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The USGA Handicap System Licensing Program™

Posted: 2/7/2011

Why do you have to be a member of a licensed golf club in order to obtain a USGA Handicap Index®?

The cornerstone of the USGA Handicap System is the golf club. A USGA Handicap Index has been issued by a golf club since the inception of the USGA Handicap System in 1912. The golf club follows procedures established by the USGA® within the USGA Handicap System.  


Golfers must establish a Handicap Index through a golf club in order to assure fairness through peer review that assures the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. Once a golf club is established, a handicap committee is required to oversee correct utilization of the USGA Handicap System. It is one of the most important committees  at the club level, accountable for ensuring the game is played on a fair and equitable basis. The USGA Handicap System also mandates an employee must not serve as the handicap chair, but can serve on the handicap committee.  


The USGA Handicap System Licensing Program for Clubs™ is a requirement for all clubs in the United States wishing to utilize the USGA Handicap System.  The purpose of the club licensing program is to ensure that all golf clubs in the United States comply with the USGA Handicap System.    


 In order to complete the licensing process, each golf club must first meet the definition of a “golf club.”   


A golf club is an organization of at least 10  individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (including a Handicap Committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System (see Compliance Checklist, Section 8-2m).  A golf club must be licensed in order to use any aspect of the USGA Handicap System.  A golf club can obtain a license agreement directly from the USGA or through its membership in an authorized golf association that is already licensed by the USGA, and has jurisdiction in the geographic area that includes the principal location of the golf club. 


Members of a golf club must have a reasonable and regular opportunity to play golf with each other.  They must be able to return scores personally. These scores must be readily available for inspection by others, including, but not limited to, fellow members and the club’s Handicap Committee. 


A golf club is one of three (3) types: 


Type 1 - It is located at a single specific golf course with a valid USGA Course Rating™ and Slope Rating® where a majority of the club’s events are played and where the club’s scoring records reside; or 


Type 2 - Its members are affiliated, or known to one another, via a business, fraternal, ethnic or social organization.  The majority of the club members had an affiliation prior to organizing the club; or 


Type 3 - The members had no prior affiliation and a majority of the recruiting and sign-up of the membership is done by solicitation to the general public (e.g., newspaper, Internet)  


 Implementation of the USGA Handicap System is conducted at the local club level; the USGA sets the handicap policy, but gives clubs the latitude to administer those policies. There are more than 18,000 licensed golf clubs in the United States currently using the USGA Handicap System. The USGA writes and interprets a system that can be implemented by licensed golf club everywhere. 


Story written by Cindy Cooper, Assistant Manager, Handicapping and Club Licensing.E-mail her with questions or comments to ccooper@usga.org. 


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