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what is a golf handicap

by David Toms

Agolfhandicapis a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential that is used to enable players of varying abilities to compete against one another. The best players have the lowest handicaps.[1][2][3]

Historically, handicap laws have differed from nation to country, with several distinct systems in place across the globe. Because of incompatibilities and difficulties in translating between systems, the sport’s governing bodies, theUSGAandThe R&A, in collaboration with the several current handicapping agencies, developed a new handicapping system.World Handicap System(WHS), which will be implemented internationally beginning in 2020.[4][5]


The first record of golf handicapping is supposed to be from the late 17th century, in a notebook maintained by a gentleman named John.Thomas Kincaid, who was a student inEdinburgh, Scotland, although the wordhandicapwould not be used in golf until the late nineteenth century. The number of strokes to be given and the holes on which they would be in effect was negotiated between competing golfers prior to the start of play. as stated byThe Golfer’s ManualbyHenry Brougham FarnieAmong the agreed-upon phrases were “third-one” (one stroke every three holes), “half-one” (one stroke every two holes), “one more” (one stroke every hole), and “two more” (two strokes a hole).[6][7]

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During the late nineteenth century, the difference between a golfer’s best three scores for the year andparIn England and Scotland, it quickly became the most used way of handicapping. As the sport grew, so did discontent with the fairness of handicapping, with less proficient players being particularly unhappy as it was much less likely for them to play to the standard of their three score average. Another drawback was that the approach did not account for the variable difficulty of various courses, which meant that the handicap was not particularly transferable.[8]

In an attempt to remedy the problems with a fairly basic handicap system, along with many variations of that system and other systems also being used, the authorities in Great Britain and Ireland sought to standardize. The created one of the first uniform and equal handicap schemes.Ladies Golf Union(Local Government Unit) in the 1890s. This was largely achieved by means of union assignedcourse ratings, rather than clubs utilizing their own. It was not until the formation of the British Golf Unions Joint Advisory Committee in 1924 that the men’s game fully coordinated to create an equitable handicap system, that included a uniform course rating, throughout Great Britain and Ireland; theStandard Scratch Score and Handicapping Schemewas introduced in 1926.[9][10]

In the United States, the sport was governed by a single body, theUSGA, which made the transition to a single standard handicapping method a little simpler. The first national handicap system, implemented in 1911, was based on the British three-score average system. The biggest development was a “par rating” system that assessed the average good score of a scratch golfer on every course, which made the handicap more portable. It also said that a player’s handicap should represent their potential rather than their average performance. After first allowing clubs to choose its own par values, the USGA immediately reversed course and started awarding rates. The USGA Handicap System has evolved throughout time, with an increase in the amount of scores utilized for handicap computations, as well as the inclusion ofEquitable Stroke Control,[11]as well as enhancements to the course grading system. However the most significant change was the creation of theslope ratinghandicap system that allows for variances in difficulty between scratch and bogey players. USGA Course and Slope Ratings now form the basis of many other handicap systems.[12]

As the sport spread over the globe, organizations developed or altered their own handicap regulations. By the early 21st century, there were six major recognized handicapping systems in operation around the world: USGA Handicap System, EGA Handicap System, CONGU Unified Handicap System, Golf Australia Handicap System, South African Handicap System, and Argentinian Handicap System. While these systems share several elements, including as the usage of a common course rating system, they are not readily transferrable due to variances that make translating handicaps across systems problematic. To address these issues, the USGA and The R&A developed a new handicapping system in collaboration with the different current handicapping authority.World Handicap Systemwhich was phased in globally in 2020.[4][5]


Amateur golferswho are members of golf clubs are generally eligible for official handicaps on payment of the prevailing regional and national association annual fees. s- s- s- s- s- s- sgolf clubsAssociations often provide extra peer assessment for low handicaps. Other systems, often free of charge, are available to golfers who are ineligible for official handicaps. In most cases, handicap schemes are not utilized.professional golfA golfer with a handicap of 0 is known as ascratch golfer, and one whose handicap is approximately 18 as abogey golfer.[13]

While the USGA manages its own handicapping system, handicapping systems in nations associated with The R&A are managed by their respective national golf organisations. These bodies have different methods of producing handicaps but they are all generally based on calculating an individual player’s playing ability from their recent history of rounds. As a result, a handicap is not set but is periodically changed to reflect changes in a player’s score. Some systems (e.g. World Handicap System, USGA, European Golf Association) involve calculation of a playing handicap which is dependent on thecoursebeing played and set ofteesOthers (for example, CONGU’s Unified Handicap System) simply utilize the assigned handicap rounded to the closest whole integer.

