You Asked: Telltale Signs of a Sandbagger
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You Asked: Telltale Signs of a Sandbagger

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You Asked: Telltale Signs of a Sandbagger

You asked us what are the telltale signs of a sandbagger? We all know that one golfer. They show up with a 15 handicap, haven’t posted scores in months and shoot 74. Whether it’s a club event or a friendly round, sandbaggers have plagued the game forever. How can you avoid being their next victim?.

Watch for these signs to help you figure out if you’re being duped or if this person is really having that career round. We’ll also look at some shady sandbagging strategies.

What is Sandbagging?

The word “sandbagger” did not originate on the golf course but comes from 19th-Century gangs. Their weapon of choice was a sock filled with sand.

What makes a sandbagger different from an obvious cheater who may reposition their ball, doesn’t take a deserved penalty stroke or takes “gimme” putts that are anything but is that they take a more subtle approach to their manipulation of the rules of golf. They may work to protect their current handicap, keeping it artificially high. They may only post their worst scores or may post scores all too infrequently. At their core, however, a sandbagger is nothing more than a cheat.

No Consistent Score Posting

One of the first things to look for is how consistently and how recently they have posted a score. The handicap system allows golfers to upload their own scores from their cell phone. Gone are the days when a publicly posted signed and attested scorecard was required. This gives sandbaggers the ability to avoid posting their best scores. Then to only post scores they know will not drop their handicap.

If your playing partner claims a handicap of 18, hasn’t posted a score in months or posts only one or two scores every couple of weeks and then proceeds to clean you out, you’ve been had. The disadvantage they face is that handicaps are readily available for you to search through in your golf association’s app.

Away Rounds, You Say?

Another sign of whether your playing partner is blurring the lines of equitable play is to see how many “away” scores they are posting compared to scores at their home club. There’s a level of self-policing within the friendly confines of a home club that can make it more challenging for a sandbagger to manipulate their scores and resulting handicap index. When scores are regularly posted away from their home course, that type of standard is much more challenging to enforce.

Scores Going In, Scores Going Out

A seasoned sandbagger doesn’t stop solely at entering scores sporadically, however. They also understand how the World Handicap System works in recording scores. The WHS takes the best eight scores out of a player’s most recent 20 to calculate their handicap index. Let’s say, for example, that a player’s oldest posted score is a 75. This score will be pushed out by the next score the golfer posts. If the 75 was a low round, while the remaining rounds used to calculate his index are higher (i.e., 76-80), posting another score within that range will effectively raise their index without looking too suspicious. They will also be mindful of posting dates for their handicap and will manipulate scores around those dates to benefit an upcoming tournament or club event. Doing so will give them a better chance at winning that prize money.

And since we are on the topic of tournaments and prize money …

Tournament and Event Participation

Sandbaggers typically avoid high-profile tournaments to avoid publicity and stay under the radar. Events with great prizes to be had at smaller tournaments with less publicity are more likely to attract those working to game the system. Less exposure equals less risk of being called out or caught.

Sandbaggers may also look to target specific events like a scramble, Chapman or member-guest tournament. They may claim a 16 handicap while they are really a 10. This gives them extra strokes for the event and increases their odds of winning.

Not all is free and clear for our sandbagging counterparts, however. The creation of a software program by George Thurner aims to keep all golfers more honest.

Cap Patrol

Thurner created Cap Patrol to help clubs combat players posting false scores to benefit their handicap. The new World Handicap System requires all member clubs to peer review the handicap indexes of players to ensure they accurately reflect the player’s true performance and potential.

Cap Patrol runs an algorithm that continuously measures 45 data points on all players, including five known areas typically used to manipulate their index. After data is gathered, the system creates a “cap score” for each player with points being deducted for data that shows exceptional play compared to all others in the system. These points are deducted from an initial cap score of 100 to determine a player’s cap score. When this cap score gets to a certain level, the system flags that player for an adjustment and suggests a handicap index the player should be adjusted to so that fair play remains attainable.

While this program can help to level the playing field. It doesn’t completely stop cheaters from skimming you in a friendly weekend match. “So, Jason, what else do we need to be on the lookout for?” Fair question, let’s keep going.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Thankfully for the honest golfer, men like Dean Knuth and Lou Stagner have provided concrete statistics. These methods for scoring to assist in working to keep sandbaggers at bay. Dubbed “The Pope of Slope,” Knuth is credited with creating the USGA’s Course Slope and Rating System. Allowing a player’s handicap to become more reliable and portable. The implementation of this system made it so that a player who normally plays a more challenging course could not travel to an easier course without an adjustment to his index to reflect those playing conditions, and vice versa.

Lou Stagner, also known as the Golf Stat Pro on X (I really wish it was still Twitter), is The Man with the numbers when it comes to golf. In the chart above, he breaks down the odds of shooting an exceptional score by handicap range. That 16 index who just beat you with a net 7-under? That was a 1-in-552 round! If we assume he plays 40 rounds each year, he won’t statistically reach that score again for almost 14 years. Save this baby to your Favorites folder for the next member-guest event you play in when more than one player has the “round of their life!”

