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Handicap Services from the IGA

Understanding the difference between the USGA Handicap System™ and the GHIN™

It happens everyday!!  Somehow, somewhere, somebody confuses the USGA Handicap System™ with the GHIN™ service provided by the IGA to our member clubs.

The USGA Handicap System™ is the trademarked USGA method of evaluating golf skills that “enables golfers of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis.” The USGA Handicap System™ is detailed in a 130 page book that is revised and updated by the USGA every four years. (In many ways the design and layout of this book is similar to the Rules of Golf. There is even a section on “Handicap Decisions” in a miniature simulation of the “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” book used by Rules Officials at USGA and IGA Championships!) A few of the basic elements of the USGA Handicap System™ include terms such as Handicap Index™, Course Handicaps™, USGA Course Rating™, and USGA Slope Rating™.

The Iowa Golf Association™ is the licensed and authorized organization in the state of Iowa for the implementation and enforcement of the USGA Handicap System™. In addition, the IGA along with the Iowa Women’s Golf Association (IWGA), are licensed and authorized to issue and maintain USGA Course and Slope Ratings for Iowa golf courses. For anyone interested in knowing and understanding the USGA Handicap System™ the entire USGA Handicap System Manual can be found on the Internet at

On the other hand, the Golf Handicap Information Network known as GHIN™ is a USGA owned handicap computation service used by the IGA to provide a statewide (and national) network of handicaps for IGA Regular Member Clubs and the individual golfers at those clubs and courses.  GHIN™ is the largest handicap computation service in the World, currently being used in over 60 state and regional golf associations service a total membership of nearly 2,000,000 golfers!

With this basic primer on the difference between the Handicap System and GHIN out of the way, here is some interesting information about the handicapping, and the services provided by the IGA.

Have Index, Will Travel

A USGA Handicap Index™ travels well from course to course and from one set of tees to another set 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 being played.

Your USGA Handicap Index™ can be adjusted for the courses you are traveling to by using the course handicap conversion tables that the IGA and IWGA provide to all courses that have been rated. If you have access to the Internet it is now very easy to go to and use the course handicap calculator available there. This handy tool makes it possible for players to determine their correct Course Handicap™ before leaving for those rounds of golf away from their home course!


The IGA starting providing a new service for its members in 2003 - the ability to receive your handicap revision update electronically! By providing us with your email address at your club or through, we will send your 13 handicap revisions directly to your personal computer. No more need to go to your club to pick up your latest handicap update!  This new service also features interactive links to the USGA and the IGA.  It also shows your previous handicaps and features a handicap card that you can cut out.  Please contact your handicap chairman or the IGA office if you wish to find out more about getting your handicap revision update electronically.

The IGA began producing and distributing an electronic newsletter in 2004. Iowa Links features the latest news and information on IGA events and competitions as well as other news from the state and national golf scenes, feature articles, commentary, travel information and more! If you provide us with your email address you will receive the regular editions of Iowa Links.

Playing by the rules

We all know how important it is to play by the Rules, however you may be playing by the Rules and not even realize that the course you are playing is not up to specifications of the USGA Handicap System™. It is extremely important that the Handicap Committee at each club ensure that the course has been properly and completely marked according to the Rules of Golf!. If boundaries and water hazards are clearly defined and all areas which should be classified as ground under repair have been marked as such, the Committee will have fewer problems during the golf season and perhaps more importantly, handicaps will be properly calculated.

For example, if a course improperly defines areas of high grass or woodlands as lateral water hazards (using red stakes as markers), the handicaps of the players who play most frequently at that course will be lower than they should be. Such areas should be treated under the Rules of Golf as an area in which a ball is lost resulting in a stroke and distance penalty. But if such areas are marked as lateral water hazards, the penalty is one stroke only. Ultimately, players who play and post most of their rounds on courses that are improperly marked will have a more difficult time competing in handicap events against players who play on properly marked courses!

Year-round Revisions

The IGA sets up a revision schedule with GHIN to provide 24 updates of your handicap index each season.  This schedule the 1st and 15th of each month as the day that your updated Handicap Index becomes effective.  A complete revision schedule for each season should be posted at your club and is available here.

Active Season/Inactive Season:

As an authorized golf association the IGA is required to designate an active and an inactive season for the purposes of posting scores for handicap purposes. In Iowa, the active season runs from April 1st to October 31st. Out of season scores are not valid for the use in calculating a player’s Handicap Index. Section 5-1 of the USGA Handicap System™ manual states the following:

F.  Unacceptable Scores

Scores made under the following conditions are not acceptable for handicap purposes and shall not be entered in the player’s scoring record:

ii. When made on a golf course in an area in which an inactive season established by the authorized golf association is in effect;

The IGA designates the golf season in Iowa for posting scores to begin April 1 and to end October 31. The GHIN service will not allow members to post scores to the handicap program during the off-season of November through March. However, if you are playing in an area that has a year round season (such as Florida, Arizona), you may post those scores via and they will be routed back to your home club and included in the next revision.  To find out which states offer year-round seasons, contact the IGA or designated association of the state in which you are playing.


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