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Handicapping FAQ

Establishing a Handicap Index

Q. How do I establish a Handicap Index?
A. You must be a member of a golf club. The USGA defines a golf club as an organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (including 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 agreement directly from the USGA or through 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 club. Once a player joins a golf club, the player should post adjusted gross scores. When the player posts five adjusted gross scores, and a revision date passes, the club will issue the player a Handicap Index.

Maximum Handicap Index

Q. What is the maximum Handicap Index for men and women?
A. The maximum Handicap Index is 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women (18.2N and 20.2N for a nine-hole Handicap Index, respectively).

  • The Course Handicap could convert to a number higher than the maximum Handicap Index. Example: A Handicap Index of 36.4 on a course with a Slope Rating® of 145 would be 47 (e.g. 36.4 x 145 / 113 = 47 Course Handicap). 
  • Anything above the maximum Handicap Index must be designated with an “L” for local club use only (e.g. 45.0L). 
  • Anything set below the maximum Handicap Index for an event is a condition of the competition (e.g. maximum USGA Handicap Index for event is 25.0). 

Using a Trend Handicap

Q. Does the USGA Handicap System recognize a Trend Handicap?
A. A Trend Handicap is an unofficial estimate of a handicap and is not recognized as a Handicap Index because it represents un-reviewed scores by the Handicap Committee. A Trend Handicap could be missing scores that have failed to be re-routed to the player’s home club before the next handicap revision, including any possible reductions or modifications to handicaps. A Trend Handicap is not recommended for formal competition.

Acceptable Scores

Q. What scores are acceptable for handicap posting purposes?
A. Almost all scores are acceptable because of the basic premise of the USGA Handicap System which states that every player will try to make the best score at each hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played, and that the player will post every acceptable round for peer review. Therefore, all of the following are acceptable scores:

  • When at least seven holes are played (7-12 holes are posted as a 9-hole score; 13 or more are posted as an 18-hole score) 
  • Scores on all courses with a valid Course Rating and Slope Rating
  • Scores in all forms of competition: match play, stroke play, and team competitions where each player play their own ball 
  • Scores made under The Rules of Golf 
  • Scores played under the local rule of “preferred lies” 
  • Scores made in an area observing an active season 

Conceded Strokes/Unfinished Holes

Q. How does a player post a score if conceded a stroke or does not finish a hole?
A. If a player does not finish a hole or is conceded a stroke, record the most likely score for handicap purposes. A most likely score is the number of strokes already taken, plus in the player's best judgment, the number of strokes needed to complete the hole from that point more than half the time. The most likely score should have an "X" preceding the number. For example, player A is just off the green in two strokes, and player A’s partner just holed out for a two; therefore, player A decides to pick up. Player A determines the most likely score would have been to chip on and two putt; therefore, player A will record an X-5 on the scorecard (two strokes already taken plus three more strokes to complete the hole). Player A does not automatically put down the Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) maximum. First, player A determines the most likely score and then after the round checks to see if the most likely score is above the ESC limit.

Holes Not Played/Not Played Under The Rules of Golf

Q. How do I post a score if a hole is not played or not played under the principles of The Rules of Golf? 
A. For handicap purposes, the player must record a score of par plus any handicap strokes normally received for the holes not played or holes not played in accordance with The Rules of Golf. These scores should have an “X” preceding the number. For example, player A is not able to play holes 16, 17, and 18 due to darkness. Player A has a Course Handicap of 12 and holes 16, 17, 18 are a par 5, 3, 4, and are allocated as the number 4, 16, 10 handicap holes, respectively. Therefore, player A will record an x-6, x-3, x-5 on holes 16, 17, and 18, respectively.

Posting a Score from a Foreign Golf Course

Q. How do I post a score made on a foreign golf course for handicap posting purposes?
A. The USGA licenses many foreign golf associations to utilize the USGA Course Rating System. We recommend contacting the club(s) where you will be playing (or have played) and request the Course Rating and Slope Rating. If this is not feasible, the foreign golf association’s Web site may have this information. If the foreign golf course has a valid Course Rating and Slope Rating, then this score can be posted for handicap purposes. If no ratings are available (or if there is not a foreign golf association authorized by the USGA in the country), then this score is not acceptable for handicap posting purposes.

Posting a 9-hole Score to an 18-hole Handicap Index

Q. How do I post a 9-hole score to my “18-hole” Handicap Index?
A. Each nine holes on a golf course has its own Course Rating and Slope Rating. Make sure to post the nine-hole score with the appropriate nine-hole Course Rating and Slope Rating. Two nine-hole scores will eventually (in order posted) be combined to create an 18-hole score and be designated with the letter “C.”

Posting a Score From an Unrated Set of Tees

Q. How do I post a score from an unrated set of tees on a rated golf course?
A. Example: A woman plays from the middle tees, which are not rated for women. The USGA Course Rating from the forward tees is 71.6 with a Slope Rating of 119. The middle tees are 396 yards longer than the forward tees. Using the chart in Section 5-2g of "The USGA Handicap System," she will post her score with a USGA Course Rating of 73.8 (71.6 + 2.2) and a Slope Rating of 124 (119 + 5). Note: The resulting values are subtracted if the unrated tees are shorter than the rated tees.

