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New USCA Grand Prix launched for 1999 events
by Bob Alman
with Mike Weimerskirch and Ted Prentis
Posted May 31, 1999
 • USCA member handicaps, American Rules
 • USCA member handicaps, International Rules

The new USCA Grand Prix system was completed in 1997 and readied for introduction in January of 1998, but the early start was aborted because of persistent bugs in the computer programs used to run the system at USCA headquarters, along with sluggish reporting of tournament results. At last most of these problems have been effectively addressed, and complete results from most events through April of 1999 were incorporated into the first Grand Prix online rankings published in late May, 1999. The cumulative points and rankings for every USCA member who competes in sanctioned events will be frequently updated, culminating after the end of the year with awards for 1999 Grand Prix Championships in several performance categories - by which time a new Grand Prix game will have started to track player performance for the year 2000.

Bob Cherry's performance at the Arizona Open fueled his stratospheric rise to the top of the 1999 Grand Prix with a combined total of 13,945 in singles and doubles.
The New USCA Grand Prix system awards points to all USCA members in every USCA sanctioned tournament in which they compete - including both American and International Rules, and covering doubles in a separate list.

The first singles tally shows Don Fournier, Jr. in the lead with 5400 points, with Bob Cherry and national champion Mik Mehas close behind. Cherry leads by a mile in the combined (singles plus doubles) category with the highest Grand Prix total yet attained: 13,945. Several thousand points behind are Mike Zuro, Neil Houghton, and perennial leader of the old Grand Prix, John Osborn.

Because these totals incorporate results from events prior to May, the vast majority come from sunbelt states. The online update for June will include many more players and a broader geographical balance as the season heats up in the northern climes. The game has barely begun, with these first scores. For the most part, the first tallies are the total scores players earn from ALL their events; as the season matures, however, the character of the game will change for the most active tournament players: in the final year's end tally, only the TOP FIVE RESULTS of an individual player will be added up to comprise that player's 1999 Grand Prix final score.

There are many "winners" in the Grand Prix system - especially with the search tools available online. When you access the Grand Prix, the default setting brings up an alphabetical list, which enables you to quickly find your scores by your last name. But to find the really interesting statistics, you need to search on the other sorts - if you're willing to wait a minute or so for the program to create these lists on the fly:

* HANDICAP SORT, with lowest handicaps on top. This shows you who is leading in each of the handicap ranges. For example, in the Handicap 5 range, Albert Dilley leads in singles with 675 points, with Marilyn Jacobson close behind. And how did Joe Brown amass 3300 Grand Prix points so early in the year to lead in the Handicap 6 range?

* SINGLES SORT, with ranked scores. This will probably turn out to be the most quoted statistic, as it gives a "purer" reading of a player's performance.

* DOUBLES SORT. This sort produces some interesting speculations. For example, how did Sharon Gordon, a Handicap 5, earn 2340 points in doubles? Leading with 3560 total points in the 3.5 range, Charles Lazarus clearly knows how to pick his partners, as more than 3,000 of his points come from doubles.

* COMBINED SORT (singles and doubles). This is the category which gives Bob Cherry his big lead.

The old USCA Grand Prix ran for 11 years, beginning in 1983. John Osborn topped the rankings seven times, and was never lower than fifth. Ever since the old Grand Prix was abandoned in 1994, the design of a new system has been much discussed. Not until 1997, however, did the USCA Management Committee commit to designing and implementing a new Grand Prix. Rich Curtis, Mid-Atlantic Regional VP, took on the difficult task of designing the system, which on the basis of extensive input and advice from players of all levels took final form late in 1997.

At the same time, former national Director of Croquet Mike Weimerskirch - who happens to be a mathematician - worked on translating the design parameters into discrete mathematical configurations to facilitate the complex computations and programing required to make the system functional. A major goal of the design was to avoid creating unnecessary complexity for tournament managers and directors in the reporting of results that feed into the new GP: Most of the data can be taken from reporting forms used in the current handicap system.

The New USCA Grand Prix system is tailor-made for the computer age, as tens of thousands of calculations must go into refiguring the scores after each and every event is added to the data bank; and for the first time, USCA members can easily get frequent updates, appearing in a new standing feature of CROQUETAMERICA.COM, the USCA Website. CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE will also link to the Grand Prix rankings from its News & Features department.

The Website will seek to increase its already extensive coverage of major USCA sanctioned events in conjunction with frequent Grand Prix updates reporting current GP scores of every USCA member included in the system, at all playing levels. The Events Bulletin Board on the front page of CROQUETAMERICA.COM, introduced last year, is now being widely used by tournament managers and directors to post directly to the Website announcements, stories, and results on their events, both large and small.

Ted Prentis joins staff to manage Grand Prix, Handicaps

Software and support problems have plagued the Grand Prix project ever since the initial programing and input more than a year ago, and the problems are still not completely resolved. A new, integrated online database that would allow more efficient handling of both the Grand Prix and handicaps has been designed by Website designer Adam Stock, and a financial sponsor for the project has been found, but the proposed system has yet to be tested or approved by the Management Committee. If approved, the project could come online in time for Grand Prix 2000, according to Stock.

Croquet pro Teddy Prentis recently joined the USCA staff on a full time consultant basis, charged largely with reorganizing and streamlining the in-house computer systems. He'll also be tracking down tournament reports in order to keep the player performance reporting current. "We must stress," he cautions, "that tournament directors running sanctioned events need to send in both handicap tracking points and the finishing places of all the players as soon as possible after the event." (To calculate the Grand Prix points, all that is needed is a ranked list of each flight, with the handicaps of the players.)

