For the average golfer, understanding the USGA Handicap System™ might not seem like the easiest of tasks. And while making heads or tails of handicapping formulas and sections has no bearing on how one swings a club, it does help in creating a level playing field for golfers of all skill levels.
According to our staff, it seems that no handicapping situation leads to more head-scratching moments than calculating how to compete equitably with someone playing from a different set of tees.
Ask anyone who has mastered the science of handicapping to explain the calculations of properly allocating strokes, and you will most likely be left standing there with your head spinning. There has to be an easier way, right?
Luckily for you, there is. Let’s break this down into a real-world example to make it easier to understand how Section 3-5 works. For the purpose of this article, we will use two friends, Tom and Joe. Tom has a Handicap Index® of 2.2 while Joe has an a Handicap Index of 25.0.
Tom and Joe are playing a new course, and as they look over the scorecard before their round, Tom decides to play from the tees measuring 6,500 yards. Joe decides to Tee It Forward and play from the tees measuring 5,800 yards. With a much shorter course and a higher handicap, it appears that Joe has an unfair advantage.
This is where Section 3-5 comes into play. But first, it’s worth noting that a Handicap Index is not established from a particular set of tees, it is simply a standardized benchmark of a golfer’s potential that helps establish a player’s handicap for the particular course he or she is playing.
Starting with a certainty is always a good thing, and in this case, that certainty is the USGA Course Rating™ from each individual’s set of tees. Tom’s USGA Course Rating from 6,500 yards is 72, while at 5,800 yards, Joe is looking at a USGA Course Rating of 67. With those known numbers, the next step is finding the difference between the two, which is 5. Keep that number handy.* (Note: The Course Rating is not always a whole number, so the difference between the two tees’ ratings would be rounded to the nearest whole number in the calculation.)
The rest of the process is simple math. In most cases, the Slope Rating® for a set of tees is printed on the course scorecard. Tom finds his Slope Rating is 130. Tom also knows that the standard Slope Rating is 113, which is the second part of the equation and always a constant. By knowing his Handicap Index of 2.2, Tom uses the following steps to find his course-specific handicap:
1. Multiply Handicap Index times Slope Rating of tees played: 2.2 x 130 = 286
2. Divide by the standard Slope Rating: 286 / 113 = 2.5
3. The result, rounded to the nearest whole number, is the Course Handicap = 3
For those of you who are a little more into math, that’s 2.2 x 130 / 113 = 2.5, which is rounded up to the nearest whole number, 3.
After a few pointers from Tom, Joe quickly figures out that his 25.0 Handicap Index and the Slope Rating of 115 from the forward tees translates to a Course Handicap of 25: 25.0 x 115 / 113 = 25.4, which is rounded to 25.
Or, to skip the math portion entirely, simply enter the Handicap Index and the Slope Rating into the USGA’s Course Handicap calculator.
Now that both players have their Course Handicap, does anyone else think it’s unfair for Tom to be playing with a Course Handicap of 3, while Joe is playing with a Course Handicap of 25 from a shorter set of tees? Isn’t this supposed to be equal? But wait – remember earlier when we noted the difference between the two USGA Course Ratings (72-67 = 5)? Well, to put both players on the same level, you simply add the rounded difference between the two USGA Course Ratings to the Course Handicap of the competitor playing from the higher-rated set of tees. Tom is now playing to a Course Handicap of 8 – bringing this match to a much more equitable range for both players.
It’s important to keep in mind that certain constants exist, like the standard Slope Rating of 113 as the divisor. And even though a lot of fingers and toes may be required to do the math needed, the end result helps create an equal playing field and hopefully saves the head scratching for what kind of sandwich you’re picking up at the turn.
Jonathan Wilhelm is the USGA’s social media specialist. Email him at email@example.com.