Date: May 30, 2017
Author: John Coomber

OPINION: Is time up for countbacks?

Bonnie Doon member John Coomber says the traditional countback system to split ties in club golf has run its race.

Golf is embracing 21st century technology in almost every aspect of the game.

But there is one clunky anachronism with a solution that is staring us in the face – the countback.

Almost every club golfer knows the disappointment of returning a great score and seeing someone else win the competition with the little annotation "cb" – on countback.

It's tough to swallow when you run second to someone who did not in fact beat your score. It's perhaps not so tough to accept the prize when you did not actually win it outright, but wouldn't it be better if we had a system that always produces the most deserving winner?

Countbacks were introduced when there was no other way of determining ties. The rules are quite arcane, resting generally on who has the best score on the back nine holes, then back six, back three, or back one.

The system, an arbitrary solution at best, is ludicrous when applied to two-tee starts. The best back nine might in fact be someone's front nine. In "shotgun" events it might be a bit of both.

The old golfing saw "it ain't how, it's how many" should apply to all competition.

Pros don't lose tournaments because their front nine was better than their back nine on the last day. They have playoffs, or if it's too dark and they can't come back the next day, they share the title (as Peter Lonard and Jarrod Moseley did in the 2002 Australian PGA at Coolum).

Playoffs are of course impractical in daily club competitions.

But technology has given us a much fairer system than countbacks.

Pretty well every club golfer is satisfied that the new centralised handicap system based on the previous 20 competition rounds is much fairer and more accurate than handicaps in the past.

So why not use it fully?

To determine who wins in the event of a tie we only need apply exact handicaps rather than rounded-up ones. The system tells us every player's daily handicap to a tenth of a stroke (and under the Leaderboards tab of your club website to one-hundredth of a stroke).

Here's how it would work:

Example A

Fred is off 18.4 – rounded down to 18.

Bill is off 17.5 – rounded up to 18.

They both have net 68 on a par-72 course. Fred wins because he has beaten his actual handicap by 4.4 strokes,whereas Bill has beaten his by only 3.5 strokes.

It works equally well no matter what the handicap difference:

Example B

Kathy is off 17.2 – rounded down to 17.

Sally is off 35.7 – rounded up to 36.

They both have 40 stableford points. Kathy wins because she has played to 13 and therefore beaten her actual handicap by 4.2 strokes, whereas Sally has played to 32 and therefore beaten hers by only 3.7 strokes.

It's simple and fair. You could even apply it in scratch events. In a tie, the player off the longer handicap is the more deserving winner.

It would take only a minor software tweak to change the system. And if some clubs decided they preferred to stick with countbacks, give them the option of using either system.

Just because we've always used them is no reason to stick with countbacks. They deserve to go the way of hickory, niblicks, featheries, balata and other quaint relics of golf overtaken by superior technology.


Editors note:

For Golf Australia information on Competition Administration & Competition Conditions please visit

This information contains the following 

An alternative count-back method is to use exact handicaps. If the conditions of the competition provide that ties are to be decided in this way, they should also provide what will happen if this procedure does not produce a winner.