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Golf Handicaps Decoded

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Course Handicaps

The formula used to calculate your handicap takes into account the difficulty of the golf course using two numbers: the rating and the slope. The former defines a level of difficulty for a 'scratch' golfer, while the latter describes how much harder the course will play for a less skillful player (e.g. handicap 18). Together, the slope and rating delineate a 'line of course difficulty' for every skill of player (you may wish to read the article on slope and rating for more information on this topic).

But, even so, inefficiencies can still arise during matches between players. To illustrate, take the situation of two friends named Sam and Jo, who have handicaps indeces 10 & 23, respectively.

Both play an easy/wide course with an average slope, and then a narrow/hard course with a much higher slope. The issue is well illustrated in the chart below.

Course Handicaps On a course with an average slope, Sam may have a good game shooting an 82 and Jo a 95 (shown by the red diamonds), with the difference between the players of approximately 13 strokes. If Sam gives Jo the number of strokes defined by the difference in their handicap indeces (23-10=13), they should play even. But, on a much harder course, the difference in strokes may be upwards of 18 (shown by the blue dots). On this course, if Jo is given the same 13 strokes (as defined by the difference in handicap indeces), Sam will end up with an unfair advantage.

The reason for this is that if the course is made a great deal narrower, it may not pose too many problems for the skilled golfer (who has more control over the ball), than for a less skilled competitor (who, when getting into trouble, will face a heavier penalty). Thus the narrow/hard course will play much harder for Jo than it would for Sam (for example, Jo may spray the ball more and then have more difficulty recovering if the course is narrow and and lined with trees than if it was fairly open), which is not reflected in the handicap index.

Using course handicaps we can correct that difference. A course handicap uses the slope to adjust a player's handicap for the difficulty of the course they are playing that day. Course handicaps do not change a player's handicap index, but adjust it to make that day's match fair. When Sam and Jo again play the easy course (rating 67, slope 105), they play with course handicaps of 9 and 21, with 12 shots given to Jo. But when they play the harder course (rating 73, slope 135) they play as 12 and 27 course handicaps, with 15 shots given to Jo.

MyScorecard will automatically calculate your course handicaps for all of the courses you have played in the past, and enable you to calculate it for any course you may play. These are shown on the course handicap page. The link for the page is located below your Scorecard, or you can reach it by clicking on your handicap index.

Next time you go to a course and play a match with a friend, be sure to use your course handicaps - it will ensure a fairer and more fun game for both of you.

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