Handicap Hub: That’s Another Good Question! | Oregon Golf Association

Handicap Hub: That’s Another Good Question!

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director, Handicapping & Course Rating
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Course Handicaps

Here at the OGA, we earnestly embrace the concept that there is no such thing as a stupid question. But those who preface their query with “I have a quick question” will likely get a response from me of “I might not have a quick answer.” Given the quirks and complexities of the USGA Handicap System, one inquiry often leads to another. And another. (And on top of that might involve other slightly messy things like the Course Rating System and / or the Rules of Golf. Just a warning.)

Q1 – I just established my Handicap Index, so I’m trying to figure out how to use my number. It came out to 28.5, so I’m assuming I drop the decimal. Am I a 28 or a 29?

A1 – Even though it sounds odd to those who are new to the Handicap System, you never actually play with your Handicap Index, so dropping the decimal isn’t necessary. It’s helpful to think of your Handicap Index as your “raw” number, and it should be an indicator of potential ability – what you would play to 20-25% of the time. But, you don’t use it in that form on the golf course. That “raw” number has to be changed into a whole number, with the difficulty of the tee you are playing taken into account. How great is that? The way the System works, it makes your Handicap Index completely portable from course to course. As all courses are different, you’ll get fewer strokes on one that’s easier, and more strokes on one that’s more difficult.

Let’s say you’re taking a trip to Bandon and are playing the Gold tees on the Dunes course. Before you play, check out the Slope Rating on the Gold tee for your gender. I recommend using your GHIN mobile app and tapping on the “CH Calculator” to convert the Index to a “Course Handicap”. For men, the Slope Rating of 134 would make a 28.5 into a 34, which happens to be the same for women who have a Slope Rating of 133. And trust me, you’re going to welcome those extra strokes at Bandon Dunes!

P.S. – When someone answers the inevitable “What’s your Handicap?” question, with “I’m an 18”, the proper response is “You’re an 18 where?” Always go back to that raw Handicap Index number – the one with the decimal figure – to properly answer the million dollar handicap question.


Q2 – Is there a formula for manually calculating a Course Handicap? Asking for a math geek friend!

A2 – Of course. We’re talking about the Handicap System, so fun formulas are found throughout. For those who trust pencil-and-paper methods rather than anything automated, a little simple math will convert a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap: Course Handicap = Handicap Index multiplied by the Slope Rating of tee played, divided by 113, rounded to nearest whole number
Example – Handicap Index of 12.5 x Slope Rating 120 = 1500 / 113 = 13.27, rounded to 13


Q3 – Once I have my Course Handicap, how is that number applied to Stroke Play? What about Match Play?

A3 – In Stroke Play, where total score matters, you’re essentially playing against the golf course (a formidable opponent!). Use your Course Handicap to distribute strokes as per the “HDCP” table on the scorecard. This ranks the holes from most difficult to easiest, 1-18 (well, it's a bit more complicated than that, but there's an article for that - click here for more). If your Course Handicap is 36, for example, you would get 2 strokes per hole. In Match Play, what matters is the score on each hole when playing against another golfer. For example, if two friends with Course Handicaps of 10 and 22 play a match, then the less skillful player will receive the difference between the two – which is 12 strokes, to be received on the first 12 handicap stroke holes. The lower-handicapped player plays at scratch (0).


Q4 – There must be something wrong with the Handicap System. I’ve converted my Handicap Index to both the White and Blue tees at my course, but even though the yardages are substantially different, my Course Handicaps are the same! How can that be possible?

A4 – This one can come up frequently, and is a bit of a toughie to get your head around. As we are only using Slope Rating to convert a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap, it’s easy to think that’s the only measure of difficulty at work. We’ve got to drill a bit deeper to uncover what’s going on with this one.

Let’s take a male golfer with an Index of 8.2, and go back to Bandon Dunes (I’m detecting a pattern here – I think I need to go to the beach!). If we look at the Gold, Green and Black tees, we’re talking about quite a bit of yardage separating them.

  • Gold – 5716 yards, 69.4/134 – 8.2 converts to 10
  • Green – 6221 yards, 71.4/133 – 8.2 converts to 10
  • Black – 6732 yards, 74.1/143 – 8.2 converts to 10

What the heck is going on here? How can our golfer be a 10 on all tees, despite the yardage differences? While we’re busy being fixated on the Course Handicap conundrum, we’re forgetting to consider what the golfer’s score on each tee might be, based on playing to his handicap. This is called Target Score, is very simple to figure out, and is where the lightbulb comes on.

Target Score is Course Handicap plus Course Rating, rounded:

  • Gold – 10 + 69.4 = 79.4, rounded to 79
  • Green – 10 + 71.4 = 81.4, rounded to 81
  • Black – 10 + 74.1 = 84.1, rounded to 84

So, as you see, our golfer isn’t expected to perform the same on each tee (in fact, his average score would be about 2-4 strokes higher than his Target Score). The System really does take into account the difference in difficulty between each set of tees, but it doesn’t come to light until you weave in the Course Ratings.

Questions? Contact Kelly in the OGA Handicapping & Course Rating Department at (503) 981-4653 x226 or Click Here to Email Your Question

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