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Handicaps Details

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How is Your Handicap Index Calculated?

Golf Handicap Calculation - Step 1

A minimum of five scores and a maximum of 20 is required to get started. For each score, the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating for the courses played are also required. Using those figures, calculate the handicap differential for each round entered using this formula:

(Score - Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

For example, let's say the score is 85, the course rating 72.2, the slope 131. The formula would be (85 - 72.2) x 113 / 131.

This differential is calculated for each round entered.

(Note: The number 113 represents the slope rating of a golf course of average difficulty, as set by the USGA.)

Golf Handicap Calculation - Step 2

Figure out how many differentials are being used. Not every differential that results from Step 1 will be used in the next step. If only five rounds are entered, only the lowest differential will be used. If 20 rounds are entered, only the 10 lowest differentials are used. A chart at the bottom of this page shows how many differentials are used based on the number of rounds entered.

Golf Handicap Calculation - Step 3

Get an average of the differentials used by adding them together and dividing by the number used (i.e., if five differentials are used, add them up and divide by five).

Multiply the result by .96 (96-percent). Drop all the digits after the tenths (do not round off) and the result is handicap index.

Thankfully, you don't have to do the golf handicap calculation on your own. Your golf club's handicap committee will handle it for you.

And here's that chart:

Number of Differentials Used

Rounds Entered Differentials Used
5-6 1 lowest
7-8 2 lowest
9-10 3 lowest
11-12 4 lowest
13-14 5 lowest
15-16 6 lowest
17 7 lowest
18 8 lowest
19 9 lowest
20 10 lowest

Adjusted Gross Score

Gross score is, of course, every stroke a golfer has taken during a round, added up to a total score. Adjusted gross score is a golfer's stroke total for a round after accounting for the maximum per-hole scores allowed by the USGA's Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) guidelines.

All rounds turned in for handicap purposes must be played using Equitable Stroke Control guidelines, which set a cap on the score a player can take on any given hole. For example, you might actually have taken 10 strokes to play a hole, but according to ESC guidelines for your course handicap level, you may only be allowed to write a 7 on the scorecard.

All rounds turned in for handicaps must be adjusted gross scores.

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the system put in place by the USGA to eliminate the effect of "distaster holes." You know, that one hole per round where you put three balls in the water and then 5-putt. It's also a way to combat those pernicious sandbaggers who intentionally blow up on a hole in order to raise their handicaps.

Equitable Stroke Control puts a limit on the number of strokes you can write down on the scorecard for any one hole, based on your course handicap. For example, on that one disaster hole you might have taken 14 strokes (get to the practice range, buddy!) to get the ball in the cup. But based on your course handicap, ESC might require you to post only a "7" on the scorecard you turn in.

Taking the "14" might throw your handicap index out of whack.

And remember, the handicap index is not meant to reflect your average score, it's meant to reflect your best potential.

To determine the Equitable Stroke Control limits for your round, you must first know your course handicap. Once you've determined your course handicap, you can check the chart down below (which should also be available at golf courses) to determine the ESC limits.

Of course, if you have not yet established a handicap index, then you can't determine a course handicap. And without a course handicap, you can't determine ESC. But in order to established a handicap index, you must turn in adjusted gross scores, which requires knowing a course handicap. What gives?

Don't worry, the USGA knows what to do. If you do not yet have a handicap index, then use the maximum allowable handicaps to determine course handicap and ESC. For men, that means using 36.4 as a handicap index, and for women, 40.4.

Here is the chart that shows Equitable Stroke Control limits:

Equitable Stroke Control Chart

Course Handicap Maximum Score
0-9 Double Bogey
10-19 7
20-29 8
30-39 9
40 or more 10
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