Fall Ball and the USGA Handicap System October 12, 2016

Even with leaves on the ground, golf is in high gear during the fall months. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Autumn is here. Here’s a quick checklist to help you make the most of the upcoming weeks on the links.

Active vs. Inactive Season 

  • Inactive season: A period of time, determined by a governing body, during which scores are not accepted for handicap purposes. Learn more here.
  • Section 6-2 of the USGA Handicap Manual: If a round is played at a course currently in an inactive season, those scores are not posted for handicap purposes. 
  • Active vs. Inactive Schedule: Find out when the active handicap season ends in your part of the country.
  • Snowbirds: Do you play most of your golf during the winter? Check this out.

The Daylight Effect: If you set out to play 18 holes, but daylight spoils the fun, keep these two rules of thumb in mind for posting your score, using the guidelines explained in Section 5-2 of the USGA Handicap Manual:   

  • 12 Holes or Less: Post a nine-hole score
  • 13-17 holes: Post an 18-hole score


The change in weather can also change how you post your score. Review these frequently asked questions to ensure that you are prepared.

Q: My friend and I were trying to play 18 holes but couldn’t finish the last two due to darkness. Can we still post our scores for this incomplete round?

A: Yes. In order to post an 18-hole score you must complete 13 or more holes under the Rules of Golf. (To post a nine-hole score you must complete a minimum of seven holes under the Rules of Golf.) For the holes unfinished you would post using the “Par Plus” procedure. More

Q: I usually travel to Florida during the winter months and play golf, but my golf club is in Massachusetts. Am I able to post the scores from Florida to my scoring record, even though my club in Massachusetts is inactive?

A: Yes. Although the club you belong to is inactive, all acceptable scores made in an active season area must be posted to a player’s scoring record. For more info, see Section 6-2 of the USGA Handicap Manual.

Q: My golf club in New Jersey is open through December and I am still able to play. Am I to post these scores made in December?

A: No. These scores must not be posted to a player’s scoring record. If your golf club is in an inactive season, then scores are not acceptable for posting purposes. The key is where the round was played and if that area is observing an inactive season, e.g., generally November through March in the northern half of the U.S. Check your area’s active season here. More

Q: Recently, our club has experienced inconsistent autumn weather conditions and our Committees have agreed to invoke Preferred Lies (Winter Rules) for the weekend. Can these scores still be posted?

A: Yes, provided that the area hasn’t transitioned to an inactive season, scores are still acceptable unless the Committees (Handicap and Committee in charge of the course) decide that conditions throughout the course are so poor that scores are not acceptable. As this decision is generally made on a daily basis, the club should perform its due diligence to ensure players are aware of the start and end of such Local Rule, including a well-defined relief procedure. FAQ: Preferred Lies

Q: I play the same tees at my home golf club all summer. In the winter, I travel to play a bit in Arizona. Is my Handicap Index® established from the set of tees I most often play in the summer?

A: No, a Handicap Index is a portable number. This is a common misperception, but in fact your Handicap Index travels with you wherever you go. A Handicap Index measures a player’s potential ability and is based on the same, standard calculation for everyone who has one. In other words, if two players are a 10.4 Handicap Index they are of equal ability regardless of where they play.

A Handicap Index is then taken to a tee to be played and converted to a Course Handicap™ using a player’s Handicap Index and multiplied by the Slope Rating® for the tees played and divided by 113 (e.g., 10.4 x 125 / 113 = 11.5, 12 rounded).

More in Handicapping