USGA Handicap and 'Tee It Forward' Initiative March 18, 2015 By Eric Lahman, USGA

The USGA Handicap Department has received a number of inquiries on this topic as it relates to the USGA Handicap System™.

The PGA of America, in a joint initiative with the USGA, recently launched a program to TEE IT FORWARD, which promotes playing golf from a set of tees that is best suited toward the player’s average driving distance.

As a result of teeing it forward, the first question that comes to mind from a handicapping perspective is, “Does that shorter tee have a USGA Course Rating™ and Slope Rating® for my gender so I can post my score for handicap purposes?”

Golf course tees are rated by local authorized golf associations licensed to utilize the USGA Course Rating System™ and a player’s club representative can contact this association to have a set of tees rated, if necessary. In the interim, the player or the club can derive a temporary rating to post to by applying “Section 5-2g” of “The USGA Handicap System” Manual. Click here for an FAQ on this topic. Keep in mind that tees are only eligible for a USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating if they are at least 3,000 total yards for 18 holes.

One other question that arises is, “Will my Handicap Index® still be portable from a forward tee?” When posting a score from a more forward set of tees, for example, that set of tees will have Ratings that are in accordance with a shorter total yardage (e.g., a 6,500-yard set of tees may have a men’s USGA Course Rating of 71.0/Slope Rating of 120, whereas a 5,500-yard set of tees for men may be rated 66.0/110; a 5,500-yard set of tees may have a women’s rating of 71.4/114, whereas a 4,500-yard set of tees for women may be rated 65.8/101). The player’s total score is usually going to be lower by playing a shorter set of tees, but the ratings are going to be lower, respectively, to compensate for the difference. Thus, the Handicap Index and Handicap Differential™ produced from each round played should be about the same and keep a Handicap Index portable from tee to tee, course to course.

And one final question as it relates to this topic is, “Were the driver distances in the TEE IT FORWARD chart derived from the USGA?” Barney Adams of Adams Golf established the following chart in connection with The PGA Of America; however, the USGA Course Rating System does take into account a ‘model’ scratch and bogey golfer based on average shot length distances to assist in generating a USGA Course Rating (scratch golfer) and Bogey Rating™ (bogey golfer) to calculate a Slope Rating (relative difference between those two golfers/numbers). See “Section 13” of “The USGA Handicap System” manual for additional information.

While the USGA Handicap System puts players on reasonably equal footing regardless of tees played, we encourage players to play from a yardage that best suits their abilities and from which they find the most enjoyment playing. So the next time you play, consider the TEE IT FORWARD initiative. It can help players to maximize playability, establish a brisk pace of play and maintain the enjoyment of having a portable Handicap Index.