Contrary to popular opinion, a player’s handicap is intended to reflect a player’s potential or “average best”, not a player’s overall average score. Low handicappers are more likely to play to their handicap since they are more consistent than higher handicappers.

Features of handicapping systems[edit]


The total number of strokes taken for a hole (or round) before a golfer’s handicap is referred to as thegross scoreThe number of strokes taken after removing any handicap allowance for that hole (or round) is known as thenet score.[14]

Note that thegross scoreThe number of strokes taken for a hole in the ‘global handicap system’ is computed.+ the handicap allowance for that hole.Theadjusted gross scorein ‘world handicap system’ is thegross scoremodified such that the maximum on each given hole equals the number of strokes taken + the handicap allowance for that hole + 2 strokes (i.e. net double bogey).

In handicapstroke playcompetitions, a golfer’splaying handicapis deducted from the total number of strokes taken to provide a net score, which is then used to calculate the final results. In terms of handicapStablefordIn tournaments, a player’s handicap is assigned based on specified hole ratings (stroke index) and strokes deducted accordingly from each hole score before calculating the points for that hole. Inmatch playThe handicap differential between players (or teams) is used to calculate the number of strokes the high handicap player should get from the low handicapper throughout their round; each of these strokes is received on the holes with the lowest numerical stroke index.[14]In order to keep an equal playing field, stroke allowances are occasionally decreased by a certain percentage; this is particularly frequent in couples and team tournaments.

Course Rating[edit]

Course Rating, (Standard) Scratch Score, Scratch Rating, and Standard Rating are largely equivalent ratings that are used to indicate the average “good score” by a scratch golfer for a set of tees on a golf course. The course rating for a par 72 course is usually between 67 and 77. The length of the course and its obstacles are the two most important variables in establishing the Course Rating. Some handicapping systems employ simply these two, or even length alone, but the majority of current handicapping systems now use both.USGA Course Ratingmethod that evaluates the difficulty of all components of the route, such as height, width or narrownessfairways, rough length, rough size, and rough curvesgreens, etc.[15][16]

Some handicapping systems provide for an adjustment to the course rating to account for variations in playing conditions on any given day, e.g. course setup and weather, and it is against this adjusted rating that handicaps are assessed and maintained. Playing Conditions Calculation (World Handicap System), Competition Scratch Score (CONGU Unified Handicapping System), Daily Scratch Rating (Golf Australia Handicap System), and Calculated Rating are all examples of altered ratings (South African Handicap System).

The bogey rating is a measure of the playing difficulty of a course that is similar to course rating.bogey golfer.

Slope Rating[edit]

Devised by the USGA, the Slope Rating of a golf course describes the relative difficulty of a course for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch golfer. Slope Ratings vary from 55 to 155, with 113 being a course of standard relative difficulty; the higher the number, the more difficult the course is.

Playing or course handicap[edit]

In most main handicapping systems, a golfer’s precise handicap (or handicap index) is used to generate their playing or course handicap rather than directly. Some methods simply round the precise handicap to the next whole number; however, systems that employ slope ratings need a more sophisticated computation to obtain a course handicap, with some additionally taking the course rating into account:


The first calculation is used by the USGA and Golf Australia, whereas the second is used by the WHS, EGA, and Golf RSA. Under CONGU’s Unified Handicapping System the exact handicap is rounded to the nearest whole number to produce the playing handicap, and in the Argentinian system the exact handicap is used directly.

A playing handicap may also refer to the stroke allowance for a certain tournament that is based onplaying format, and is usually expressed as a percentage of the course handicap.

