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USGA Handicap System Definitions

The following are a listing of general definitions within the USGA Handicap System.
Handicap Index
A Handicap Index compares a player’s scoring ability to the scoring ability of a scratch golfer on a course of standard difficulty. A player posts scores along with the appropriate USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating to make up the scoring record. A Handicap Index is the USGA’s service mark used to indicate a measurement of a player’s potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It reflects the player’s potential because it is based upon the best handicap differentials posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.
A Handicap Index is portable from course to course, as well as from one set of tees to another set of tees on the same course. A player converts a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap based on the Slope Rating of the tees played.
Course Handicap
A Course Handicap is the USGA’s mark that indicates the number of handicap strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees at the course being played to adjust the player’s scoring ability to the level of scratch or zero-handicap golf. A Course Handicap is determined by applying the player’s Handicap Index to a Course Handicap Table or Course Handicap Calculator.
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap. ESC is used only when a player’s actual or most likely score exceeds the player’s maximum number based on the following table:

Golf Club
A golf club is an organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (especially a Handicap Committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review, and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. A golf club must be licensed by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System. A club can obtain a license directly from the USGA or in conjunction with its membership in an authorized golf association that is already licensed by the USGA and that has jurisdiction in the geographic area that includes the principal location of the golf club.
A golf club is one of three (3) Types:

Type 1. The members of a Type 1 club are located at a single specific golf course with a valid USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating where a majority of the club’s events are played and where the club’s scoring records reside; or 
Type 2. The members of a Type 2 club are affiliated, or known to one another, via a business, fraternal, ethnic, or social organization. The majority of the club members had an affiliation prior to organizing the club; or 
Type 3. The members of a Type 3 club had no prior affiliation and a majority of the recruiting and sign up of the membership is done by solicitation to the public (e.g., newspaper, Internet). 

Handicap Committee
An essential element of the USGA Handicap System is the Handicap Committee. Each golf club or authorized golf association utilizing the USGA Handicap System must appoint a Handicap Committee that ensures compliance with the USGA Handicap System, including peer review. A majority of the Handicap Committee, including the chairperson, must be members of the club; club employees may serve on the Handicap Committee, but an employee may not serve as chairperson.
Duties of the appointed Handicap Committee include:

Communication with club members 
Maintenance of player records-correction of scoring records, assignment of modified handicaps 
Display of Course Ratings, Slope Ratings and Course Handicap tables 
Examining results of competitions 
Serve as the local club authority on the implementation of the USGA Handicap System 

Handicap Differential
A Handicap Differential is the difference between a player’s adjusted gross score and the USGA Course Rating of the course on which the score was made, multiplied by 113, then divided by the Slope Rating from the tees played and rounded to the nearest tenth, e.g., 12.8. The Handicap Differential is the official reflection of how well the round was played (lower the better) as it accounts for the players score in addition to the difficulty of the course and tee the score was record on (rating & slope values).
Peer Review
Peer review is the ability of golfers to gain an understanding of a player’s potential ability and to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a score that has been posted.
There are two essential elements of peer review:

Members of a golf club must have a reasonable and regular opportunity to play together. 
Access must be provided to scoring records, as well as to a Handicap Index list, for inspection by others, including, but not limited to, fellow club members. 

Score Type
A score type indicates specific aspects of a score within a player’s scoring record and should be designated in the following manner:

H = Home

A = Away

T = Tournament

I = Internet posting

C = Combined Nine Hole Scores

P = Penalty Score

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Handicapping

USGA Handicap System
The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. While the USGA developed the rules of the Handicap System and the formulas used in its calculation, it does not issue them directly to individual golfers. The USGA grants a license to utilize its system – either through an authorized golf association or an independent golf club. If a golf club or authorized golf association does not follow ALL of the procedures of the USGA Handicap System, it is not permitted to use ANY part of the System or to refer to any handicap that it issues or certifies as a “Handicap Index,” or as a handicap authorized by the USGA.
The Arizona Golf Association is authorized by the USGA to license its member clubs. In a joint agreement with the Arizona Women’s Golf Association (AWGA) we have created the Arizona Handicap Network (AZHN). The two associations are dedicated to providing our members with the best possible customer service and assistance when it comes to managing their clubs in compliance with the USGA System.
AZHN Services to Member Clubs

State of the art GHIN handicap calculation program that automatically updates Handicap Indexes at each revision period established by the AZHN 
A computer workstation at each of the member club golf facilities in the state in order to facilitate the posting of scores for all golfers 
A label printer so members can print a current handicap sticker at any location 
An on-line central database that allows all members to view scoring records and post scores at any member golf course 
Access to the International Golf Network (IGN), an organization that allows the transfer of scores among member golf associations throughout the country 
Ability to post scores online and perform peer review of other golfers either via the AGA’s website or the AWGA’s website 

AZHN Services to Club Administrators 

Easy to use administrative program that allows club administrators to add and edit member information which is accessible from any computer that has an Internet Connection 
A tournament program (Tournament Pairings Program or TPP) to assist clubs in the administration of regular play-days as well as Invitationals and Major Championships 
Workshops on the application of the USGA Handicap and Course Rating Systems 
Certification seminars which are required for a club to maintain its license 
A Handicap Chairmen’s Kit filled with useful information that can assist in the management of a club including sample policies and letters, posters etc 
Assistance in determining the hole by hole stroke allocations that should be used in club events 
Telephone assistance on any aspect of the system from general questions about the requirements of the USGA program to assistance with specific individual situations that occur in the club

