The USGA Handicap System™ enables golfers of all skill levels to compete on an equitable basis. This section of the site will help golfers understand why having a Handicap Index® is important. There are links to "The USGA Handicap System" manual, the USGA's handicapping equivalent of "The Rules of Golf", and a Course Handicap™ calculator to allow players to convert their Handicap Index to the Course Handicap for any course that has been properly rated. Articles and resources are available for anyone interested in starting a golf club or for current Handicap Committee chairmen who need assistance in maintaining handicaps for their respective clubs. The current version of the USGA Handicap System went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and the next revision will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Any modifications to the System are noted on this Web site. 





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Within each section, all defined terms are in italics and are listed alphabetically in Section 2 - Definitions.

1-1. Purpose

The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. The System provides a fair Course Handicap for each player, regardless of ability, and adjusts a player's Handicap Index up or down as the player's game changes. At the same time, the System disregards high scores that bear little relation to the player's potential ability and promotes continuity by making a Handicap Index continuous from one playing season or year to the next. A Handicap Index is useful for all forms of play, and is issued only to individuals who are members of a licensed golf club.

Two basic premises underlie the USGA Handicap System, namely that each player will try to make the best score at every hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played, and that the player will post every acceptable round for peer review. The player and the player's Handicap Committee have joint responsibility for adhering to these premises.

A Handicap Index, issued by a golf club or authorized golf association (through its member clubs), indicates a player's skill and is a number taken to one decimal place, e.g., 10.4.

A Handicap Index compares a player's scoring ability to the scoring ability of a scratch golfer on a course of standard difficulty. A player posts scores along with the appropriate USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating to make up the scoring record. A Handicap Index is computed from no more than 20 scores plus any eligible tournament scores. It reflects the player's potential because it is based upon the best handicap differentials posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.

A Handicap Index is portable from course to course, as well as from one set of tees to another set of tees on the same course. A player converts a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap based on the Slope Rating of the tees played.

A USGA Course Rating is the USGA's mark that indicates the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer under normal conditions based on yardage and other obstacles that affect scoring ability. A Slope Rating is a measurement of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers. Each course is rated from each set of tees for both the scratch golfer and the bogey golfer. The USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating together reflect the difficulty of the course for a player who is not a scratch golfer. The greater the difference between the scores of the scratch and bogey golfers on a certain course, the higher the Slope Rating will be and the more strokes players will receive. Conversely, the less the difference, the lower the Slope Rating will be and the fewer strokes players will receive.

Each player locates the Handicap Index on the appropriate Course Handicap Table and finds the corresponding Course Handicap. A Course Handicap Table can be found in the clubhouse or near the first tee of a golf course. There will be a Course Handicap Table for each set of tees used by men and by women. The number of strokes a player receives (Course Handicap) is based upon the relative difficulty (Slope Rating) of the course.

Use of this manual, which provides a detailed description of all aspects of the USGA Handicap System, will make all competitions more enjoyable.

Section 1-2 - Authorization and Licensing

An authorized golf association or golf club must obtain a license from the USGA in order to utilize the USGA Handicap System, to use the USGA marks, and to issue a Handicap Index. Only an authorized golf association may issue a USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating. If a golf club or authorized golf association does not follow all of the procedures of the USGA Handicap System, it is not permitted to use any part of the System or to refer to any handicap that it issues or certifies as a "Handicap Index," "Short Course Handicap," or as a handicap authorized by the USGA. (See Decisions 1-2/1, 1-2/2.)

In countries outside the United States, this written authorization must be in place with the authorized golf association before a golf club within the association's geographic jurisdiction can use the USGA Handicap System.

Only a golf club or an authorized golf association that utilizes the USGA Handicap System in full accordance with the USGA Handicap System as described in The USGA Handicap System manual may use USGA trademarks and service marks.

More than one hundred authorized golf associations, and several thousand golf clubs, utilize the USGA Handicap System and issue a Handicap Index.

Policies of a golf club or an authorized golf association must be consistent with "The Rules of Golf" and "The USGA Handicap System." An essential element is the requirement that each golf club must have a Handicap Committee to ensure the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. A golf club must use the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating issued by an authorized golf association.

The following terms are trademarks and service marks of the United States Golf Association: "Bogey Rating™,""Course Handicap™," "Course Rating and Slope Database™," "Equitable Stroke Control™," "ESC™," "Handicap Differential™," "Handicap Index®," "The USGA Handicap System Licensing Program for Clubs™," "Hole-by-Hole Stroke Allocation Analysis Program™," "Home Course Handicap™," "Short Course Handicap™," "USGA Short Course Rating™," "SLOPE®," "Slope Rating®," "Slope System®," "Trend Handicap™," "Trend Handicap Index™," "Trend Differential™," "United States Golf Association®," "USGA®," "USGA Course Rating™," "USGA Course Rating Software Program™," "USGA Course Rating System™," and "USGA Handicap System™."

Any organization that is not a licensed golf club or an authorized golf association, and individual players who are not members of a golf club, may not use these marks or any part of the USGA Handicap System, including the USGA's mathematical handicap formula, except to the extent that they provide products or services to authorized golf associations or golf clubs for the limited purpose of following the USGA Handicap System. The USGA will make certain that those who are authorized to use USGA trademarks and service marks do so in a manner that preserves the integrity and reliability of the USGA Handicap System. As owner of those well-established trademarks and service marks, the USGA has the sole right to authorize the use of those marks by others.

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