Everything Handicap Indexes!

What is a Handicap Index?

The USGA Handicap System enables golfers of all skill levels to compete on an equitable basis. Be aware, a Handicap Index is not an average of a golfers score, but rather show what a golfer could potentially play to.

How often should I post a score? Every round I play? 


Each golfer is required to post his or her score whenever at least 7 holes are played. If 7 to 12 holes are played, then that score shall be posted as a 9-hole round. If 13 or more holes are played, it shall be posted as an 18-hole round. In the case of not completing the entire round, or an entire hole, each player is supposed to record either their “most likely score” or “Par Plus”. 

What is “Most Likely Score”?

The most likely score consists of the number of strokes already taken plus, in his best judgment, the number of strokes that the player would need to complete the hole from that position more than half the time. For example, a player lies five when he picks up on the green. The player will record a score of five plus the number of putts the player thinks he or she would have taken. This “most likely score” is subject to reduction under the Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) procedure. For example, a player may record a “most likely score” of eight, but if the player’s Equitable Stroke Control maximum is seven, then seven is the score that shall be turned in for handicap purposes.

What is “Par Plus”?

Par Plus is the term used to describe how to post a score when unable to finish. The score recorded for that hole, for handicap purposes, must be par plus any handicap strokes that player may be entitled to on that hole.

Is there ever a time when I should not post my score?

Yes, there are scores that are unacceptable to post. You may NOT post a score if fewer than 7 holes are played, or play is not played in accordance with the principles of the Rules of Golf. You may NOT post a score if the course being played has no, or an out of date USGA Course and Slope Rating. Also, each region has an “active” and “inactive” season, scores may not be posted during the inactive season. (Please CLICK HERE for the USGA’s list of “active” and “inactive” seasons for each state.)

What about a round with a hole that I scored a 14!
Wouldn’t that “mess up” my Handicap?
 No, a “bad hole” will not cause a big change to your handicap. When you have a “bad hole” you would take into account Equitable Stroke Control.

What is Equitable Stroke Control?
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) “adjusts” your score on a “bad hole” to better indicate what you would “normally” score on that hole. ESC Does Not Apply to Tournament Rounds. ESC is an adjustment of individual hole scores (for handicap purposes) in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC is applied after the round and is only used when the actual score or the most likely score exceeds a player’s maximum number. ESC sets a limit to the number of strokes a player can take on a hole depending on Course Handicap™. Apply ESC to all scores, including tournament scores. Below is the maximum number a player can take:

Your Handicap Index Maximum Number
9 or less Double Bogey
10-19 7-strokes
20-29 8-strokes
30-39 9-strokes
40 and above 10-strokes

Please visit Section 4-3 of the USGA Handicap System
 Manual for further reference.

CLICK HERE for an online version of the USGA’s Handicap System Manual

You do not have to worry with “ESC” until the player has a calculated Handicap – that is, you have entered (5) 18-hole Rounds and the 15th or the 1st of the month has passed and you now have a “Handicap Index Number”

 This is when ESC comes into play. For NON-TOURNAMENT ROUNDS, you look at the ESC Chart and see where your Handicap Index falls – so if you are a 13.4 Handicap, your ESC is 7: this means that the maximum score you would take on a hole during a Non-Tournament Round is 7.

Let’s say you played 18-holes, shot an 81 and one all holes your highest score was a double-bogey – except for a hole where you had a score of 9. Your ESC Score to enter would be 79. We get 79 because we changed that 9 to a 7, because 7 is your ESC Maximum Score.

For Tournament Round, you always enter your total stroke score – it doesn’t matter is you have an 11 on a hole. You always enter your total strokes for a Tournament Score.

What is a Tournament Score?

Many players have a misunderstanding of the use of “Tournament” scores or “T” scores. “T” scores are used to identify players who excel in competition well beyond their current USGA Handicap Indexes. Tournament scores are generally reserved for competition that, in the judgement of the Tournament Committee, are significant in the traditions, schedules, and formats of the membership. Your normal Saturday morning round should never be posted as a “T” score. “T” scores should be reserved for your Championship events, if you are a player who plays in 15 2-day tournaments throughout the summer, that are all the same, than these should not be posted as “T” scores. 

What makes a “T” score so special?

T” scores are so unique because they are calculated into your Handicap Index for a minimum of one calendar year, where as your index calculates your 20 most recent scores, your “T” scores do not slide out of that most recent twenty, even if you play 100 rounds in the next few months. At each handicap revision the most recent 20 scores are calculated and weighed against the average of the two best T-Score differentials. If the difference of both T-Score differentials is at least three strokes lower than the Handicap Index (as calculated from the most recent 20 scores), the player is eligible for a reduction. A reduction (if necessary) is an automatic calculation of the handicap vendor or local computation software provider.

The best “Rule” to follow when it comes to entering scores in your Handicap: Enter EVERY round you play. That way you don’t have to “think about it” – you just enter every round.

Lastly, it’s always good to “double-check” the score, golf course, etc BEFORE YOU CLICK ENTER – this helps cut down on entering a wrong number by mistake. 

Please feel free to call us with questions.

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