Stroke Index[edit]

The Stroke Index is a number allocated to each hole on a golf course that is normally placed on the scorecard to indicate which holes handicap strokes should be applied to. Each hole on an 18-hole course is given a number ranging from 1 to 18. (1 to 9 on a 9-hole course). The lowest numbers are often assigned to holes where a higher handicapper is most likely to profit, while the highest numbers are assigned to holes where they are least likely to benefit. Odd numbers will be allocated to either the first or second 9-holes (and even numbers to the other) to ensure a balanced distribution of handicap strokes, and guidelines generally recommend avoiding having the lowest numbers at the start or end of each nine in order to prevent early stroke allowances in playoffs between golfers with similar handicaps or strokes going unused if they are at the end.[17]

Maximum hole score[edit]

Most of the commonly used handicap systems seek to reduce the impact of very high scores on one or more individual holes on the calculation and updating of handicaps. This is achieved by setting a maximum score on each hole, which is only used for handicapping purposes; i.e. it is not used for determining results of competitions or matches. Thismaximum hole scoreis either a fixed number or anet scorerelative to par.Equitable Stroke Control(ESC) andnet double bogeyThe two most prevalent procedures for determining a maximum hole score are (also known as Stableford Points Adjustments).

Handicap differential[edit]

Many handicapping systems include handicap (or score) differentials. They are a standardized assessment of a golfer’s performance that is modified for the course being played. Normally, the total score will be changed prior to computation, for example, by usingESC or net double bogeyThe course rating may also be altered to account for weather conditions on the day.

A common calculation for handicapping schemes that employ course and slope ratings isscore(see above) is as follows:

By choosing a mean average of a defined number of the best recent differentials, the differentials are used to compute starting handicaps as well as maintain current ones (e.g. the USGA system uses the best 10 differentials from the last 20 scores).

Differentials are simply the difference between (adjusted) gross or net scores and a given standard rating (e.g. course rating, standard scratch score, etc.) in other handicapping systems, and they are utilized in various ways to maintain handicaps.

Peer review[edit]

In golf clubs, peer review is usually managed by an elected Handicap Secretary who, supported by a small committee, conducts an Annual Review of the handicaps of all members and assesses ad hoc requests from individual members (usually when age or medium to long-term infirmity affects their playing ability). This ensures that handicaps are established and maintained consistently throughout each club, with the goal of fostering fair competition among golfers of all levels.

Peer review is expanded at the regional level to include thorough confirmation of low handicap golfer handicap results. This guarantees that only golfers of a certain caliber are allowed to compete in their premier championships. Golfers are sometimes barred from the top game after being determined to be abusing the system. To some extent, these regional authorities also monitor the performance of Handicap Secretaries at the club level and offer training for them.

Nationally, the peer review is extended further to assessing golfers from external jurisdictions for their suitability for entry into their elite international events. They also play an important role in periodic assessments of the handicapping system to enhance it in the future.

Handicapping systems[edit]

World Handicap System[edit]

Due to the many handicapping systems in use across the globe, as well as the numerous irregularities within them, making it impossible to play on an equal footing when another handicap system is in use, the sports main governing organizations, in 2011,The R&Aand theUSGAstarted work on developing a single universal handicapping system that would be utilized worldwide.[18]They stated in February 2018 that the World Handicap System (WHS) will be deployed in 2020.[19]Once implemented, the World Handicap System will be administered by The R&A and the USGA, together with the six current main handicapping authority (the USGA, the R&A, the LPGA, and the PGA).Council of National Golf Unions(CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, theEuropean Golf Association(EGA),Golf Australia, theSouth African Golf Association(SAGA), and theArgentine Golf Association(AAG)) administering the system at a local level.[20][18]

The WHS is based on the USGA Course and Slope Rating system, and it mostly adheres to the USGA Handicap System while also adding elements from the six major current handicap systems. For example, for handicap calculations, 8 differentials (like the Golf Australia system) are used after net double bogey adjustments (like the CONGU and EGA systems), and the WHS course/playing handicap includes a course rating adjustment (like the EGA system).[20]For players having current handicaps, their handicap records in the previous systems will be utilized to generate WHS handicaps; most players should notice a change of one or two strokes, if any.

