USGA's Position Paper on Competing From Different Tees

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 HandicapTM, 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.

Example

Player A: Handicap Index of 10.4
White set of 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).

He needs 12 strokes to play down to the level of a scratch golfer on the white set of 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 would need to shoot 71.1 + 12, or 83.1, which we will round to 83. So, if player A plays to his Course Handicap by shooting 83, he 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 set of tees that is 73.2. For the Course Handicap of 13 to play down to the level of a scratch golfer, he would need to shoot 73.2 + 13 or 86.3, which we will round to 86. So, if player B plays to his Course Handicap by shooting 86, he would tie the scratch golfer shooting 73 on the blue set of 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 set of tees and player B needs 13 strokes to play down to the level of a scratch player for the blue set of 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 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 net players 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) = 2.1, 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 Player B
Target Score 83 86
Course Handicap 12 13
Diff. in Rating   2
Net Score 71 71

We have reached our desired goal. Both players have scored to their Course Handicap and their net score results in a tie.

Common thoughts:

  1. My Handicap Index converts to the same Course Handicap from two different sets of tees. This system must be screwed up because I definitely score higher on the longer set of tees and I need more strokes. Example, a player has a Handicap Index of 10.4. The white set of tees has a Course Rating of 70.9 and a Slope Rating of 118. The blue tee has a Course Rating of 73.1 and a Slope Rating of 122. In both cases 10.4 converts to a Course Handicap of 11. As we learned in Example 1, the Slope Rating allows us to receive enough strokes to play to the level of a scratch golfer from a particular set of tees. So, when this player plays the white set of tees, he needs 11 strokes to play down to the Course Rating of 70.9. When he plays the blue set of tees, he needs 11 strokes to play down to the Course Rating of 73.1. So, to play to his Course Handicap, he needs to score 70.9 + 11 = 81.9 or 82 from the white tees and 73.1 + 11 = 84.1 or 84 from the blue tees. The system recognizes the difficulty difference in the two sets of tees, but it doesn't show up until we take into account both the Course Rating and the Slope Rating.
  2. A player develops a Handicap Index from a certain set of tees, so a 10.4 who plays all the time from the blue tees is better than the 10.4 who plays from the white set of tees. Another way to read this is that a player develops a Handicap Index from a specific set of tees. In our last example, we said the white tees had a Course Rating of 70.9 and a Slope Rating of 118. What would a player have to average with his ten best scores/differentials to become a 10.4? Let's skip the 96 percent factor in the formula to make it easier to determine. First, we need to determine how to calculate a handicap differential. It is the adjusted gross score minus the Course Rating multiplied by a 113 STANDARD for Slope Rating, divided by the Slope Rating of the tees played. 81.8 - 70.9 x 113/118 = 10.4. So if a player averaged 81.8 on his ten best differentials, the result would be 10.4. If a blue tee player averaged 81.8, the result would be 8.1 (81.8 - 73.1 x 113/122). Result: Shooting the same score from different sets of tees does not result in the same Handicap Index.

For a player averaging 84.3 from the blue tees, the resulting Handicap Index would be 10.4 (84.3 - 73.1 x 113/122). The combination of the differences in Course Ratings, plus the weighting of the Slope Rating shows that a blue tee player averaging 2.5 strokes higher than the white tee player would result in the same Handicap Index. This is how we determine which ten rounds to count in your Handicap Index, whether played from the blue tee at your course, the white tee at your course or the blue tees at Pebble Beach.

Nowhere in the above information did we mention the word par. Players often try to throw par into the mix when trying to figure if scores are equal. Par is of little relevance in the handicap system and is a terrible indicator of predicting score. For example, one course may be 5500 yards long and have a par of 72 and another may be 7200 yards long and have a par of 72. It is highly unlikely that scores on these two courses would be equal for any level of golfer.

In each of the examples, we have used both Course Rating and Slope Rating. The point is that Slope Rating by itself has little meaning within the Handicap System. There must be a Course Rating standard to connect/attach to the Slope Rating in order for there to be any meaning. If there is one thing to remember from all of this, it is that 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.



If a club has players competing against one another from tees with different ratings, can it choose to ignore Section 3-5/9-3 of the USGA Handicap System? top

No. Please see the following letter that is now sent out regarding this subject:

In regard to your inquiry, we want to clearly note the USGA's position regarding handicap competitions in which players are competing from tees where there are different USGA Course Ratings(tm). Sections 3-5 of the USGA Handicap SystemTM and Rule 6-2 of the Rules of Golf ® both apply in this situation.

Rule 6-2b, which references Stroke Play, in part states, "In any round of a handicap competition, the competitor must ensure that his handicap is recorded on his score card before it is returned to the Committee."

Section 3-5, which references differences in Course Ratings, in part states, "...the player playing from the set of tees with the higher USGA Course Rating receives additional strokes equal to the difference between the Course Ratings, with .5 or greater rounded upward. The additional strokes are added to the Course Handicap of the player playing from the higher-rated set of tees."

For more information on players competing from a different USGA Course Rating™, click here.

A player applying Section 3-5 is proceeding correctly in an effort to satisfy the requirements of Rule 6-2. A Committee does not have the power to adopt a Condition of Competition that waives this procedure, as that would be a violation of Rule 33-1, which includes the following wording, "The Committee has no power to waive a Rule of Golf."

The USGA Handicap System has been developed so that competitions from different tees utilizing the differences in Course Ratings can result in equitable competition. We encourage golf clubs to offer competitive opportunities following this philosophy. This letter emphasizes that attempting to ignore this is a violation the Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System. If a golf club is issuing Handicap Indexes® to its members, it is expected that the club will follow the Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System. A club is subject to loss of the ability to utilize the USGA Handicap System as summarized in Handicap Decision 1-2/1:

1-2/1. Club's Policies Not in Compliance With the USGA Handicap System

The USGA requires that a club's policies be in compliance with the Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System for the members' handicaps at that club to be USGA Handicap Indexes. If the USGA is notified in writing that a club is not complying, what action will the USGA take?

A: If notified in writing, the USGA will request the authorized golf association in the area to contact the club about policies not in compliance.

If that association is unable to get the club to comply, the USGA will advise the club in writing that without compliance the club may not issue USGA Handicap Indexes to its members, may not use any part of the USGA Handicap System, and may not use USGA trademarks in any manner. If a club refuses to comply, the USGA will inform other USGA member clubs in the region that the club's right to issue USGA Handicap Indexes has been withdrawn. The USGA will not accept an entry into USGA Championships from any member of this club. As a practical matter, this last action rarely becomes necessary.

Thank you for making an inquiry on this subject. The USGA appreciates your support in promoting its policies.




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