USGA Handicap System

What is the USGA Handicap System?

1. The SGA has an exclusive licence agreement with the United States Golf Association (USGA) to use its Handicap System. The SGA, in turn, sub licences the agreement to its Associate and Affiliate Clubs which meet its qualification to issue a Handicap Index.

2. The aim of this article is to explain the basic workings of the USGA Handicap System. It will not dwell on technicalities and definitions, unless necessary. Those who wish to know more should log on to the USGA website or refer to The USGA Handicap System manual which is available in the club.

What is a Handicap Index?
3. A Handicap Index is a number that represents your potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It is expressed up to one decimal place, e.g., 12.8. The maximum Handicap Index is 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women.

How can I get a Handicap Index?
4. In order to obtain a Handicap Index, you must post the adjusted gross scores of the games that you have played. After five 18 hole or ten 9 hole or an equivalent combination, from golf courses that have a USGA Course and Slope Rating have been posted, a Handicap Index will be generated. It will be based on the best Handicap Differential of the five scores submitted.

Do I need to take a Handicap Test?
5. No. The USGA system does not require a test before a Handicap Index is issued. However, local clubs in Singapore require that golfers are familiar with the Rules of Golf, etiquette, course safety, behaviour on the course and playing ability. As such, you may have to go for a Courtesy Round with a committee member.

What do I do with my Handicap Index?
6. Before playing on a course, you must convert your Handicap Index to a Course Handicap.

What is Course Handicap?
7. A Course Handicap is the number of handicap strokes you would receive from a particular set of tees at the course being played.

8. The formula for converting a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap is:

Course Handicap=Handicap Index x Slope Rating/113 (rounded to the nearest whole number)

Example: A male golfer with a Handicap Index of 16.2 will have a Course Handicap of 20 at a course with a Slope Rating of 140.

9. You need not do this calculation as all you have to do is to refer to a Course Handicap Table to find your corresponding Course Handicap.

Where can I find a Course Handicap Table?
10. All clubs in Singapore will have Course Handicap Tables displayed prominently at or near the various T-boxes. Take note that each set of tees will have a different Course Handicap Table for men and women based on its Slope Rating. So make sure you refer to the correct table to determine your Course Handicap.

11. Having obtained your Course Handicap, you are now all set to tee off for your game. If your net score is equal to the USGA Course Rating for the tees played, you would have played to your handicap. In general, this will occur about once every four or five rounds.

Which Handicap do I use for competition?
12. The correct handicap for competition is the Course Handicap and not the Handicap Index. You must, therefore, ensure that your Course Handicap is recorded on the score card before it is returned.

Is this all to the USGA Handicap System?
13. Yes, if all you are interested in is the number of strokes that you will get from your playing partner. You need not read further but doing so will give you a better understanding of the system.

14. The USGA Handicap System hinges on two basic premise:
    a. you will try to make the best score at every hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played;
    b. you will post every acceptable round for peer review.

How do I make the best score for every hole?
15. Under the premise that you will play as well as you can and for handicapping purposes, you are required to record a hole score under the following circumstances:

Unfinished Holes and Conceded Strokes (Match play)
a. You must record the most likely score for any hole that you do not complete or is conceded a stroke. The most likely score is the number of strokes already taken plus, in your judgment, the number of strokes needed to complete the hole from that position more than half the time. The score cannot exceed your Equitable Stroke Control limit and must be preceded by an “X”.

b. There is no limit to the number of unfinished holes that you may have in a round.

Holes not Played or not Played under the Rules of Golf
c. You must record a score for such holes as par plus any handicap strokes that you are entitled to receive. For example, if you do not finish the last hole which is a Par 5, you must record X6 if you are entitled to one handicap stroke or X7 if you get two handicap strokes and so on.

d. However, a score must not be posted if the majority of the holes are not played in accordance with the Rules of Golf.