A new WHS handicap requires several scores to be submitted; the recommendation is a minimum of 54 holes made up of any number of 9 or 18-hole rounds in order to achieve a reasonable fair and accurate result, although handicaps may be issued from a smaller sample. Handicap adjustments will be made upon submission of any 9 or 18-hole scores, with daily updates; unlike some other systems, both competitive and recreational rounds may be submitted by all players (for example, CONGU’s Unified Handicapping System only allows submission of non-qualifying scores by golfers in Category 2 or above). Ongoing handicaps are based on the average of the best eight differentials, but with a “anchor” to avoid sudden rises that may not represent the player’s genuine ability. For handicapping reasons, there is also a hole restriction of “net double bogey” to avoid one or two poor holes from having a disproportionate influence.[18]

World Handicap System overview[edit]

A WHS handicap is determined using a mathematical method that estimates how many strokes are above or below par.parBased on their eight greatest scores from their past twenty rounds, a player may be eligible to participate.[21]Several factors are included in the computation, including the player’s most recent round scores, the course rating, and the slope rating.

Ascore differentialis calculated from each of the scores after anynet double bogeyadjustments (an adjustment which allows for a maximum number of strokes each hole dependent on the player’s course handicap) have been implemented, using the following formula:

A handicap index is calculated using just 18-hole differentials. As a result, 9-hole differentials must be consolidated before being utilized, with the exception of remaining one of the 20 most recent differentials. The system also allows for situations where less than 18 (or 9) hole have been played, subject to a minimum of 14 (or 7) holes having been completed, by “scaling up” with net pars for any missing holes.

The score differentials are rounded to one decimal place, and the handicap index is calculated by averaging the best eight of the past 20 reported scores. Initial handicaps are calculated from a minimum of five scores using adjustments that limit each hole score to a maximum ofIf there are at least 5 but less than 20 qualifying scores available, the handicap index is produced using a fixed number of differentials based on the number of available scores, with an extra adjustment applied to that average in certain cases.

Number of rounds Differentials to use Adjustment to average
3 lowest 1 -2.0
4 lowest 1 -1.0
5 lowest 1 0
6 lowest 2 -1.0
7 or 8 lowest 2 0
9 to 11 lowest 3 0
12 to 14 lowest 4 0
15 or 16 lowest 5 0
17 or 18 lowest 6 0
19 lowest 7 0

The handicap index is calculated using the following formula (whereis the number of differentials to be used), with the result rounded to the nearest decimal place:

The handicap index is not used directly for playing purposes, but used to calculate a course handicap according to the slope rating of the set of tees being used with an adjustment based on the difference between the course rating and par. The result is rounded up to the next whole number. For competitions, the unrounded course handicap is converted to a playing handicap by applying a handicap allowance, dependent on the format of play.

The WHS includes techniques to lower a handicap index faster in the event of extraordinary score, as well as to prevent a handicap index from climbing too rapidly. This is done by means of “soft” and “hard” caps based on the lowest index during the previous 365 days; the soft cap reduces increases above 3.0 to 50%, and the hard cap limits increases to 5.0. A golfer’s handicap index is updated on a daily basis.

Many elements of WHS have flexibility which allows for local authorities to determine their own settings, but the basic handicap index calculation remains the same. Here are several examples: Instead of combining 9-hole scores, they may be scaled up.The course handicap may be eliminated from the computation, and the rounded course handicap may be utilized in the playing handicap calculation.[22]

USGA Handicap System[edit]

The USGA’s original handicap system, which was primarily the brainchild ofLeighton Calkins, who based it on the British “three score average” system where the handicap was calculated as the average of the best three scores to par in the last year. The establishment of a par rating (later known as course rating) based on the abilities of top amateurs was the fundamental distinction.Jerome Travers, to account for differences in playing difficulty across courses. After originally allowing clubs to decide their own ratings, the USGA rapidly started awarding ratings centrally at the request of Calkins. Course ratings were rounded to the nearest whole number until 1967, when they started being given to one decimal place.[11]

The number of scores used to compute handicaps was raised in 1947 to the top ten of all scores ever recorded, subject to a minimum of 50. This, however, was not done universally, with regional groups differing on the overall number of rounds to be considered. The USGA stipulated in 1958 that the best 10 of 25 scores would be utilized. This was reduced to 10 from 20 in 1967, which remains to this day although a further adjustment was made with the introduction of a “Bonus of Excellence” multiplier to equalize handicaps and give better players a marginal advantage. Originally 85%, the multiplier was reduced to 96% because it was shown to unfairly benefit stronger players. In 1974,Equitable Stroke Controlwas implemented to avoid the impact of very high individual hole scores on handicap calculations.[11]

