers must score 90 or lower, even if they grew up in a community that didn’t have a golf course. In the commission’s view, the only way to test golfing ability would be to consider all participants equal and starting from the same spot, even if they had to practice in a pasture.

After a couple of years of golf accountability standards, several golf courses would have declining membership, especially in large cities where there were crowded conditions. The less-able golfers would say that they simply lost interest in the game, that golfing was now unfair and that they no longer felt welcome at the course. Most of the more-able golfers would move away or join private golf courses. (The private golf clubs didn’t have to deal with NGLB regulations or to see their golf scores published in the local media.)

After five years, the Golfing Stand-ards Commission would issue a statement claiming that there was finally a significant improvement in golf scores and declare the golf accountability policy a success (even though almost half of the golfers during the past five years quit the game). “We have turned the corner,” the commission’s chair would announce. “The golfers of our nation can be proud of their accomplishments. We are ranking higher that ever before when we compare our golf scores to other nationals around the world.”

Jack McKay is executive director of the Horace Mann League of the USA. E-mail: