Birdies with Brian (#10)
Simple Explanation of the Handicap System
Golf is one of the few sports out there that have a handicap system. That is why the game can still be enjoyed by a wide variety of skill levels and age groups. A handicap ensures a level playing field for all, and makes it possible for a lower skilled player to beat a higher skilled player. There’s a big difference between a handicap index and a course handicap and it’s important to know the difference. A handicap index is a decimal number that the handicap system gives you based off your best rounds. A course handicap is a number that’s derived from your handicap index based off the course you’re playing and tee box. If you’re playing an easy course from the forward tees your course handicap will be lower, and a harder course from the back tees it’ll be higher. Handicap indexes range from +9.9 (best players in the world) to 54 (beginner players.) Obviously, right off the bat it looks confusing. If you passed fifth grade math then you learned that any number below zero should be represented as a negative. That is not the case in golf, because the plus sign means you need to add strokes to your score. If you have a course handicap of 20 and your final score for the day is 94, then you would substract 20, and your net score would be a 74. Sometimes you’ll hear the term “gross score,” this is just the score that you actually shoot before the handicap is applied. In this case your gross score would be a 94. Now take someone that has a +4 handicap and they shoot a gross score of 70. They will need to add 4 strokes to their score, giving them a net score of 74. You can see there’s a huge skill gap between the golfers, however if this was a handicapped tournament they would’ve tied.
If you’re looking at joining a club or a league the first thing you will have to do is establish a verified USGA handicap. To set it up you will just need to talk to the Pro at the course and pay a yearly fee for its service. In order to have an accurate handicap you will need to find someone to play with, and have a brief understanding of the rules. I was recently playing with my brother-in-law who is new to the game. Standing on #7 tee box he proceeded to hit two tee shots so far out of play we didn’t bother to look. On his third drive he hit it right down the middle, put his next shot on the green, and two putted. He exclaimed “That was a great par I just made!” I gave him a sly smile as I promptly wrote down an 8. A lot of beginners don’t like accepting penalty strokes, but it’s essential if you want to have an accurate handicap. There’s a term called a “Vanity Handicap” which is typically someone who posts a better score than what they actually shot. Not only can this hurt you, but also any teammates that you may be playing with.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you’ll have the more popular term of someone called a “Sandbagger.” What a “Sandbagger” does is essentially inflate their score on purpose and post a score that is higher than what they actually shot. This can be done by missing short putts, or just intentionally writing down higher scores. Unfortunately, people do this do gain an edge in tournaments. I’ve seen players have high scores when playing recreationally with their friends, and then get into a tournament and have “the round of their life.” This is usually pretty easy to spot, and golf courses have a handicap committee that verifies and looks into scores to make sure this doesn’t happen.
All in all, golf can be a really fun and competitive game if everyone in your group knows their handicap. Always try to play your best and make sure to POST your score no matter what that score is.
Brian D. Joyner
Class A PGA Teaching Professional, Carolinas PGA Section
1(252)772-7022 ext 2