The thrill of VPAR

Matt Cooper experiences the excitement of competitive golf played with a handheld and constantly updated scoring system.

As enjoyable as a day of competitive golf can be, for those of us in the very low reaches of amateur golf (even, actually, many of those higher up the chain) the thrill of playing whilst knowing your exact position in the tournament is one we can never appreciate.
Or is it?
VPAR is a scoring system that was inspired by the problem described above – after a day of tough golf the VPAR team realised that they had made some poor decisions on the final holes. Had they been aware of their standing amongst the field, they would have acted differently.
It seemed absurd that modern day technology did not allow an updated leaderboard so they set about changing things. The result is VPAR – each group has an easy-to-use handheld PDA to input scores and look at the leaderboard. Events can also use large monitors for clubhouses and the scoring also goes live on the internet.
At Burhill GC in Surrey last week I was lucky enough to enjoy my third encounter with VPAR and, although I have always enjoyed it before, this occasion had an added buzz: my team was in contention.
It was fascinating to witness just how much the live leaderboard changes the mindset and experience. I had already noted on previous occasions how my awareness of my position – and my team’s position – had made me a more alert golfer. I have a tendency to wait for the adrenalin rush of the final few holes before “getting up for it” and often find I’ve already lost when I’m finally ready to start concentrating.
VPAR prevents any such mental meandering.
As our back nine wore on it became ever more apparent that we were right in the mix. With nearly 70 players competing the field was strung out across the course so VPAR assigns everyone a “VPAR score” which is, effectively, how much you are above/below your handicap’s Stableford score.
What it was telling us was that we were leading with five holes to play.
Unfortunately three of our four team members found out of bounds on the par-five 14th, but the handset proved we were still in with a chance.
This is where it got interesting. Although I loved having the leaderboard on hand (literally) I found it relatively easy to put it away for each shot and concentrate on the golf.
I like the kick-up-the-bum of knowing how we are doing, but I don’t like the stress of feeling I have to achieve something during the hole.
But I noticed one of our team began to get a little panicky. He stood on the 15th tee, noted it was the last hole on which we all got shots, and announced: “We need two net birdies here. We really do.”
It was a long par-four into a strong wind, but by the time we reached the green three of us were in good shape: he was on the putting surface in two, two of us just off in two. “We need those birdies,” I heard him mutter. He promptly three-putted and we failed to get one net birdie.
If I felt the live scoring had helped me, I think towards the end it impacted negatively on his scoring – intriguing to watch.
We performed well enough on the final three holes between us to finish third but the 14th and 15th had done for us.
I reflected that I had holed at least one clutch putt and made one great swing (on the par-three 17th tee) when under leaderboard pressure. That was a unique experience and to have not wilted gave me a little glimpse of what it must feel like to perform under the greatest pressure of all.
For more information go to the VPAR website