How to Manage a Golf LeagueSign up for the ProLeaguer Launch List
Running a golf league can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful if not properly managed. This page outlines some of the steps you need to go through in order to start your league and manage it effectively.
Choosing a Course
An important aspect of running a successful golf league is to have a good course to play your matches on. Finding a course can sometimes be difficult depending on the popularity of the course. Leagues from prior years almost always have preference over new leagues. Courses also tend to limit the number of leagues per night as to allow for walk-on players to golf. It is wise to call several courses to learn what nights are available, how many (or few) golfers you can have, and what the typical costs would be.
The quality of the course is hugely important when evaluating where to host your league. Courses that are overly difficult (or too easy), can often discourage golfers from joining (or staying with) your league. Golfers are making a big commitment when joining a weekly league, so making sure that the course they play on is well-designed and well-maintained. This can go a long way to building a strong and sustainable league.
It is also important to think about where the golf course is relative to the golfers you are planning on recruiting. If this golf league is for a company, or church, or other organization with a central meeting place, be sure to choose a course that is close to the organization. If the league isn't organized around a central meeting place, try choosing a course that is centrally located for the majority of your planned golfers.
Another important aspect of choosing a course is to evaluate course amenities. Golf leagues are often much more about camaraderie than they are about competition. There should be a place for golfers to socialize after their matches. Most courses have a bar or restaurant, but the quality should be important. Also, if you're planning on having an end-of-the-year banquet, having a nice banquet facility or restaurant that can accommodate your league is helpful. Other amenities such as a beverage cart, driving range, etc. can help when recruiting golfers.
Recruiting golfers can often be a fairly easy task. If your league is for your company, church or social organization, getting permission to advertise your league to organization members is often all it takes. A company-wide email or post in the weekly bulletin will often garner enough interest to quickly fill up your roster. If you are finding it more difficult to get golfers, try encouraging friends and colleagues to reach out to their networks to help find potential players.
Depending on the size of the league you wish to run, you may have too many golfers that want to play. This is almost never a bad thing, because you often need substitutes for rounds. Having more players than needed can ensure that there is always a full field every week regardless of vacations or unexpected absences. It is not uncommon for players to commit to a league and then back out at the last minute. If you have plenty of golfers that want to play, collecting a deposit is often a good idea. A golfer that that is willing to give a deposit is a sign of a greater commitment. If you've filled your field with golfers (even with deposits), it is always a good idea to have a waiting list just in case someone else backs out.
Another important aspect of recruiting, as we mentioned in Choosing a Course is both the quality of the course and the length of commitment required. Golf leagues, especially those for non-retirees, are seasonal, normally running anywhere between 12 and 24 weeks. Be sure when recruiting your golfers to clearly communicate the commitment required including how long the league runs, what day and times the league plays, the expected cost, and any others policies that may be pertinent to communicate.
The format of your golf league can vary based on the number of players, the frequency of play, and other factors. Typically a golf league consists of 2 man teams that compete against other teams in a match play scenario. Each player plays their own ball and lowest handicapped score wins the hole and is awarded points.
Golf leagues should be governed by USGA Rules (or your country's governing body) and any local course rules that may apply. Golf leagues can implement additional rules that aid in speeding up play, or make the game more fun. For example, a quick play rule might be applied that allows golfers to take a drop with a one stroke penalty if there is a lost ball rather than stroke plus distance. This allows the pace of play to accelerate.
Handicapping is an important part of any golf league. This creates fairness between players of different skill levels and allows everyone to compete relatively equally so that all can enjoy. The USGA uses a complex handicapping algorithm that estimates a golfer's "potential" and based on rating and slope, can adjust that estimate for any golf course. A typical golf league will play only one course in a season, so using a method as complex as the USGA's is overkill. A simple way is to take the last several scores for each golfer (5 is a good number) and take 80% of the average of their strokes over par. For example, if a golfer's last five scores were 45, 44, 47, 41 and 44, assuming a 36 par for each side, then you would calculate their handicap using 9 + 8 + 11 + 6 + 8 = 42 / 5 = 8.4 * 80% = 6.72. So their handicap for your league would be 6.72.
Your league schedule depends on the number of teams you have and the number of rounds each team can play. Depending on your climate, a golf league season can be as short as 10 weeks to as many as 52 weeks. Typically a season will be 12 to 24 weeks long. The key is to understanding how many unique match ups are possible. If you use standard round robin scheduling, which is when each team plays every other team at least once, then you can have one less unique match than you have teams. For example, if you have 6 total teams, there can only be a total of 5 unique matches:
- 1 vs 6, 2 vs 5, 3 vs 4
- 1 vs 5, 6 vs 4, 2 vs 3
- 1 vs 4, 5 vs 3, 6 vs 2
- 1 vs 3, 4 vs 2, 5 vs 6
- 1 vs 2, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5
There are a variety of online round-robin schedule generators as well as guides to showing you how to create a schedule by hand. For smaller leagues, it is typical that teams may face each other more than once (e.g. a 12 team league that plays an 18 week season would have 7 duplicate matches), the opposite being true for larger leagues (e.g a 30 team league that plays an 18 week season). It is important for league organizers to seem impartial and should make sure that the schedule is fair. This can be done by using software to generate the schedule so that it is truly random and unbiased. In the example of the smaller league above, the 7 rematches should not be favored. For the larger league, it might make more sense to break the league into flights (by handicap or randomly) to avoid scheduling bias.
Leagues that are longer than 15 weeks, are normally broken into halves. This allows you to have a point system that resets itself at the end of each half, letting you have winners for both. This is helpful to keep teams interested. Those that didn't perform well in the first half can have another opportunity in the second. Often times you may want to schedule a League Championship for the last match of the year. This can be a competition between the winners of the first and second half, or a position round where based on the team's position in the standings, they are match up based on that.
