Is your club in compliance?

Since the early 1780s, golf committees have been organized to review the basic rules and regulations of the game of golf. This process started locally, with individual clubs reviewing and formalizing everything from the rules to the procedure by which players would be handicapped. As the game grew, so did the need for a governing body to set the standards by which everyone would play.

Early on, players focused heavily on discovering an equitable way to handicap a match. The system started out very basically; two players would agree on their odds and one player would receive a certain number of strokes during the round. This process was a good start, but it didn’t really take into account the differences in players’ games nor the difficulty of the golf course being played. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the USGA implemented the current handicapping system, which takes into account both the variance in skill of the golfers and the assortment of golf courses available.

A key component of the system is an accurate measurement of golf course difficulty. The USGA licenses local golf associations to measure and rate each golf course according to specific procedures defined by the USGA. While this is simple enough to describe, the effort involved for golf associations to train the raters, complete the on-course work and maintain the records is significant.

Another critical component is the responsibility of clubs in applying the rules of the handicap system. This requires licensing clubs, training its officers, certifying club representatives, maintaining club records and auditing each club as needed.

Though the USGA sets the standards, they authorize regional golf associations to administer the system. Within Arizona, only the Arizona Golf Association and Arizona Women’s Golf Association are licensed by the USGA. This is administered through the Arizona Handicap Network (AZHN). Through the AGA and AWGA, clubs have direct access to the proper training and support needed to provide an equitable golfing experience for all members.

To be licensed, each club is required to fulfill minimum obligations to ensure compliance with the system in its entirety. These include signing a statement that acknowledges an understanding of the system and a promise to adhere to all the policies.

Each club is required to operate under bylaws and have a handicap committee chaired by a member. Although golf staff may serve on the committee, in no case is that person eligible to serve as the chairperson. The USGA makes this distinction to protect the professional from the possibility of having to take punitive action against a member. In other words, the system was created by amateur golfers with the idea that the amateurs would control club operations and police themselves.

Clubs are also required to send a representative to an educational seminar on handicapping and to pass a test demonstrating a proper knowledge of the subject. These checks and balances help guarantee consistency and assurances that all clubs under the AZHN umbrella are following the system as intended.

In order to accommodate the more than 700 men’s and women’s clubs in Arizona, the AGA and AWGA conduct educational seminars for members all over the state. The seminars are fun, interactive and informative, while aiming to help golfers understand the system. Ultimately, they ensure correct implementation at each club. Check the AGA and AWGA websites for a schedule of these events at and

As is the case with the Rules of Golf, the USGA publishes new handicapping policies every four years. Each four-year period is a cycle in which clubs must fulfill the basic requirements at some point during that timeframe. Jan. 1, 2012, marks the first day of the new licensing cycle. Each club will receive a packet with all new compliance paperwork, as well as more details about compliance requirements.

 As always, the AGA and AWGA staff are available during regular business hours to help your club in any way they can.