Anchors Aweigh for Dean Knuth!
Literally, Dean Knuth (pronounced Ka Nooth) is a U.S. Naval Academy grad who actively served in the Navy for 11 years and retired as a captain from the Naval Reserves after another 16 years. He was awarded a classified medal for developing a method of tracking Soviet submarines, and he received the Legion of Merit and other commendations for his service to the country.
Figuratively, he has raised the standards of golf in two significant ways. First, as the Director of Handicapping for the USGA from 1981-1997, he created the modern Course Rating and Slope Rating System that is used throughout the U.S. and in most foreign countries today. Hence, his nickname, “The Pope of Slope.” Second, with his five golf-club patents, he has crafted his “High Heat” line of drivers, fairway woods, and hybrids that are designed specifically for “Helping amateurs play better golf.”
Dean lives in the San Diego area with his wife Suzanne and belongs to San Diego CC, where he is a past president, served on the Board, and is the General Chairman for August’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at his club. The left-handed golfer—“I do everything lefty.”—is also a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
I think you’ll enjoy reading about the remarkable contributions to golf by this remarkable man.
NEGM: Where were you born, raised, and educated?
DK: I was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1947. I became a pretty good baseball player, a pitcher, and I received a baseball scholarship at the University of Wisconsin. I did have a 20-minute tryout with a Minnesota Twins pitching coach, but he told me, “You don’t have any heat.” I never forgot that remark and named my golf clubs “High Heat” as a result!
I left Wisconsin after one year to attend the Naval Academy and graduated in 1970 with a B.S. degree in mathematics. [Dean scored a perfect 800 on his Math Sat!] I was deployed off Vietnam and then had a tour of duty there. Soon afterward, the Navy sent me to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where I received a Master of Science degree in Computer Systems Technology.
NEGM: What got you thinking about course ratings? About working for the USGA?
DK: While I was still in the Navy, I started to develop my course ratings theories, which I did for a class project. I called the Northern California Golf Association, located in Pebble Beach. They were interested in my ideas because they told me that the USGA’s course rating system didn’t work well as it was based solely on yardage. I was then asked by the USGA to be on their Handicap Research Team to further develop course ratings and try to figure out how to make handicaps portable between golf courses. So, I started to construct what became known as the Slope Rating System. When I told the USGA in 1981 that I was leaving the Navy, the USGA said it would create a position for me as the first Director of Handicapping.
NEGM: How did you create the Course Rating and Slope Rating System?
DK: The first thing I did was to improve the USGA’s course rating yardage formula. There was really no standard, so I had to create one—actually making the standard equate more to what a scratch golfer would be expected to score. Also, the original formula was not based on obstacle difficulty at all, so I incorporated 10 obstacles that impacted the score: topography, fairway, green target, recoverability and rough, bunkers, out of bounds/extreme rough, water hazards, trees, green surface, and psychological.
Simply, if Course Rating tells scratch golfers how difficult the course will be, then the Slope Rating tells bogey golfers how difficult the course will be. The Slope Rating can predict for any person with a GHIN Index who travels to any course what his/her handicap would be from any tee. At a more difficult course, more strokes would be added to the handicap, and at an easier course, less strokes would be given to the player than what he would have at his home course. Originally, there was just one handicap, the same number no matter where you went to play.
NEGM: What has been the system’s goal for amateur golfers?
DK: The goal is to have more equity, and I think handicaps are more equitable today. There’s still the issue of sandbagging. Within the USGA system, I developed a procedure to deal with people who have multiple exceptional scores in tournaments that are much better than their casual play scores. Outside the USGA’s Handicap System, I developed what’s called the Knuth Tournament Point System, which is a way to identify golfers at a club who win or place high in more than their fair share of tournaments. The club keeps track of net tournament finishes for a two-year period and compiles a list of these players—usually called the “Dean’s List.” A player who wins more than is statistically possible will then have his handicap reduced—he has been “Knuthed”!—based on a table of assigned points. My Tournament Point System is now in use, for free, by more than 1,000 golf clubs nationwide.
NEGM: How did you get into creating the High Heat golf club for amateur golfers?
DK: I left the USGA in June, 1997, to run a software defense company in San Diego. I’ve always been a supporter of amateur golfers, and much of my work with the USGA was to help amateurs enjoy the game more. I saw clubs coming in to the USGA for testing, and they were always designed for pros, not for amateurs who have much different requirements. So, in my mind I designed a concept for making a better driver for amateurs. I submitted my ideas to the patent office, and I received five patents for my concepts, so they were truly unique ideas.
This was 15 years ago. I built 400 drivers and sold them all, and I declared victory by recouping my investment and patent money. I broke even, and I thought that was the end of it. Then my old friend Steve Trattner, outside counsel for the USGA specializing in intellectual property with whom I worked closely for years, said he would fund me, and we would be equal partners, if I would continue the R&D on the driver and get the club out to the amateurs who needed it. So, for an entire year we did all the research and testing we needed to do. Two years ago I came out with the first new “High Heat” driver, then fairway woods, and now hybrids. In 2016, the driver won the International Network of Golf’s award for the “Best Product,” and this year we won the same award with our High Heat fairway metalwoods.
NEGM: What makes the High Heat driver, fairway metals, and hybrids different from other woods?
Because amateurs will not always hit the ball in the center of the club—and most industry metalwoods have very small sweet spots—I designed seven layers of thinness inside the face so that the entire face is at the USGA’s CT (characteristic time) reading—the “trampoline effect” limit, as it is more commonly known. Pretty much every metalwood’s center is at this CT limit, but nobody’s off-center is at that limit except for High Heat—the only club where you can miss the center and still get the distance.
The High Heat driver has less dispersion and is more forgiving than any other club. In the fairway woods and hybrids, the major brands are all steel. I designed a titanium face that’s brazed to a steel body so that the entire face can also be at the USGA limit on both the fairway woods and the hybrids. Again, you don’t have to hit the ball in the center of the face to get good performance—ease of launch, distance and straightness—from High Heat clubs.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
Judy Bell [past president of the USGA], Mickey Wright, and whoever wins this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at my club.
My dad, Arnold Palmer, and Ben Hogan.
NEGM: What question should I have asked but didn’t?
You should have asked me, “What organization that helps mankind do you admire the most?” That would be The First Tee of San Diego. I think it’s great. I take two of my granddaughters to the program because it builds character, poise, and self-assuredness.