Last Updated: 06/16/10

The History of Handicapping, Part Two: In which we explore the concept of par, the theory of course rating, and meet the father of American Handicapping.

Where did par come from? It was probably derived from a stock market term: A stock may be above its proper, normal, or par figure. Its first reference was apparently in the British magazine Golf, in 1870. A writer named A. H. Doleman asked Davie Strath and Jamie Anderson, two professionals, what score would be required to win The Belt at the then 12-hole course at Prestwick; their response was that perfect play should produce a score of 49. Mr. Doleman called this "par" for Prestwick. Young Tom Morris scored two strokes over par for three rounds (36 holes) to win The Belt, and the term stuck. He also suggested, in an article dated January 28, 1898:

"Base par on how the scratch players, as a mass of first class players, score on the courses."
A rule of thumb, published in 1898, was that the course par should be six strokes less than the bogey.
(Note: Prior to par, bogey was the standard based upon the score of a first class player.)

Another British writer commented on Doleman's suggestion in the same year:

"The par of the green, according to his (Doleman's) conception, as we understand it is something very like a glorified 'Bogey' score - the ideal to which a first class golfer may aspire without fluking, yet without a fault. Mr. Doleman arrives at his par score by calculating the length of the holes according to the driving powers of a first class player, and adds two for the approach and the holing out on each green. Thus a hole that can be reached in one will be put down as a par 3. The present method of determining the relative difficulty of courses is to compare the scores in which first class players accomplish them (higher than par)."

The concept caught the golfing public's attention. A letter, published on October 28, 1898, in a British newspaper, called for a governing body to regulate course ratings:

"In the absence of any authoritative legislation on the subject most golf clubs have made Bogey laws (course ratings) for themselves. The net result is hopeless confusion, and it seems time that some attempt was made to indicate the lines on which the laws for Bogey should be laid down."

The golf community was quick to respond. Three key figures were Dr. Laidlaw Purves and Mr. Henry Lamb, members of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club, and Miss Issette Pearson, of the Ladies Golf Union (LGU).

History of Handicapping, Part 1

History of Handicapping, Part 3