Playing The 1971 Sports Illustrated Handicap Golf Game
My latest thrift store find is a 1971 game called The Sports Illustrated Handicap Golf Game. I picked it up for $1.50
The game is interesting — and fun. It consists of five large double-sided boards depicting eighteen famous golf holes, a series of charts, a measuring device and four “golf balls.”
The eighteen holes were selected by Dan Jenkins as a golfer’s dream layout. The holes are:
- Merion Golf Club, Par 4, 355 yards
- Scioto Country Club, Par 4, 436 yards
- Olympic Country Club, Par 3, 216 yards
- Baltusrol Golf Club, Par 3, 183 yards
- Colonial Country Club, Par 4, 466 yards
- Seminole Golf Club, Par 4, 388 yards
- Pine Valley, Par 5, 585 yards
- Prairie Dunes, Par 4, 420 yards
- Champions Golf Club, Par 5, 557 yards
- Winged Foot Country Club, Par 3, 191 yards
- Merion Golf Club, Par 4, 370 yards
- Augusta National Golf Club, Par 3, 155 yards
- Oak Hill Country Club, Par 5, 602 yards
- Cherry Hills Country Club, Par 4, 470 yards
- Oakmont Country Club, Par 4, 439 yards
- Oakland Hills Country Club, Par 4, 405 yards
- Quail Creek Golf and Country Club, Par 4, 469 yards
- Pebble Beach Golf Links, Par 5, 540 yards
The game revolves around a series of charts, each of which is designed to statistically simulate the playing ability of varying levels of golf handicaps. Columns on the chart indicate different clubs (or situations like “deep rough”), with colors indicating deviation left and right. Numbers in the boxes indicate shot distance (or a distance penalty for rough or sand). Higher handicappers’ charts have more variance in both shot distance and dispersion.
To play, (ideally) choose the charts that correspond to your own handicap. On each hole, the measuring device is laid out, indicating the line along which you want to hit your shot. The clear plastic stick has marked yardages and a sliding cross beam with colored triangle icons for shot dispersion.
After picking your line and ideal distance, choose the most likely club. Roll the three dice and read the result, with the black die being the tens, and the sum of the white dice indicating the ones. The result in the roll above is “27.”
The dice are not standard. Black die faces are 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3. One white die is ; the other is .
Match the row rolled with the club’s column to see how far the shot traveled. The color of the box indicates how far offline. White is dead on. Blue and green are to the left; red and yellow to the right. Another column shows how much to subtract if the ball begins in the rough, or in a trap or hazard.
The cross beam has two sets of icons. The more widely dispersed marks are for the woods and irons up to the five. The more narrow ones are for the six iron and higher.
By analyzing the distances and dispersion in each column, a savvy player can strategically navigate around the course boards much as on a real course. In the photo above, I decided that going for the green was too much risk, given the possible (and probable dispersion). Instead, I chose to lay up with a six iron, which had a tighter dispersion. My shot was off, giving a blue result. A blue result with a longer club likely would have been wet.
From the lay up, it was just a short pitch to the green. The shots become more accurate the shorter the club, just as they would in real life.
Each of the greens on the boards are divided into several zones. To putt, choose the column corresponding to the zone and roll the dice. The color in the box gives a result: Yellow lands you in another zone, from which you putt again. Red puts you in zone Zero — basically a tap-in, with little chance to miss. Green means that the next shot is a “very short putt,” while blue indicates a near miss and an automatic tap-in.
In the game, I played the sixteenth at Oakland Hills in the same way I played on my round there: drive, lay-up to safety and a pitch. The difference was that I one putted for par in the game, whereas in real life, I two putted for a bogey.
I found that the did a pretty good job of simulating some of the decisions golfers need to make when working around a course. To score well, you need to pick lines that minimize the chances of a costly bad miss. Knowing your distances (and how they vary from the ideal) is key.
As in real life, taking dead aim at the pin is great if you hit (roll) the perfect shot. Hit the ball a little short, or a little left, however, and you’re in a trap. Smart players choose a line and club that minimize the danger.
Of course, there’s always the thrill of going for it. After a bad drive on one par four, I decided — against all logic — to hit a three wood to get on in regulation. A miss would have been a disaster, but I rolled exactly what I needed to thread the hazards and get on in two. That was exciting.
The charts in the Handicap Golf Game offer an interesting historical perspective. A perfect shot from a scratch golfer will go 290. The most common result on the charts with a one wood is either 250 or 260 (five chances each).
Assuming that Sports Illustrated really did base the charts on data, 250 – 260 is not too far off from what you would expect from a scratch golfer today. Game Golf data from 2017 indicates that the median drive for a player with a handicap lower than five is 250 yards.
That, in spite of the fact that drivers in 1971 were (relatively tiny) persimmon heads with steel shafts; balls were wound balata. So much for the “modern equipment is ruining the game” conspiracy theory.
A downside of the game is that the plastic measuring device is a little fiddly. Small bumps are all it takes to push it away from the initial line. Placing the ball marker under the crossbeam without moving it is tricky. I found that the best thing to do is to hold the beam solidly in place, then slide the yardage marker all the way out. From there, the ball can be placed pretty easily.
Elevation also is not modeled in the game. If I were redesigning the Sports Illustrated Handicap Golf Game, I’d put some lines on the board to indicate changes. Crossing the lines would indicate an appropriate gain or loss of yardage.
Minor criticisms aside, The Sports Illustrated Handicap Golf game is fun, and I fully intend to pull it out on one of those cold, snowbound Michigan winter days.
Read about more golf games at the link.