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)
e. All scores including tournament scores are subject to the application of ESC. This procedure reduces high hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of your playing ability.

f. In other words, ESC takes care of the few holes that you are liable to blow in a round so that your overall score will not be inflated. You need not worry about ESC as our handicapping software will automatically ensure that the score that is entered will not exceed your ESC. For those who are interested, the ESC table is given below:

Equitable Stroke Control Table

9 or less Double Bogey
10 through 19 7
20 through 29 8
30 through 39 9
40 or more 10

What are the scores that I must post?
16. Fair handicapping depends upon the full and accurate information regarding your potential scoring ability as reflected by a complete scoring record. As such, for handicapping purposes, you are responsible for returning all acceptable scores that are reflected below:

Scores in all forms of Competition
a. Scores in both match play and stroke play must be posted. This includes scores in competitions which you have not completed one or more holes or are requested to pick up when out of contention on a hole.

b. A player who is disqualified from a competition but has an acceptable score, must record the score for handicapping purposes.  However, if the breach is determined to provide an advantage for the player, the score is unacceptable for handicap purposes.

When a Complete Round is not Played
c. You must:
    i. post an 18-hole score if 13 or more holes are played;
    ii. post a 9-hole score if 7 to 12 holes are played; and
    iii. record any unplayed holes as par plus any handicap strokes that you are entitled to receive.

Are there unacceptable scores?
17. Yes, there are scores that are not acceptable for handicapping purposes and the following are some examples:
    a. When fewer than 7 holes are played;

   b. When, as a condition of the competition, the maximum number of clubs allowed is less than 14.

   c. When scores are made on a course with no USGA Course Rating or Slope Rating.

   d. When a player uses non-conforming clubs, non-conforming balls or non-conforming tees or when a player incurs a second breach of Rule 14-3.  (New)

   e. When a player plays alone, (New)

   d. When a player ignores one or more Rules of Golf and fails to post an adjusted hole score as required under Section 4-1 and 4-2, or fails to record the appropriate penalty for a breach of Rule.  (New)

What happens if I do not post an acceptable score?
18. If you do not post an acceptable score as soon as practical after playing a round, your Handicap Committee will post a penalty score on the 14th day of the date of play. The penalty score will be equal to the lowest Handicap Differential in your scoring record.

Can my Handicap Index be adjusted by my Handicap Committee?
19. Yes, your Handicap Committee has the responsibility to ensure that your Handicap Index reflects your potential ability and will adjust it, if necessary. A Handicap Index modified by the Handicap Committee becomes effective when the decision is made. You may appeal the modified Handicap Index. If the appeal is upheld, the Handicap Committee can change the Handicap Index the day after the appeal. An adjusted Handicap Index will be identified with a letter M.

20. Some examples of the circumstances which may prompt your Handicap Committee to adjust or withdraw your Handicap Index include:
    a. improving faster than the system can react;
    b. persistent failure to post acceptable scores;
    c. manipulating scores like posting erroneous scores and stopping play after 6 holes to avoid posting scores;

How long will the adjustment last?
21. Your Handicap Committee will decide how long your Handicap Index will remain modified or withdrawn. The duration of the adjustment will vary based on the situation.

What happens if I play exceptionally well in a Tournament?
22. The Tournament Committee in consultation with the Handicap Committee will determine in advance whether the score of the tournament you are participating is to be designated Tournament Score. If you perform exceptionally well in a tournament, you will not receive an immediate adjustment to your Handicap Index.

23. Any adjustment to your Handicap Index will be computed automatically by the system based on your exceptional tournament score performance. Such adjustment that is required will only take effect on the 1st of the following month. In the meantime you may continue to play with the same Handicap Index.

24. However, the system also allows your Handicap Committee to review all exceptional tournament scores. They may conclude that the automatic reduction is not an accurate reflection of your potential ability and may further reduce your Handicap Index. Such reduction will be designated with the letter “R”.

25. This article has attempted to give you a basic understanding of the USGA Handicap System. It does not, however, claim to give the answers to all that you may need to know about the system. Should there be any disputes over any parts of the USGA Handicap System, you are recommended to seek the proper advice of your Handicapping Committee. You may also refer to the SGA Handicap Policy for further reference.

Compiled by: SGA
Date revised: Mar 16
Source of material: USGA Handicap System Manual 2016-2017.
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