USGA Handicap System Definitions

Additional Resources on Handicapping

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Additional Resources on Handicapping

Handicap Index Calculation
The Handicap Index formula is based on the best (lowest) Handicap Differentials in a player’s scoring record. If a player’s scoring record contains 20 or more scores, the best 10 Handicap Differentials of the most recent 20 scores are used to calculate the Handicap Index. As the number of scores in the scoring record decreases, the percentage of scores used also is reduced from the maximum of the best 50 percent. Thus, the accuracy of a player’s Handicap Index is directly proportional to the number of acceptable scores posted. Handicap Indexes are calculated using the USGA formula on the 1st and 15th of each month and updated on players’ records. A scoring record of at least (5) scores is required in order to establish a Handicap Index.
The following procedures illustrate how an authorized golf association, golf club, and computation service calculate a player’s Handicap Index:
Step 1: Use the table below to determine the number of Handicap Differentials to use

Step 2: Identify the Lowest Handicap Differentials to be used
Step 3: Average those Handicap Differentials
Step 4: Multiply the average by .96
Step 5: Delete all numbers after the tenths’ digit
Handicap Designations

R=’Reduced’ Handicap Index due to Exceptional Tournament Scores. 
M=’Modified’ Handicap Index which has been adjusted by the club Handicap Committee
L=’Local’ Handicap Index which exceeds maximum handicap value within the USGA Handicapping System (36.4-Men, 40.4-Women) 

Reduction of Handicap Index Based on Exceptional Tournament Scores
The following procedure must be used as an alternate calculation of a Handicap Index for players with two or more eligible tournament scores. A player’s Handicap Index may be reduced under this procedure when a player has a minimum of two eligible tournament score differentials that are at least 3.0 better than the player’s Handicap Index as originally calculated under Section 10-2.
The Handicap Committee or handicap computation service must apply the following steps to determine if a reduction to a player’s assigned Handicap Index is necessary.
Step 1: Identify the players’ lowest two eligible Tournament (T) Score Differentials within the past 12 months.
Step 2: Subtract the second lowest differential from the Handicap Index, as calculated originally under Section 10-2. Continue with the next step if the result is 3.0 or greater.
Step 3: Average the two lowest tournament score differentials.
Step 4: Subtract that average from the player’s originally calculated Handicap Index.
Step 5: Using the number (rounded to the nearest tenths place from step 4) and the total number of tournament scores in the player’s record within the past 12 months, use the Handicap Reduction Table (below) to determine if player’s Handicap Index is to be reduced.

Step 6: Subtract the table value from the player’s originally calculated Handicap Index. The result of that subtraction will be the player’s officially assigned Handicap Index and indentified with the letter R to identify that it has been ‘Reduced’ under Section 10-3, USGA Handicap System Manual, due to Exceptional Tournament Scores.
Duration and Variation of Reduction
Handicap Index reduction for exceptional tournament scores is calculated at each handicap revision and may vary from revision to revision based on a number of factors. These factors may include the following:

Additional tournament scores; 
Expiration of eligible tournament scores; 
Fluctuation of originally calculated handicap index in relation to the two lowest T-Scores. 

Handicap Committee Review of Reduction
The Handicap Committee must review all reductions. As a result of review, the Handicap Committee may:

Continue to allow the reduction to run its normal course, as described in Section 10-3d, or
Further reduce the Handicap Index. For example, the committee may conclude that the player’s performance continues to be better than the potential ability indicated by the 10-3 reduction. In that case, the committee replaces the reduced Handicap Index with an even lower reduced Handicap Index, continuing to review the reduction after each revision period, or
Override the reduction. For example, the committee may cancel the reduction to a Handicap Index for a player who has been injured and whose reduction was based on early tournament scores prior to the injury. In that case, the reduction is inconsistent with the player’s scoring record. The committee replaces the reduced Handicap Index with the Handicap Index calculated originally under Section 10-2 and ceases designating it with an R. The committee will have the option to continue to override after each revision period for as long as at least two exceptional tournament scores continue to trigger a 10-3 reduction. 
Adjust the amount of the reduction. The Handicap Committee may decide that the player’s full 10-3 reduction does not reflect their potential ability, but a reduction is still necessary. In this case, the Handicap Committee may modify the amount of the reduction and the player’s Handicap Index as calculated by Section 10-2.

More Information
Competing from Different Tees
Can players compete against each other equitably while playing from different sets of tees? Yes. The USGA Handicap System is setup in such a way to allow players of varying skill levels to not only play against each other from the same course and set of tees, but also when players use different sets of tees. The procedure to calculate player Course Handicaps, compensating for the varying levels of difficulty between the tees being utilized, is outlined in Section 3-5 of the USGA Handicap System Manual and explained below.
Step 1: Each player converts their Handicap Index through the Course Handicap Conversion Chart of the set of tees they are playing.
Step 2: Calculate the difference in Course Rating values between the tees and round to the nearest whole number. This value may either: be added onto the originally converted Course Handicap of the players using the higher rated (more difficult) set of tees, or, subtracted from the converted Course Handicap of the players using the lower rated (easier) set of tees.
Provided this two step process is utilized to calculate final Course Handicap values for all players, they may play against each other on an equitable basis for the round even though they are playing from different sets of tees.
See Example
USGA Position Paper on Competing from Different Tees
USGA Handicapping Publications
Handicap System Reference Guide
Handicap System in Brief