With the system still not accounting for variances in playing difficulty for golfers of different abilities, in 1979 the USGA set to work on how to address the issue with the creation of the Handicap Research Team. Their efforts resulted in the development of what is now known as theSlope systemSlope was progressively adopted, first in Colorado in 1982, and then nationwide beginning in 1987. The USGA then set about making further refinements to the course rating system, which at the time was still largely dependent on length, to take account of many other factors affecting scoring ability for a scratch golfer.[12]Most of the world’s main handicapping systems now employ the USGA Course and Slope Rating system.[20]

The USGA Handicap System is utilized across the USGA’s jurisdiction.USGA(i.e. the United States and Mexico), as well as many other nations throughout the globe, e.g.Canada.[23]The USGA has often resorted to the courts to protect the integrity of its handicap system. In one such instance, theCalifornia Court of Appeal(First District) summarized the system’s history:

The USGA was established in 1894. One of its most significant achievements to the game of golf in the United States has been the invention and maintenance of the USGA handicap system from 1911… intended to allow individual golf players of varying ability to compete fairly with one another. Because allowing individual players to issue their own handicaps will surely lead to unfairness and misuse, sanctioned golf clubs and organizations have always been an important element of the [system]. As a result, in order to preserve the integrity and credibility of its [handicap system], the USGA has always adopted a policy of allowing only recognized golf organizations and clubs to issue USGA handicaps… In 1979, the USGA formed a handicap study committee to look into frequent concerns of the USGA’s then-current handicap system. The study team spent a decade and up to $2 million analyzing and evaluating the numerous aspects involved in building a more precise and satisfying [system]. As a result, the research team developed new handicap formulas … designed to measure the overall difficulty of golf courses, compare individual golfers with other golfers of all abilities, take account of differences between tournament and casual play, and adjust aberrant scores on individual holes. Between 1987 and 1993, the USGA accepted and implemented these new [f]ormulas.[24]

USGA Handicap System overview[edit]

A USGA handicap is established using a mathematical method that approximates how many strokes above or below par a player is.parBased on their ten greatest scores from the previous twenty rounds, a player may be eligible to participate.[25]The computation includes multiple factors, including the player’s most recent round scores as well as the course and slope ratings from those rounds.

Ahandicap differentialis calculated from each of the scores afterEquitable Stroke Control(ESC), a course handicap adjustment that allows for a maximum number of strokes each hole, has been imposed using the following formula:

The handicap differentials are rounded to one decimal place, and the best 10 from the last 20 submitted scores are then averaged, before being multiplied by 0.96 (the “bonus of excellence”) and truncated to one decimal place to produce the handicap index. Initial handicaps are determined using ESC modifications depending on the course handicap, resulting in a handicap index of 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women. If at least 5 but less than 20 qualifying scores are available, the handicap index is generated using a fixed number of differentials based on the number of available scores.[26]

Number of rounds Differentials to use
5 or 6 lowest 1
7 or 8 lowest 2
9 or 10 lowest 3
11 or 12 lowest 4
13 or 14 lowest 5
15 or 16 lowest 6
17 lowest 7
18 lowest 8
19 lowest 9

The handicap index is calculated using the following formula (whereis the number of differentials to use), with the resulting value trimmed to one decimal place:

The handicap index is not used directly for playing purposes, but used to calculate a course handicap according to the slope rating of the set of tees being used. The result is rounded up to the next whole number.[3]

A golfer’s handicap index is updated on a regular basis, usually once or twice a month, depending on the local state and regional golf organizations.[20]

CONGU Unified Handicapping System[edit]

Following a meeting of Great Britain and Ireland’s four men’s golf organizations inYorkarranged byThe Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St AndrewsIn 1924, the Joint Advisory Committee of the British Golf Union (laterCouncil of National Golf Unions) was created. The organization was tasked with creating a handicapping system that would be equitable to golfers of varying ability, and as a result theStandard Scratch Score and Handicapping Schemewas created. The system was introduced in 1926, and used a “scratch score” system to rate courses, taking account that courses may play easier or more difficult thanpar.[9]