Section 5-2g may also be used if a player plays a combination of tees. First determine the total yardage of the combination tees, then apply the above procedure.

This adjustment in USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating is only meant to serve as a temporary adjustment and not as a formal USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating. If necessary, the authorized golf association can provide a permanent rating for these tees according to the appropriate gender.

Posting a Score Under “Preferred Lies”

Q. Can I post scores while playing “preferred lies” or “winter rules?”
A. Yes. As long as the Committee has made the decision to play “preferred lies,” then all acceptable scores must be posted. The decision to post under “preferred lies” is not an option to the player if he/she has an acceptable score to post. The Committee making this decision is the Committee present at the club (preferably the Handicap Committee), but could include other club committees. The decision is made on a daily basis based on a specific Local Rule adopted by the Committee. Guidance on how to proceed under this condition must be available to all members, since there is not an established code of how to take relief (must specify location to take relief, procedure, and length of relief).

The USGA does not endorse “preferred lies.” However, if the Committee adopts “preferred lies”, all acceptable scores must be posted for handicap purposes.

Posting a Score in Error

Q. What must I do if posted a score in error?
A. Ask your Handicap Chairman or someone on the Handicap Committee at your club (possibly one of the golf staff) to correct the error. A club representative is the only entity authorized to make a change to a scoring record. The USGA and AGA Handicap Departments do not have the authority to edit or delete postings on individual membership records.

Handicap Adjustment for Injury or Disability

Q. Can the Handicap Committee adjust a Handicap Index for player injury or disability?
A. Yes. Under Section 8-4b(iii) of the USGA Handicap System manual, a Handicap Committee can grant an increase in handicap for temporary and permanent disabilities (as determined by the Handicap Committee). The increased handicap must be identified by the letter “L” to indicate that it is for local club use only.

For example, a player having recent wrist surgery may be given a higher handicap while recovering. Whether it is a temporary or permanent adjustment, and the amount of adjustment, is to be determined at the club level by the player’s Handicap Committee.

Temporary Treatment: Assign a local Handicap Index reflecting current ability—until posting five scores to the player’s Handicap Index—and then go back to observing player’s Handicap Index as calculated.

Permanent Treatment: Disregard the players’ previous scoring records and assign a temporary local Handicap Index for use until posting five scores to establish a new Handicap Index.

Scramble and Skins Handicap Allowance

Q. Does the USGA have handicap allowance recommendations for a scramble or skins event?
A. Visit Section 9-4 of the USGA Handicap System manual for handicap allowances recommended by the USGA Handicap Department. Since a scramble is not played under the principles of The Rules of Golf, it will not be found in the manual. However, this recommendation seems to work well for most groups, regardless of minimum number of drives required or other special conditions:

4-Person Scramble* 2-Person Scramble*
20% A 35% A
15% B 15% B
10% C
5% D

* Based on a percentage of Course Handicap

The USGA does not have a formal recommendation for a skins event. A skins event closest resembles an individual stroke play competition so the committee may decide to use a full Course Handicap and let the player take strokes as they fall. With the dynamics of all handicaps that could compete, it is impossible to recommend a blanket allowance. Try experimenting with the allowance that works best among your group.

Allocating Handicap Strokes

Q. Does the USGA have any recommendations for allocating Handicap Strokes?
A. As the authority to set the course handicap allocation is given to the club, the USGA recommends that the Handicap Committee should review the course hole-by-hole to determine the appropriate allocation of handicap strokes for men and women. This procedure is not mandatory and will have minimal effect on a player's Handicap Index. Common sense should be used to ensure that the handicap strokes are used as an equalizer and should be available where it most likely will be needed by the higher-handicapped player in order to obtain a halve on the hole.

When starting out, the Handicap Committee should remember a few basic guidelines:

  • Allocate strokes based on the tees played most often by a majority of the members. 
  • Allocate the odd-numbered strokes to the front-nine holes and the even-numbered strokes to the back-nine holes—unless the back-nine is decidedly more difficult than the front—you can reverse the allocation. 
  • Avoid allocating the low numbered holes to the beginning or end of the nine holes. 

A method for allocating your handicap strokes is to collect 200 hole-by-hole scorecards from two different groups of golfers. Group A consists of golfers with a Course Handicap of 0-8 for men or 0-14 for women. If there are very few members within this range, take the low 25 percent of its golfers as group A. Group B consists of middle-to-high Course Handicap golfers, ranging 15-20 strokes higher than group A (20-28 for men and 26-40 for women).

The next step is to compare the average score per hole for group A against the average score per hole of group B. Rank the differential of hole scores between group A and group B from high-to-low (1 highest, 18 lowest) differential. Allocate odd and even numbers to front and second nine. The last step is to make sure low numerical holes are not at the beginning or end of each nine.

A second methodology sometimes utilized by clubs to set Handicap Allocation is to generate an average hole by hole score for all members and compare that value against the Par of each hole. Then rank the holes in order beginning with the hole that reveals the largest discrepancy between the club’s average hole score in relation to Par (1 largest, 18 smallest). Again, allocate odd and even numbers to front and second nine and avoid low numerical holes at the beginning or end of each nine.

The Handicap Committee should also implement local knowledge and good judgment when allocating handicap stroke holes as the club makes the final determination of handicap allocation utilized by players.