The Rules of Golf Handicaps

By Robert Preston
A pair of players sharing a cart can compete fairly through the use of handicap.
A pair of players sharing a cart can compete fairly through the use of handicap.

Handicap systems are popular in many individual sports, most notably in golf and bowling. The goal of a handicap system in golf is to regulate a match between players of unequal skill levels, to ensure that each has an equal chance of winning, by removing strokes from the score of the weaker player.

Scoring a Round

When playing a round of golf among friends, players will often have many rules among the group that the play differs from the standard rules of golf. These include not counting penalty strokes for lost balls, offering a set amount of mulligans, improving a lie and playing from differing tee boxes depending on the hole being played and how difficult it is. When attempting to get an accurate handicap score, it is important that all players play from a set tee box for all holes, and follow all scoring rules for golf when recording their score. Alhough these improvements will improve the score on the card, they will also inaccurately lower your handicap, hurting you when the time comes to play a match by handicap. Players wishing to follow these group rules while also getting a handicap should also keep a second card with their official score on it.

Calculating Handicap

The handicap is a score that rates the relative strength of a round of golf played by a golfer. To calculate this, the player needs the score they shot as well as the course rating and slope of the course from the tees they shot off. The rating is the expected score for a scratch golfer playing from those tee boxes, while the slope represents the slope of a line showing the expected scores of players on the hole in relation to their handicap multiplied by 100. The average slope is 113, meaning for every 1 handicap higher a player is, he would be expected to lose by 1.13 strokes. The handicap score for a round is found by subtracting the rating from the score shot, multiplying by 113 and dividing by the slope. The best 10 scores from the player's last 20 rounds are averaged and multiplied by .96 to find the handicap.

Implementing Handicap

When playing a round, handicaps are used to award strokes to the weaker player. If an 8 handicap played a 12 handicap, they would then be "giving" four strokes to the player with the higher handicap. For stroke play, the four strokes can simply be taken off of the final round, or two strokes each taken off the front and back 9 scores, if desired. For a games that include skins or match play, where the hole-by-hole scores matter, the strokes are taken off on the hardest holes, which are rated by the owners of the course, and ranked from 1 to 18 on the scorecard.

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