CAROLINAS GOLF – Competing From Different Tees.  Calculating Handicaps, Par Is Not A Factor


The discussion usually starts like this: “I play all my golf and post my scores from the forward tees. My buddy always plays the middle tees. Our Handicap Indexes are the same. Shouldn’t we just stay on our normal tees and play evenly when we are up against one another in a tournament?”


It “almost” sounds logical, but it’s wrong. If you agree with this, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.


In our last issue, I said it is a common myth that a golfer’s handicap reflects how many strokes over par they score. This is where the confusion starts. Forget par. It’s not a factor.


 In fact, when playing to your potential, your handicap more closely correlates to how many strokes you will be over the USGA Course Rating of the tees you are playing.


Ready to dig into the gory details?  There’s nothing magical about it. It’s just straight math. To start, we need to know how the Handicap Index is calculated. (Section 10-2 of the USGA Handicap System manual.)


Step 1: For each of the golfer’s last 20 scores, subtract the USGA Course Rating of the tees played from their score. Multiply that number by 113 (a constant determined by the USGA) and divide by the Slope Rating of the tee to produce a Handicap Differential.


Step 2: Average the 10 lowest differentials.


Step 3: Multiply by .96 and truncate all numbers after the tenths digit. Voila. You now have a Handicap Index.


For example: Player A shooting an 81 on a set of white tees rated 71.0 with a standard Slope Rating of 113 would produce a differential of 10.0. Do this 20 times (consistent, isn’t he?), and he will have a Handicap Index of 9.6.


Player B shooting 78 on a set of gold tees rated 68.0 with a standard Slope Rating of 113 would produce a differential of 10.0. Do this 20 times (another remarkably consistent player), and he also will have a Handicap index of 9.6.


Both of their Course Handicaps would be 10 on their respective tees (each tee having a Slope Rating of 113 in our example).


Now going back out on the golf course for our tournament, if Player A shoots his normal 81 with a handicap of 10, he will have a net score of 71. If Player B shoots his normal 78 with a handicap of 10, he will have a net score of 68. Who are you betting on? It’s not a fair fight. Their net score equals the course rating of the set of tees they are playing.


That is why Section 3-5 of the USGA Handicap System manual calls for “the player playing from the set of tees with the higher USGA Course Rating receives additional stroke(s) equal to the difference between each USGA Course Rating.” Decision 3-5/1 alternatively allows you to subtract the strokes from the handicap of the golfer on the lower-rated tees.


This same principle applies when men and women are competing against one another from the same set of tees, because there will be different Course Ratings for the two genders. Gotta go, the phone is ringing (No. 2,346).


❯ Greg Kelly is managing director of handicapping, course rating, and GHIN Services for the Carolinas Golf Association. It’s our most frequently received phone call — 2,345 to date, but who’s counting?