In 1983, a new system was developed that included elements of the Australian system. This was further revised in 1989 with the introduction of theCompetition Scratch Score(CSS), an adjustment to theStandard Scratch Score(SSS), to account for variations in course circumstances (setup, weather, and so on) on a particular day.[2]Significant adjustments occurred in 1993 (buffer zones) and 1997. (Stableford Points Adjustment). In 2002, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) and theLadies’ Golf Union(LGU) started cooperating (the LGU had adopted a system similar to that of the CONGU in 1998), and in February 2004, theUnified Handicapping System(UHS) came into force.[9]

The Unified Handicapping System is used to handle handicaps for both men and women who belong to related organizations.golf clubsin the United Kingdom and Ireland. The system is published by CONGU and administered by each of the individual unions on behalf of their members,[27]Handicaps are maintained locally by someone at each club; this person is often the competitions or handicap secretary.

Unified Handicapping System overview[edit]

Initial handicaps are assigned under the Unified Handicapping System based on returning scores from 54 holes, generally three 18-hole rounds.[27]Before totalling up the scores, the number of strokes taken on each course is modified to a maximum of twice the par of the hole; formerly, adjustments were 2 over par for men and 3 over par for women.[28]The best of the “adjusted gross differentials” (AGD) between the adjusted score and the Standard Scratch Score (SSS) is used to determine the starting handicap, and the result is truncated to provide a whole number:

Adjustments to the original handicap may be applied if it is judged essential to ensure it is fairly fair. Handicaps are supplied to one decimal place and separated into categories, with Category 1 having the lowest handicaps. Prior to 2018, the highest handicaps were in Category 4 for men, with a maximum of 28.0, and Category 5 for women, with a maximum of 36.0, with provision for higher “club” or “disability” handicaps up to a limit of 54.0 for those who cannot play to these lower limits.[28]In 2018, handicap limits were standardized at 54.0 and a Category 5 was introduced for men, and a new Category 6 for all, replacing the club and disability category (see table below). To calculate the playing handicap, the precise handicap is rounded to the closest whole number.[29]Many handicap tournaments still have maximum male and female handicap limitations of 28 and 36 respectively.

For all qualifying scores that are returned, adjustments are made to a players exact handicap based on the Competition Scratch Score (CSS). All hole scores are first corrected to a maximum of net 2-over par, with handicap strokes applied in accordance with the rules.stroke indexThis is referred to as Stableford or net double-bogey adjustment on the scorecard. Every stroke the adjusted net score is below the CSS triggers a reduction dependent on the players handicap category; for Category 1 this is 0.1 per stroke, for Category 2 it is 0.2, etc. There is a penalty if the adjusted net score exceeds the CSS.buffer zonecomparable to the handicap category before a 0.1 increase, which is the identical for all categories; Category 1 has one stroke buffer, Category 2 has two strokes, and so on.[2]The Competition Scratch Score, which is in the range, is an adjustment to the Standard Scratch Score determined from all scores received.toIncluding the option of “reduction alone” when the scoring circumstances have proven very challenging.[29]

Category Exact
Reduction per stroke
better than CSS
Increase for scores
exceeding CSS + buffer
1 ≤5.4 ≤5 0.1 0.1 1 stroke
2 5.5 to 12.4 6 to 12 0.2 0.1 2 strokes
3 12.5 to 20.4 13 to 20 0.3 0.1 3 strokes
4 20.5 to 28.4 21 to 28 0.4 0.1 4 strokes
5 28.5 to 36.4 29 to 36 0.5 0.1 5 strokes
6 36.5 to 54.0 37 to 54 0.6 0.1 6 strokes

Golfers in Category 2 and higher may enter a variety of qualifying contests in addition to competing in them.supplementary scoresin order to maintain their handicap; primarily a feature to accommodate golfers who play in few competitions and allow them to maintain current handicaps, it is also used by people who wish to try and get their handicap down while they are playing well. Other methods in the system may be used to remove or raise handicaps more rapidly. Every year, all handicaps are evaluated and, if required, changed to ensure that they remain fair and accurate. In addition, any exceptionally excellent results are watched throughout the year and anexceptional scoring reductionmay be applied if certain triggers are reached.

Previously, the CSS and any handicap modifications were calculated manually using published tables, but this is now mechanized, with handicaps submitted to a Centralised Database of Handicaps (CDH).