Prentis and Curtis are careful to point out that the Grand Prix is not intended to replace the handicap system, but to recognize the achievement of players who compete in both singles and doubles and win points according to their final placement, the length of the flight, and the average handicap of the players in the flight. According to Curtis, "Hopefully, the Grand Prix will create a friendly competition amongst players of similar abilities and encourage players to participate in more tournaments."

"We look forward to providing on ongoing current listing through our Website for both handicaps and Grand Prix," Prentis said. "The Website will update the listings frequently, with the USCA office acting as gatekeeper. I'm extremely pleased that the USCA has such a great Website as well as a new USCA CROQUET NEWS magazine. We intend to provide the editors with as much up-to-date information for our members as we possibly can."

"The USCA needs to grow," Prentis continued. "I know all of you share my great enthusiasm for the game, and there is a lot we can do to spread the word, start new clubs and get new players. Your help is necessary, and we will contact as many of you as we can over the next few months to elicit your suggestions and support."

How the New USCA Grand Prix Works

Each person in each flight of every sanctioned tournament earns Grand Prix Points based on the following three factors - strength of field, place in the field, and type (or significance) of event.

FACTOR 1 - Strength of Field:

The strength of field is based on the average handicap of the players in the flight. The following chart shows the multiplier for the various handicaps.

  Avg. Hcp. of Flight  Multiplier
  less than 0.25       200
    .25 -.75           170
   .75 - 1.25          140
  1.25 - 1.75          120
  1.75 - 2.25          100
  2.25 - 2.75           85
  2.75 - 3.25           70
  3.25 - 3.75           60
  3.75 - 4.25           50
  4.25 - 4.75           40
  4.75 - 5.5            32
  5.5  - 6.5            25
  6.5  - 7.5            18
  7.5  - 8.5            12
  8.5  - 9.5             9
  9.5  - 10.5            6
 10.5  - 11.5            4
 11.5  - 13.5            3
 13.5  - 16.5            2
 16.5  - 20              1

The scale is logarithmic; that is to say, as the average handicaps change by a standard amount - in this case by two - the multiplier doubles. (For example, handicaps near 6 have a multiplier of 25, near 4 the multiplier is 50, near 2 it's 100, etc.)

FACTOR 2 - Place in the Field:

Each place is worth a certain number of points. The distribution of points is based on the percentile rank of the player. In other words, finishing halfway up the list, whether that is 3rd of 6, or 5th of 10, or 14th of 28, earns the same number of points.

Some sample distributions are:

    3 players: 1st place = 7, 2nd = 2, 3rd = 1
    4 players: 10-4-2-1
    5 players: 11-6-3-1-1
    6 players: 13-7-4-2-1-1
    7 players: 14-8-5-3-2-1-1
    8 players: 15-10-6-4-3-2-1-1
   10 players: 16-11-8-6-4-3-2-1-1-1

(A complete spreadsheet is available from the USCA office for those that wish to see it.)

FACTOR 3 - Type (Significance) of Event:

In most cases, this factor is irrelevant as the factor is 1 - that is, without a multiplier. The factor is used, however, to give more weight to special tournaments of regional or national significance. USCA Regionals and Seniors/Masters have a factor of 1.2 (a 20 percent bonus over an invitational or open event); the International Rules Nationals, Club Teams, and the American Rules Nationals have a factor of 1.5.

How to Calculate Grand Prix Points

To calculate Grand Prix Points for an event, simply multiply the Strength Factor by the Place Factor by the Type Factor. For example, each player of the third place doubles team in a flight of 8, with an average handicap of 6 (per player, not per team) would multiply the strength factor of 25 by the place factor of 6 and thereby earn 150 points. (Except in the above-noted instances, no Type factor would apply.)

Players earn points for both Singles and Doubles as separate events. Point totals will be kept for the entire year 1999, with players' ranking being based on the top 5 singles and top 5 doubles performances.

Advantages Over the Original USCA Grand Prix

In the old USCA Grand Prix, points totals were accumulated from up to nine USCA-sanctioned events, strongly favoring those who were free to play in many events and making it difficult for younger players more involved in family and work obligations to compete for the national title. Weimerskirch and Curtis can point to several advantages of the new scheme over the USCA Grand Prix system used from 1983 to 1993.

  1. The old system used a SUM of players ratings, rather than an AVERAGE, thus large flights got more points than small flights, even if the level of competition was equal.

  2. Place points also grew as flight sizes grew, thus doubling this effect.

The result was a system that was based more on WHERE you played, rather than HOW WELL you played.

In other words, the new system has been designed to eliminate bias due to size and strength of the flight, so that theoretically, a 5 handicapper playing to form will wind up with the same number of points, whether in the Championship or First Flight, and whether in a large or small flight. (This will make it easy for tournament directors to say "no" to players who lobby for a chance to play in a flight inappropriate to their skill level. And on the other hand, when directors must balance flights by mixing players of widely varying strengths, no one will be unfairly penalized or rewarded.)

Another significant advantage of this system is that there is no downside to playing in events. A player can only earn positive points, and a poor event can't do damage, as a player's Grand Prix total is based on the BEST FIVE events, so a bad performance is merely crossed off the list. There is a built-in incentive to play more events, as a good result will raise the "best five" total.

USCA management hopes the creation of the New USCA Grand Prix system will inspire the sanctioning of more small local events, which will help make it possible for more people to compete for the national title. Weimerskirch uses himself as an example: "I played for years in Minnesota, where the State Championship, Midwest Regional, and Madden's Invitational were the only events with 500 miles."

The inclusion of International Rules events in the system also distinguishes it from past systems and from all the tracking or ranking schemes used by other associations in the croquet world. The New USCA Grand Prix is unique in awarding equal merit - in the same system - to good performance in both American Rules and International Rules play.

Grand Prix reports will be published regularly in the USCA CROQUET NEWS, and frequent updates will appear in CROQUETAMERICA.COM and CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE.

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