Handicap Q & A
Individual membership in the Iowa Golf Association is tracked through the handicap rosters at each IGA Member Club. Each member club uses GHIN for their USGA Handicap Index computation service.
Individuals on the GHIN handicap roster are assigned a unique 7-digit IGA/GHIN number. This number enables the individual to post their scores and maintain a USGA Handicap Index. This 7-digit number also serves as the individual’s IGA member number!
Below are some frequently asked questions about IGA membership and the USGA Handicap System. You can click the question to view the answers or simply scroll through the page to read them all.
Q: What is the USGA Handicap System™?
The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling golfers of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. The System provides fair Course Handicaps™ for players regardless of ability, and adjusts a player's USGA Handicap Index® up or down as his game changes. At the same time, it disregards high scores that bear little relation to the player's potential scoring ability and promotes continuity by making handicaps continuous from one playing season or year to the next. A USGA Handicap Index is useful for all forms of play, and is issued only to individuals who are members of a licensed golf club.
Two basic premises underlie the USGA Handicap System:
- Each player will try to make the best score at every hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played
- The player will post every acceptable round for peer review.
Q: What is a USGA Handicap Index®?
A USGA Handicap Index, issued by a golf club or authorized golf association, indicates a golfer's skill and comes in the form of a number taken to one decimal place, e.g. 9.2.
A USGA Handicap Index compares a player's scoring ability to the scoring ability of an expert amateur on a course of standard difficulty. A player posts his scores along with the appropriate USGA Ratings to make up his scoring record. A Handicap Index is computed from no more than 20 scores plus eligible scores in the scoring record. It reflects the player's potential because it is based upon the best scores posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.
A USGA Handicap Index travels well from course to course, as well as from one set of tees to other sets of tees on the same course. A player's Handicap Index determines the number of strokes a player receives depending upon the length and difficulty of the course he/she plays.
Never round your Handicap Index to determine your Course Handicap!
Q: How is a USGA Handicap Index calculated?
For each score posted, a handicap differential is calculated. The formula is: Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross score – USGA Course Rating) x 113/USGA Slope Rating
Once your score file consists of 20 scores, your lowest 10 differentials are added together, divided by 10 and then multiplied by .96, the result taken to the tenth is your Handicap Index (do not round, just drop all numbers after the tenth). Your 10 lowest differentials used are not necessarily the 10 lowest scores in your file.
A player needs a minimum of 5 scores to calculate a Handicap Index. If a player has at least 5 scores but fewer than 20 differentials available, the Handicap Index is computed as follows:
Scores Available = Differentials to be used
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
Q: How often are Handicap Indexes updated?
Handicap Indexes are updated on the 1st and 15th of each month. Your Handicap Index (which only changes on the 1st and 15th) is converted to a Course Handicap for the set of tees you are going to play. So while you Handicap Index only changes on the 1st and 15th, your Course Handicap changes for every round you play based on the tees you are playing.
Q: I just reactivated my membership and GHIN number at my home club. I have a full score history from the previous year yet my Handicap Index is reading “NH”. Why?
The “NH” stands for No Handicap. Do not be alarmed as this is an automatic function of the system when reactivating a GHIN number. Once you are reactivated, you must experience a Handicap Revision or “update”. Revisions occur on the 1st and 15th of every month.
Q: Now that I have my Handicap Index, how do I figure my Course Handicap?
Course Handicap is the number of strokes a player receives based upon the relative difficulty (Slope) of the tees to be played. There are multiple ways to figure you Course Handicap:
- Download the mobile GHIN app. Once signed in with your last name and GHIN number it will show all your handicap info. This app features a Slope Slide Bar, simply move the bar to match the slope of the tees to be played and you will see your Course Handicap.
- There is a Course Handicap calculator located at iowagolf.org under the ‘Your Handicap’ section. Here you enter your Handicap Index and the Slope of the tees to be played.
- All courses that are issued ratings are presented with a Course Handicap Conversion Table for each set of tees that has a rating. These tables are often posted publicly so you can find the set of tees to be played, and use it to see your Course Handicap.
- You can do the math: Course Handicap = Handicap Index multiplied by the Slope of Tees to Be Played divided by 113 (round this number).
Q: What does the letter(s) next to my USGA Handicap Index represent?
L = USGA Handicap Index exceeds 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women
M = USGA Handicap Index modified by Handicap Committee
N = Nine-hole USGA Handicap Index
NL = Nine-hole USGA Handicap Index exceeds 18.2 for men and 20.2 for women
R = USGA Handicap Index automatically reduced for Exceptional Tournament Performance
WD = USGA Handicap Index withdrawn by Handicap Committee
Q: What does the letter(s) after each score represent?