EGA Handicap System[edit]

The EGA Handicap System is theEuropean Golf Association‘s method of evaluating golf abilities so that players of different standards can compete in handicap events on equal terms. It is founded onStablefordscore and has some parallels with the CONGU system in terms of handicap categories and modifications, as well as the USGA system in terms of the usage ofcourseandsloperatings and determining playing handicaps. The first version of the system was introduced in 2000.[30]

EGA Handicap System overview[edit]

Under the EGA Handicap System, initial handicaps require just a single 9 or 18-hole score recorded using the maximum handicap of 54. The handicap is then computed based on the number of Stableford points earned.

EGA handicaps are supplied to one decimal place and classified into categories, with Category 1 having the lowest handicaps and Category 6 having the greatest (see table below). The handicap is not used directly for playing purposes and a calculation must be done to determine a “playing handicap” specific to the course being played and set of tees being used. The formula for handicaps in categories 1–5 is as follows, with the result rounded to the closest whole number:

For category 6, a “playing handicap difference” equal to the playing handicap for a handicap index of 36.0 is used:

Adjustments are applied to a player’s handicap index for all qualifying scores that are returned. All scores are first converted into Stableford points if necessary (i.e. rounds played using another scoring method, e.g. stroke play), effectively applying anet double bogeyadjustment, and then for each point achieved in excess of thebuffer zoneThe handicap index of the players is reduced according on their handicap category; for Category 1 this is 0.1 per point, for Category 2 it is 0.2, and so on. If the amount of points scored falls below the buffer zone, the handicap index is increased by 0.1 regardless of category. The EGA method additionally considers differences in playing difficulty on any particular competition day using aComputed Buffer Adjustment(CBA), which changes the buffer zones by 1 to +2, with the option of “reductions exclusively” when scoring is very tough.[31]The CBA replaced the previousCompetition Stableford AdjustmentIn 2013, a system that directly altered players’ Stableford scores was introduced.[32]

Category Handicap index Buffer zone
(Stableford points)
Reduction per point scored
in excess of the buffer zone
Increase for scores
below the buffer zone
1 ≤4.4 35–36 0.1 0.1
2 4.5 to 11.4 34–36 0.2 0.1
3 11.5 to 18.4 33–36 0.3 0.1
4 18.5 to 26.4 32–36 0.4 0.1
5 26.5 to 36.0 31–36 0.5 0.1
6 ≥37 1.0

Golfers in Category 2 and higher may enter a variety of qualifying contests in addition to competing in them.extra day scoresin order to keep their handicap. Handicaps are also reviewed annually and any necessary adjustments made.[31]

Golf Australia Handicap System[edit]

The Golf Australia Handicap System is supported by GOLF Link, a world-first computerized handicapping system established by Golf Australia.Golf AustraliaIn the 1990s, the Australian Golf Union (AGU) was the AGU’s predecessor. When GOLF Link was first introduced it contained two key characteristics that set it apart from other world handicapping systems at the time:

  1. It employed a Calculated Course Rating (CCR) to assess how challenging the course was that day and how much handicap was applied.
  2. It used a’swipe’ card to let players to obtain their handicap from any GOLF Link terminal in Australia.

In April 2010 GA adopted the USGA calculating technique utilizing the average of the best 10 differentials of the player’s prior 20 total rounds, multiplied by 0.96. This was changed in September 2011 to the top 8 out of 20 rounds multiplied by 0.93. The reasons given for these improvements were to reestablish fairness amongst those with high and low handicaps. An ‘anchor’ to prevent handicaps from increasing by more than 5 points in a rolling 12-month period,slope ratingsOn January 23, 2014,, as well as a more complex form of CCR known as the Daily Scratch Rating (DSR), were deployed.[33][34][35]

GA Handicap System overview[edit]

The GA Handicap System is based on theStablefordscoring system, and uses slope andcourse rating(also known as “Scratch Rating”). For handicapping purposes, the scratch rating is adjusted to reflect scoring conditions (“Daily Scratch Rating”), and all scores are converted into Stableford points, called the Stableford Handicap Adjustment (SHA) and inherently applyingnet double bogeyalterations, regardless of the score system being utilized while playing.[33]

