Allowances: The What and The Why

At the discretion of the Committee, players in team competitions may not get their full handicap allotment. (USGA/Chris Keane)

A “handicap allowance” is the percentage of a Course Handicap recommended for use in a handicapped competition. The percentage used is determined by the Committee in charge of a competition, and may vary based on the format of play.

Some may not be too familiar with the concept of handicap allowances because they play in individual events in which the full Course Handicap is recommended. Allowances are typically utilized in team events in which one player’s score may not count for the team on every hole, warranting the use of less than their full Course Handicap. Using the recommended percentage of Course Handicap brings equity to many different formats of play, providing the opportunity to run a variety of competitions for golfers of all skill and ability levels.

The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to enable players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis, and allowances are an important tool in helping to accomplish equity. The USGA Handicap System offers recommended handicap allowances for a variety of competitions in Section 9-4, which includes both match-play and stroke-play formats.

Why does the USGA Handicap System include  recommendations for handicap allowances? Shouldn’t everything be played at 100 percent of a player’s Course Handicap? Simply stated, allowances are used frequently in team competitions in which the format is more likely to produce scores that are different than the expected score of each individual. Generally, when full Course Handicaps are used in certain team formats, players with lower Course Handicaps are at a disadvantage in their ability to contribute to the team score. Players with higher Course Handicaps typically have more variance in their scores and an increased potential to shoot lower net scores. (See Appendix E)

Allowances are used to equalize the teams with players of all handicaps, as using less than 100 percent of the Course Handicap will affect a higher handicapped player/team more than a lower handicapped player/team. For instance, if the decision is made by the committee to use a handicap allowance of 50 percent, this is going to have a larger impact on a player with a Course Handicap of 30 (15 strokes) than one who has a Course Handicap of 10 (five strokes).

While allowances are primarily used in team competitions, they are permitted for use in individual formats, as well.

Often, players are discouraged by allowances, believing they are being penalized before the round begins. This is certainly not the case. The principle of allowances is to create an even playing field and give all players the ability to compete and win. Thus, it aligns with the core purpose of the USGA Handicap System, which is to enable players of various abilities to compete on an equitable basis.

Although the allowances in Section 9-4 are recommended to produce a fair and equitable competition, the committee in charge of a competition has the discretion to determine what allowances to use for a specific event, as they do not have an impact on determining a player’s Handicap Index®

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