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.

13-1. Definitions

a. Scratch Golfer

See definition of scratch golfer.

b. Yardage Rating

Yardage rating is the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course based on effective playing length.

c. Obstacle Factors

Obstacle factors are hazards, natural features, vegetation, and playing conditions found on the golf course that make play harder or easier than a standard course with the same effective playing length.

d. Effective Playing Length

Effective playing length is the measured length of the golf course adjusted by factors such as unusual roll, elevation changes, dogleg/forced lay up, prevailing wind, and altitude above sea level that make the course play longer or shorter than its measured length. For example, when forced lay ups result in a course playing effectively longer for the scratch golfer, the rating team modifies the yardage rating upward to arrive at the USGA Course Rating.

e. USGA Course Rating

See definition of USGA Course Rating.

Courses are rated by authorized golf associations, not by individual clubs. (See Section 14.)

Note: Yardage rating and USGA Course Rating are not to be confused with par. Par is not an accurate measure of the playing difficulty of a golf course. It is possible for two golf courses to have the same par, but differ greatly in USGA Course Rating and yardage rating.

f. Bogey Golfer

See definition of Bogey Golfer.

g. Bogey Rating

See definition of Bogey Rating.

h. Slope Rating

See definition of Slope Rating.

13-2. Conditions for Rating

a. Placement of Tee Markers and Holes

On the day a course is to be rated, the club is requested to do the following:

(i) Place tee markers opposite the permanent yardage markers from which measurements were made (See Section 12);

(ii) Cut average hole locations;

(iii) Set up the course and maintain conditions for normal scoring difficulty.

b. In-Season Playing Conditions

The USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating must reflect conditions normal for the season(s) when the most rounds are played.

c. The Rules of Golf

The USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating are based on the assumption that players observe and courses are marked under the Rules of Golf. Any local rules must conform with the spirit of the Rules of Golf and USGA policy. (See Section 7.)

13-3. Course Rating Procedures

a. Components

An authorized golf association, through the following components, determines the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating:

(i) Effective playing length is obtained from official measurements of the course and an evaluation of the factors that cause the course to play significantly longer or shorter than its measured length. (Section 13-1d.) Yardage must be measured accurately. An error of only 22 yards in overall length will change the USGA Course Rating by 0.1 of a stroke for men. An error of only 18 yards will change the USGA Course Rating by 0.1 of a stroke for women.

(ii) Yardage ratings for both the scratch golfer and bogey golfer are determined by applying the effective playing length to the appropriate yardage rating formulas. (Sections 13-1d and 13-3d.)

(iii) USGA Course Rating is the scratch yardage rating of a course modified by the obstacle factors as they affect the scratch golfer. (See Definitions.)

(iv) Bogey Rating is the bogey yardage rating of a course modified by the obstacle factors as they affect the bogey golfer. (See Definitions.)

(v) Slope Rating is the difference between the Bogey Rating and the USGA Course Rating multiplied by 5.381 for men and 4.24 for women. (See Definitions and 13-3f.)

b. Effective Playing Length

On each hole, the rating team evaluates four factors that affect the playing length: roll, elevation, dogleg/forced lay up and prevailing wind. The effect of these factors, plus the altitude above sea level of the course as a whole, is converted to yardage that is added to or subtracted from the measured length to yield effective playing length. Effective playing length is then applied to the yardage rating formulas to produce scratch and bogey yardage ratings.

(i) Roll
Unirrigated, thin fairways and downhill landing areas result in the ball rolling farther than the normal 20 yards. Irrigated, lush fairways and uphill landing areas result in the ball rolling less than 20 yards.

(ii) Elevation
Holes that are uphill from tee to green play longer than those that are downhill from tee to green.

(iii) Dogleg/Forced Lay up
Holes in which the fairway bends short of the normal landing area force the player to hit less than a full tee shot. The same is true on holes where an obstacle, such as a water hazard, is situated in the landing area.

(iv) Prevailing Wind
The force and direction of the prevailing wind can affect the playing difficulty of the golf course.

(v) Altitude Above Sea Level
The yardage rating of a course at an altitude at or above 2,000 feet is adjusted downward. The ball will carry a greater distance at high altitudes.

c. Obstacle Factors

The rating team separately evaluates 10 obstacle factors on a scale of 0 through 10, for their effect on the play of the scratch golfer and bogey golfer on each hole. When the evaluation process has been completed, the numbers for each factor are totaled and multiplied by a relative weight factor. The total weighted obstacle values are applied to scratch and bogey formulas, and then are converted to strokes. These strokes, which may be positive or negative, are added to the yardage ratings to produce the USGA Course Rating and Bogey Rating. The obstacles are evaluated as follows:

(i) Topography: the difficulty of stance in the fairway landing areas and any elevation change from the landing areas to the green;

(ii) Fairway: the effective width of the landing area, which can be reduced by a dogleg, trees, or fairway tilt;

(iii) Green Target: the size, firmness, shape, and slope of a green in relation to the length of the approach shot;

(iv) Recoverability and Rough: the existence of rough and other penalizing factors in the proximity of the landing area and around the green;

(v) Bunkers: the existence of bunkers in the proximity of the landing areas and around the green;

(vi) Out of Bounds/Extreme Rough: the existence of out of bounds in the proximity of the landing areas and around the green, or the existence of extreme unmown rough that is similar in effect to out of bounds;

(vii) Water Hazards: the existence of water hazards, particularly in the proximity of the landing areas and around the green;

(viii) Trees: the strategic location, size, height, and density of trees - along with the probability of recovering from the trees;

(ix) Green Surface: the contour and normal speed of the putting surface;

(x) Psychological: the mental effect on play created by the presence of a combination of difficult obstacles.

d. Yardage Rating Formulas

Yardage ratings are obtained by using the following formulas:

(i) Scratch Yardage Rating for Men
Scratch Yardage Rating: (Scratch Effective Playing Length of Course / 220) + 40.9
Example: If the effective playing length of the course is 6,419 yards, the scratch yardage rating for men is calculated as follows:

Playing Length / 220:6419 / 220 = 29.18
Result + 40.9:29.18 + 40.9 = 70.08
Scratch Yardage Rating (rounded):70.1

(ii) Bogey Yardage Rating for Men
Bogey Yardage Rating: (Bogey Effective Playing Length of Course / 160) + 50.7

(iii) Scratch Yardage Rating for Women
Scratch Yardage Rating: (Scratch Effective Playing Length of Course / 180) + 40.1

(iv) Bogey Yardage Rating for Women
Bogey Yardage Rating: (Bogey Effective Playing Length of Course / 120) + 51.3

e. Course Rating Formulas

(i) USGA Course Rating for Men and Women
USGA Course Rating: Scratch Yardage Rating + Scratch Obstacle Stroke Value

(ii) Bogey Rating for Men and Women
Bogey Rating: Bogey Yardage Rating + Bogey Obstacle Stroke Value

f. Slope Rating Formulas

A Slope Rating is obtained by using the following formulas:

(i) Men
Slope Rating: 5.381 x (Bogey Rating - USGA Course Rating)

(ii) Women
Slope Rating: 4.24 x (Bogey Rating - USGA Course Rating)

The Slope Rating for a course of standard difficulty is 113. A course is given this Slope Rating when the difference between the Bogey Rating and USGA Course Rating is 21 strokes for men, or 26.65 strokes for women (21 multiplied by 5.381, equals 113; 26.65 multiplied by 4.24, equals 113).

Note: Full details on course rating are contained in the books entitled "The USGA Course Rating System Guide" and "The USGA Course Rating System," which are available only to authorized golf associations.

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