Sleight of Hand

Sandbaggers not only know how to manipulate the scoring system to their advantage. They know how to subtly manipulate their in-round performance as well. Have you ever played a round with an unfamiliar partner and seen them smoke you for 15 holes? Only to collapse and miss routine shots or come up short on approaches?

Maybe he hits a great 6-iron but lands it in the water hazard short of the green where a 5-iron obviously would have been the correct play. On the green, he will stroke a long lag putt to three feet. Then pore over that short putt before ultimately missing it (and I’d bet it’s a pull miss, too). They won’t be egregious in their mistakes, as that would make it too obvious. But a missed shot here or a penalty stroke there is less obvious, and one way a sandbagger will look to pad their score.

A Fine Line

Golfers who irregularly post scores, post only scores away from their home course or consistently beat their claimed handicap by multiple strokes are sandbagging. However, no golfer likes to be called a cheat. This is a topic to tread carefully around and, in most cases, may be best handled by checking with other golfers who may have experiences with the player in question.

The next time you find yourself on the course with someone who seems to be having a career day comparative to their handicap, keep these things in mind to help determine whether you’re being duped!

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Jason Noble

Jason Noble

Jason Noble

Jason is a mid-handicap golfer chasing single digits who calls Wisconsin home. When not on the course, you can find him at the lake spending time with his wife and two children or in the woods chasing whitetails.

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      Vin

      3 months ago

      I’ve played in a 3-day MG for the past 8 years or so in Ohio (QHCC) and for their tournaments they will use a player’s lowest handicap over the last 12 months for the tournaments to try and avoid the sandbaggers. They also limit the HC differential to 10, so if one guy is a 4 and the other is a 16, the 16 will actually play at a 14.

      Reply

      Timothy Secor

      3 months ago

      i can see where this site is headed and i think its a horrible move…..

      Reply

      Timothy Secor

      3 months ago

      oh boy….i can see where this site is headed and i think its a horrible move…..

      Reply

      Brian

      3 months ago

      “The implementation of this system made it so that a player who normally plays a more challenging course could not travel to an easier course without an adjustment to his index…”

      If the slope and rating determines the difficulty of the course, why is the above mentioned adjustment to his index needed? Sure his home course is harder, but that’s reflected with a lower index than somebody else’s with the same scores at an easier course.

      The adjustment is already built into the system.

      Reply

      Dead Solid Bogey

      3 months ago

      The one caveat that I would add concerns the posting of away scores. Away courses can be difficult and different. Throw in trying to do multiple activities with the golf and you have my typical scenario of significantly higher scores. This is especially true when I am playing courses in western states or in Florida versus my home course in Texas.

      Reply

      Scott Richardson

      3 months ago

      Our club cross references your tee sheet bookings to your handicap posting. If you’re below 80% you’re omitted from club events.

      Reply

      bob

      3 months ago

      My club has an app for catching sandbaggers. Once your opponent signals he is ready to end the day and head to the parking lot you use your mobile phone texting app to message four members and you help him remove his golf shoes by bouncing his head off of the rear bumper of his car. It is free to use the app and my club is in Gary, Indiana for anyone wondering. Kidding. If people want to put in the time to sandbag go ahead and do it. It is just golf and you will get called out sooner or later, no need for geek apps to try to thwart sandbaggers.

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      3 months ago

      Lou Stagner may be honest, but he’s thin-skinned and doesn’t like to be challenged. He blocked me on TwiX because he said that golfers should get relief from fairway divots and every time he made that argument, I countered with a challenge to write a proposed Rule that would provide fair relief, but NOT unfair relief. He never did. Eventually he blocked me.

      He’s also a shill for Arccos, and every time he referenced Arccos I asked him whether Arccos’ consumer-grade GPS devices had ever been independently tested for accuracy and precision. He never, ever answered. Which was an answer in itself.

      So I don’t place much stock in his views anymore, because he apparently doesn’t like scrutiny.

      Reply

      Jimmy

      3 months ago

      Shill for Arccos? Dude works there!

      Reply

      Rich

      3 months ago

      You mean that Arccos’s “Date Insights Lead” would promote the company? What. A. Shill.

      Reply

      MarkM

      3 months ago

      I’m very curious about how much this costs. When I first saw an article on Cap Patrol last year I forwarded it to our Men’s Club board to check it out. Of course I got no response and we have massive sandbagging going on for sure.

      Reply

      PaulS

      3 months ago

      Golf Digest had an article on it stating it was $6/player/year

      Reply

      Buck Pillar

      3 months ago

      Great article, seems at the Country Club I play, there are a few that this article calls out to a “T” sometimes they will do it backwards, play poorly the first few holes then go low on the remaining holes.

      Reply

      Susan Eno

      3 months ago

      Nice article but you really should substitute the word “opponent” perhaps for “playing partner” throughout.

      Reply

      League Golfer

      3 months ago

      Agree.

      Reply

      Josh

      3 months ago

      Great Read!

      Reply

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    First Look
    Jun 12, 2024
    Want a Personal Shopper? Try Short Par 4
    Drivers
    Jun 11, 2024
    Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Ti 340 Mini Driver
    Putters
    Jun 11, 2024
    Triple Black Evnroll 38 Tour Spec Putters