The letter(s) immediately following an adjusted gross score indicates specific aspects of a score within a player's scoring record and are designated in the following manner:
A = Away
AI = Away Internet
C = Combined
CI = Combined Internet (at least one nine-hole score posted via Internet)
I = Internet
P = Penalty
T = Tournament
TI = Tournament Internet
Q: What is Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)?
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is an adjustment of individual hole scores (for handicap purposes) in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential. ESC is used after the round and is only used when the actual score exceeds his/her maximum number. ESC sets a limit to the number of strokes a player can take on a hole depending on the golfer’s Course Handicap. ESC applies to all scores, including tournament scores. There is no limit to the number of holes that ESC can be applied to in a score.
Below is the maximum number a player can take:
|9 or less
|10 - 19
|40 and above
Example: A player with a Course Handicap of 6 has a maximum number of par plus two strokes (double bogey) for any hole. A player with a Course Handicap of 13 has a maximum number of 7 for any hole regardless of par. A player with a Course Handicap of 13 has a maximum number of 7 for any hole regardless of par.
A player without an established Handicap Index MUST use the maximum Handicap of 36.4 or men or 40.4 for women, converted to determine a maximum ESC number.
Please refer to section 4-3 of the Handicap System Manual
Q. Can I post a score if I use the electronic yardage finders on the golf carts or on hand-held devices?
Yes. Even though Electronic Measuring Devices (EMD's) are only permitted through local rule under the Rules of Golf (Dec. 14-3/0.5), the information provided is widely available. As long as this information is obtained before rather than during the execution of the golf shot, the scores are acceptable for handicap purposes.
Q. Why is there an ‘R’ behind my USGA Handicap Index?
The “R” indicates that a golfer is being reduced due to exceptional tournament scores. The reduction is an automatic part of the index calculation. Eligible tournament scores stay in a stored tournament file for a year from the date they were posted or within the scoring record. Each revision, the computer looks at what the golfer’s calculated (10-2) Handicap Index is. If there are at least two tournament scores with differentials 3.0 points below the calculated index, then the golfer may be reduced. The calculation also takes into account the total number of tournament games the golfer has posted over the last 12 months. If the golfer has shown they can play to a certain level but the current index is not reflecting that potential, the system automatically reduces the golfer down to his or her playing potential.
To be clear, this is not a penalty, but rather part of the formula for calculating a player's Handicap Index.
Q: How do I know if I played to my handicap?
Think Target Score! Let’s say Bob has a Handicap Index of 13.2. He plans to play a set of tees that have a Course Rating of 70.0 and a Slope Rating of 120. By applying his Handicap Index to the Slope of 120, he has a Course Handicap of 14 on this set of tees. For Bob to play to his handicap he must shoot his ‘Target Score’ or better. Target score is calculated by adding the Course Rating of the tees played and the golfer’s Course Handicap. (70.0 + 14 = 84).
Par, and the net score in relation to par, has nothing to do determining what it means to ‘Play to Your Handicap’ – think Target Score!
A USGA Handicap Index is calculated in a way to reflect a golfer's POTENTIAL ability. It is not the average of all your scores. A golfer is expected to play to his/her Course Handicap only about 25 PERCENT of the time.
Q: Why can’t I post scores made within the IGA region from November 1st to March 31st?
When a member posts a score to his/her handicap, they are posting against the Course Rating and Slope of the given tees he played. These rating values were calculated by Course Raters during the peak playing condition of the course. Course conditions in the IGA region from November through March are nowhere near the same as during the peak playing conditions. This is why authorized golf associations across the nation determine their respective inactive seasons that golf clubs in their jurisdiction must follow. The IGA’s inactive season starts on November 1st and ends on March 31st. As a side note for you snowbirds that are traveling to warmer climates, check to see if your destination is seasonal or year-round. Remember, you must post rounds played at courses in states that are active, even if Iowa is not!
Q: What should a player do if he/she does not finish a hole or is conceded a stroke?
If a player does not finish a hole or is conceded a stroke then, he/she shall record their most likely score. 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 2 strokes, and their partner just holed out for a 2; therefore, player A decides to pick up. What should player A record on the scorecard? Player A determines they will most likely chip up and two putt; therefore, player A will record an X-5 on the card (2, already taken, + 3 to complete the hole). Player A does not automatically put down his ESC maximum. First, they determine most likely score and then after the round, check to see if the most likely score is above their ESC limit. In this case, player A has a Course Handicap of 24 and his maximum is 8. X-5 is not above his limit and therefore, X-5 is the score he shall use for posting purposes. For further information on most likely score please refer to Section 4-1 of the Handicap System manual.
Q: What should a player do if he/she does not play a hole or does not play it under the principles of the Rules of Golf?