Depending on your agreement with the course (and the size of your league), you may schedule tee-times or you may have a shotgun start. Larger leagues typically have shotgun starts so that all team members finish at the same time. If your league has tee-times, be sure to include this on your schedule and clearly communicate to your members that their punctuality is important. If a golfer is not present for their tee-time, another group that is already there should start. Starting late can throw off the course and depending on the season, could result in golfers not finishing before it gets dark. Tee-times should be 7 to 8 minutes apart (depending on the course).
For shotgun starts, the starting hole should be indicated as part of the schedule. This will tell each group which hole they tee off on. Like the combination of matches, these starting holes should be randomized for each group to avoid any type of bias.
Another way to add fun into your golf leagues, is to provide your league members with additional contests during each match. This adds another dimension to the round that is sure to keep people's interest up, even if they aren't playing particularly well that night. Contests can involve money, or simply bragging rights. Contests that are played for money can be either opt-in, meaning that the golfer can decide each night as to whether they want to participate, or it can be mandatory and included in the league dues. If you plan on any of your contests "carrying over" to the next week if there is no winner, then making dues mandatory can be easier to manage.
Closest to the Pin
Closest to the Pin is a simple contest and, given the variability of most amateurs' play, provides a good chance of victory for all players in your league. This contest is played on par 3 holes. It can be on just one par 3 or on multiple. The golfer whose tee ball is closest to the pin and on the green wins. Most courses will provide you with a measuring tape (some are specially designed for measuring closest to the pin contests) and a card with a stand to record each golfer's measurement. If a golfer is on the green, they should check the board to see if their ball is closer. If their ball is closer than anyone else, they should write their name and the distance (feet and inches) on the card. If they are not closer, there is no need to record the distance.
These contests can have variations as well. For example, you can require that a golfer "makes the putt" in order to win. If no one makes the putt, then the money can carryover to next week.
Another popular contest in golf matches and tournaments is skins. You are said to have won a skin if you have the lowest score of anybody else on a hole. Oftentimes this only applies to birdies or better. In a handicapped league, skins are generally calculated off of the net score, giving all golfers participating in a skins match an equal chance to win.
A longest drive contest is pretty straightforward. These types of contests are more common in a tournament, but can be applied to your league play as well. Longest drive contests are best played on a hole with a lot of fairway that is relatively straight. A marker should be placed at the beginning of the fairway before play starts. As each golfer hits their tee ball, the golfer with the longest drive on the fairway should write their name on the card and move the marker to the middle of the fairway in line with their ball. If another golfer outdrives the marker, then the marker should be moved to the new position and the name written on the card.
There are multiple ways to score your golf league. Golfers will be competing against one another, so the rules of match play should apply. The complexity of your scoring system is up to you, but the more complicated scoring gets, the more difficult it is for golfers to figure out how their match is shaping up. League matches are scored with points collected throughout the match. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins.
The easiest scoring method is to use the low net score to determine the winner of each hole. For two man teams, the player with the lowest net score would win the hole for their team. Each hole would be worth a total number of points. These points would be distributed based on whether or not the hole is won, split, or lost. For example, the team that wins the hole would be awarded the total number of points for the hole and the other team would get zero. If both teams tied, then the points would be divided equally. A hole can be worth any amount of points. Typically leagues will value each hole at 1 point, with a tie being worth 0.5 points. Valuing a hole at 2 points would make a tie worth 1 point.
Low Combined Net
While low net is the easiest and most common, oftentimes it can provide for an inequity with the players. If one team member is "out of the hole", the other team member still has a chance to win for their team. While this can be a good thing, it can also provide opportunities to unfairly manipulate a golfer's handicap. Low Combined Net helps combat this by requiring both golfers to play their best on each hole in order to win. This method simply adds each teams net scores together and uses that to determine who wins. This makes sure that golfers can not "give up" on a hole. Scoring would work the same way as the low net, just using the combined scores instead.
A Match / B Match / Team Match
Another more complex scoring system is to have multiple matches within a match. This would apply to two man teams. Each team would designate an A Player and a B Player based on their handicaps. The player with the lowest handicap would be the A Player. The round would proceed as normal, however, the net scores of the opposing A Players and the net scores of the opposing B Players would be compared separately along with the low net team score. The A Player with the lowest net score would win the A Match, the B Player with the lowest net score would win the B Match, and the golfer with the lowest net score would win the Team Match.
Equitable stroke control
A common problem with amateur leagues is finding the right balance of fairness with handicaps. A league whose system is too lax can find high handicappers with a massive advantage over more steady, consistent league members. High handicappers tend to be wildly inconsistent, posting a par on one hole, then a 10 on the next. It is exactly for this purpose that implementing Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) can help to make the scoring much fairer. The USGA GHIN system applies ESC based on the golfer's handicap for the course they are playing, allowing a maximum score that can be taken on each hole. While this system is arguably the most effective, a simpler version can be applied to your league handicapping system.
Rather than base ESC on each golfer's handicap, a simple stroke limit on each hole can be generally just as effective and a lot easier to manage. For example, limiting all golfers to a triple bogey on each hole removes the ability to apply 9s and 10s to even high handicap golfers' scores. This will significantly lower each golfer's handicap to a more equitable and reasonable amount, limiting the "net eagles" that are inevitable with runaway system.
A successful league is built on commitment from both the players and the league organizers. A well-run league requires the organizer's time as well as additional expenditures necessary to provide an enjoyable experience for all involved. In addition to greens fees and cart fees, a league fee should be collected from each participate to provide for prizes, trophies, and help defer costs for other league related expenses. In most cases, league fees will also be used to pay for, or at least subsidize, the cost for the league manager.
Last Updated: June 1, 2018