Handicaps are calculated from the best 8 adjusteddifferentials, known as “sloped played to” results, from the last 20 scores. Should there be 3 or more but fewer than 20 scores available, a specified number of “sloped played to” results are used, per the table below.[36]

Number of scores “Sloped played to”
results to use
3 to 6 lowest 1
7 or 8 lowest 2
9 or 10 lowest 3
11 or 12 lowest 4
13 or 14 lowest 5
15 or 16 lowest 6
17 or 18 lowest 7
19 or 20 lowest 8

New handicaps require 3 18-hole scores to be submitted (or any combination of 9 and 18-hole scores totaling 54 holes played) using a “Temporary Daily Handicap” of 36 for men or 45 for women in order to calculate the necessary “sloped played to” results. ” Sloped listened to “The following formula is used to determine the results, which are rounded to one decimal place:[36]

To calculate the GA handicap, the “sloped played to” results are averaged and multiplied by a factor of 0.93, which is intended to equalize the handicap in favor of better players. The following is the formula for determining a GA handicap (whereis the number of differentials to use), with the resulting value trimmed to one decimal place:[36]

The GA handicap is used to create a “daily handicap“, using the following formula with the result rounded to the closest whole integer, relevant to the course and set of tees being used:[36]

South African Handicap System[edit]

Before 2018, the South African Handicap System used a propriety course rating system without slope, called Standard Rating, which included specific calculations for length and altitude. Handicaps were determined using the best 10 differentials from the previous 20 differentials, with differentials generated using a basic (Standard Rating) formula.Adjusted Gross) formulation. The system previously calculated handicaps against an adjusted Standard Rating (called Calculated Rating) but this was suspended in 2012.[37]The precise handicap, rounded to the closest whole number, was used for playing handicaps.[38]

The rebranded GolfRSA Handicap System adopts the USGA Course and Slope Rating system in September 2018. This prompted a few extra adjustments (e.g., playing handicap and differential computations), but all other aspects remained same (e.g. Adjusted Gross and no daily course rating adjustment). The difference between the Course Rating and Par is included in the GolfRSA playing handicap.[39]

Further adjustments were implemented in October 2019 to bring the GolfRSA Handicap System in line with the future World Handicap System. The changes introduced included reducing the number of differentials used in handicap calculations from 10 down to 8, net double bogey as the maximum score per hole, reducing the minimum number of valid 18-hole scores required for handicapping to three, and exceptional scoring reductions.[40]

Argentinian Handicap System[edit]

The Argentine Golf Association (AAG) handicapping system is straightforward, using simply a course rating and no slope. Scorecards from five 18-hole rounds are required for new handicaps (or ten 9-hole rounds). An initial handicap of 25 is normally used as a starting point, which is then adjusted based on the submitted scores. Handicaps are updated once a month, with current handicaps calculated using a lookup table based on the average of the top eight differentials from the previous 16 rounds. Golfers just utilize their precise handicap while playing.[20][41]

Other systems[edit]

Some system alternatives are available for handicapping golfers who are not qualified for an official handicap:

Peoria System[edit]

ThePeoria System[42]was created to handicap all players playing in an event such as acharityorcorporateIt’s golf day. Before play commences, the organisers secretly select 6 holes (in readiness for handicapping purposes later) from the course to be played. When the players have finished their rounds, they use thePeoriaOn establish their handicap for that round, they used an algorithm to their scores on the designated holes. They then subtract that handicap from their gross score to give their net score – and the winner is determined in the usual way.[43]

Callaway System[edit]

TheCallaway System[44]was designed with the same objective asPeoria. TheCallawayhandicapping algorithm works by totaling a variable number of “worst” scores achieved (subject to a double-par limit) according to a simple table. The sum is then adjusted to produce the player’s handicap, which is then added to their gross score as usual.[43]

Scheid System[edit]

TheScheid System[45]is comparable to the Callaway System, except that a different table version is employed.[43]

System 36[edit]

System 36[46]is a same-day handicapping mechanism that functions similarly toCallaway SystemandPeoria System. Throughout the round, the golfer accrues points based on the following formula:

  • Double bogey or worse: 0 points
  • Bogey: 1 point
  • Par or better: 2 points

Points are scored at the conclusion of each round. The sum is reduced from 36 to arrive at the golfer’s handicap allowance. His net score may then be calculated using his handicap allowed from System 36.


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