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Competing From Different USGA Course Ratings

Posted: 3/15/2011

Question: How do players adjust their Course Handicap when competing from different tees, which have a different Course Rating and Slope Rating?

One of the commonly misunderstood topics of the USGA Handicap System™ is the additional adjustment that needs to be applied for a competition in which players are competing from different tees/USGA Course Ratings. A common misconception held by many golfers is that a Course Handicap™ represents the number of strokes a player needs to shoot par. This is not the case. A Course Handicap represents the (rounded) number of strokes a player needs to shoot a score equal to the USGA Course Rating of the tees being played. In most cases, par will remain the same for each gender from one tee to the next as it is based on the effective playing length of each hole. However, look at any scorecard and you will note that the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating® will vary from one set of tees to the next. 

Since different tees have different Ratings, as well as different ratings for both men and women, for any competition in which players are competing against one another from different sets of tees, or men and women competing from the same set of tees, an additional adjustment needs to be applied in order to put all players on an equal playing field. To compensate for the difference in USGA Course Rating from one set of tees to the next, the rounded difference in USGA Course Rating between the two sets of tees is added to the Course Handicap of the player(s) competing from the higher rated set of tees.

If a majority of the players are competing from the higher-rated set of tees, it is acceptable for the rounded difference in USGA Course Rating to be subtracted from the players competing from the lower-rated set of tees. (See Decision 3-5/1.)

The USGA Handicap Department has received many inquiries in regard to this topic as players often feel as if they are being penalized for playing a shorter set of tees. However, this adjustment is necessary so players can compete on an equitable basis. Since a Course Handicap gives a player the whole number of strokes needed to shoot the USGA Course Rating of the tees being played, a player competing from a set of tees with a USGA Course Rating of 70.3 is expected to shoot a net score that is two strokes fewer than his opponent who is competing from a set of tees with a USGA Course Rating of 72.7.

The opponent competing from the higher-rated set of tees needs two additional strokes to compete on equal footing (72.7 - 70.3 = 2.4, 2 rounded). Without this adjustment, the player competing from the lower-rated set of tees is at a distinct advantage.

For more information on this topic, please see the USGA’s Position Paper on Competing From Different Tees, which is available online at:


Also, please see “Section 3-5” and “Section 9-3c” of “The USGA Handicap System” manual for additional reference: http://www.usga.org/Rule-Books/Handicap-System-Manual/Handicap-Manual/. 


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