For Handicap Purposes, the player shall record par plus any Handicap strokes for those holes not played. 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. Please refer Section 4-2 of the Handicap System manual for more information.
Q. Is there an adjustment when competing against someone playing a different set of tees?
Yes. Different tees usually have different USGA Course Ratings and an adjustment has to be made to equalize the courses. The higher rated course is more difficult and the player playing from the set of tees with the higher USGA Course Rating should receive additional strokes equal to the difference between the Course Ratings, with .5 or greater rounded upward. However, when applying ESC, the additional strokes received under this procedure are to be disregarded. The adjustment is found in Section 3-5 of the Handicap Manual.
Q: When players are competing from different tees, why do you make a second adjustment?
Many players question the application of Section 3-5, where players are competing from different sets of tees, or men and women are competing from the same set of tees. This is a difficult concept to understand and we are offering a few different ways to allow you to explain this to your club members.
We need to define what the Slope Rating does, as many players think the different Slope Ratings automatically take care of the difference in the two sets of tees. This is a myth. The Slope Rating is used to convert a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap, which allows the player to receive the number of strokes he needs to play to the level of a scratch golfer for that particular set of tees. In other words, it is the number of strokes he needs to play down to the Course Rating for that particular set of tees.
Player A: Handicap Index of 10.4
White Tees: Course Rating of 71.1 and a Slope Rating of 130.
Course Handicap for player A on the White Tees is a 12 (10.4 x 130/113).
Player A needs 12 strokes to play down to the level of a scratch golfer on the White Tees. The scratch golfer is what the Course Rating is based upon, so that is 71.1. For the Course Handicap of 12 to play down to the level of a scratch golfer, he/she would need to shoot 71.1 + 12, or 83.1, which we will round to 83. So, if player A plays to his/her Course Handicap by shooting 83, he/she would tie the scratch golfer shooting 71 on the white set of tees. Now, we have found a way for a golfer to compete against a player with a different skill level from a specific set of tees.
Player B: Handicap Index of 10.4
Blue set of tees: Course Rating of 73.2 and a Slope Rating of 140.
Course Handicap for player B on the Blue Tees is 13 (10.4 x 140/113).
Player B needs 13 strokes to play down to the level of a scratch golfer for this particular blue set of tees. As we said earlier, the scratch golfer is what the Course Rating is based upon, and on the Blue Tees that is 73.2. For the Course Handicap of 13 to play down to the level of a scratch golfer, he/she would need to shoot 73.2 + 13 or 86.3, which we will round to 86. So, if player B plays to his/her Course Handicap by shooting 86, he/she would tie the scratch golfer shooting 73 on the Blue Tees. Great, again we have found a way for a golfer to compete against a player with a different skill level from a specific set of tees.
So now the two non-scratch players decide to compete against one another; Player A from the White Tees and Player B from the Blue Tees. We have determined their Course Handicap when they were going to play someone else from the same set of tees, but that is no longer the case. However, we have already determined that player A needs 12 strokes to play down to a scratch for the White Tees and player B needs 13 strokes to play down to the level of a scratch player for the Blue Tees. If both players play exactly to their Course Handicap, player A scores 83 for a net of 71 and player B scores 86 for a net of 73. Player A wins every time if they both shoot to their Course Handicap, as 71 is better than 73. This is because the Course Handicaps were set up allowing each player to score down to the level of the scratch golfer for the specific set of tees they are playing. SLOPE allows one to compete with someone from the same set of tees, but in our example the players are not playing the same set of tees.
Now, we have to standardize/equalize the Course Ratings in order for the two players to compete equitably. The same thing would apply when two scratch players chose to play from these two different sets of tees. A scratch golfer would shoot a 71 from the White Tees and another scratch golfer would shoot a 73 from the Blue Tees. Because the player playing the Blue Tees is playing a course with a higher Course Rating (more difficult set of tees), we must equalize the difference in Course Ratings in order to do any type of comparison or competition. This applies to every golfer, no matter what their level of skill, as all the Slope Rating has done is given a player enough strokes to play down to the level of a scratch for the specific set of tees.
Back to our Player A and B. Because player B is playing a set of tees with a higher Course Rating, we must add the difference between the two Course Ratings to his Course Handicap if he is going to compete with someone else from a different set of tees. 73.2 (blue) - 71.1 (white) = 2.2, which we round to 2. So player B will add two strokes to his 13, resulting in a Course Handicap of 15.
Now let's look at the competition if both players score to their Course Handicap: Player A shoots 83 and with his/her Course Handicap of 12 applied the net score is 71. Player B shoots 86 and with his/her Course Handicap of 15 applied the net score is 71. Both players played equally with the result being a tie, as it should be.
See another example of a 3-5 adjustment
Check out this flyer on Section 3-5