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How Do You Figure Out Your Course Handicap?

Posted: 1/18/2011

A question we receive from time to time is “Why is my Course Handicap™ the same number from all three sets of tees at my golf course?” The simple answer is that Course Handicap is merely the rounded whole number of strokes a player receives, which is adjusted to that tee’s USGA Course Rating™ only.

The formula to calculate Course Handicap is:

Handicap Index® multiplied by Slope Rating® (of tees played) divided by 113 (standard Slope Rating) and rounded to the nearest whole number. (Reference: Sections 2, 3-3 and 10-4, “The USGA Handicap System” manual.)

The key is do we see USGA Course Rating in the formula above? We don’t, so how does this come into the picture? And how do we gauge “playing to our handicap?” Think Target Score.

Target Score is simply Course Handicap plus the USGA Course Rating of the tee played (which we can round to the nearest whole number, for example’s sake). Let’s say my Course Handicap is a 7 from the Forward, Middle, and Back tees at my course. Here’s how I would determine my Target Score:

Forward:              7 + 68.9 (69) = 76

Middle:                 7 + 71.1 (71) = 78

Back:                    7 + 72.3 (72) = 79

As we can see Course Handicap is only evaluating one side of the “coin”/equation as the Target Score is different than the Course Handicap, which was the same for all three tees. We also need to know what the USGA Course Rating is for that tee to get a realistic view of what’s expected of us to play to our course handicap.

This often leads into a discussion about players competing from a different USGA Course Rating, which is addressed in “Section 3-5” of the “Handicap System Manual” and in the USGA FAQs. A player may see the Course Handicap listed for each tee in the club computer and wonder why an additional adjustment is needed in these situations. The best answer is Course Handicap is originally calculated assuming that we are all playing to the same USGA Course Rating. If not, we also need to adjust for the difference in USGA Course Rating.

Course Handicap just uses Slope Rating to get to that rounded whole number, and Slope Rating is just the spread between a bogey golfer (Bogey Rating™) and scratch golfer USGA Course Rating™. In other words, while it is a handicap system that’s based around scratch we also evaluate for the bogey golfer and the relative difficulty between those two golfers, or how they spread out against each other, is the Slope Rating. So Course Handicap is giving you your whole number spread between those two golfers so you can play to that tee’s USGA Course Rating. In the example where Course Handicap is 7 from all three tees means that the Slope Rating is relatively close to each other (i.e., the spread between scratch and bogey golfer was about the same in how fast scores are rising when the course was rated). As the handicap goes lower Course Handicap fluctuates less (e.g., a scratch golfer, 0.0 is a zero Course Handicap on any and all rated tees). 

While Course Handicap may calculate the same for some players from different tees, especially for a lower Handicap Index player, we also need to take into consideration the USGA Course Rating. Before you play your next round, calculate your Target Score and see if you play to your handicap, but don’t let that number discourage you if you don’t shoot it—it only occurs about once every four or five rounds as a Handicap Index is based on potential ability and the average score will be about two to four strokes higher than the Target Score.

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