Golf Handicap System Explained

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Golf Handicap System Explained

In golf, the handicap system is used to establish fair play between different levels of golfers in tournaments or friendly play. The handicap system is copyrighted by the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) and is a recognised system within the UK and Ireland. It basically measures an amateur golfer's current standard of play. It also stands as a great way of measuring whether a golfer is making progress and highlights areas of a golfer's technique requiring improvement. The higher the handicap of the golfer, the lower their golfing ability is considered to be.

How does a handicap work?

The extra shots a handicap player is allowed to take ensures that all golfers of different ability levels can play together as equals using a fair system and makes the game more interesting. The number of handicaps is deducted from the handicap golfer's score on certain holes. Handicap scores range from 1 to 28 for men and 1 to 36 for women.

A handicap can also determine what golf equipment is most suitable for the player. Often, golf clubs are tailormade to suit a certain ability and handicaps can help players to determine which is best for them.

A golfer's handicap score represents how many strokes are allowed to be deducted on particular holes. A scratch player is a person with zero handicaps and is expected to complete the course with the same score as the standard scratch score (SSS) of the course. The scratch score of a course isn't necessarily the sum of par. The County Union calculates the scratch score by taking the length of the course and naturally difficult conditions into account and bases the SSS on that.

A handicap can also help players when they're buying golf equipment as many are tailored to the golfer's ability in order for them to achieve optimum playing at their level.

What are the methods of applying for a handicap?

Only golf clubs affiliated with CONGU may administer handicaps to amateur golfers. In order to obtain a handicap, golfers have to become a member of an affiliated club and submit 3 or more score cards to the club for calculation. The club will then assess a suitable handicap score using the golfer's lowest score and calculating the difference between that and the scratch score of the course.

How are handicaps applied to different games?

Handicaps are used differently in match play and stroke play. In match play the handicap score is calculated using the difference between the players/teams' handicaps and is distributed over the holes to be played. For example on an 18 hole course, if player A has a handicap of 18 and player B has a handicap of 24 then player B is allowed 6 strokes over the six hardest holes with no stroke allowance on the remaining 12. Player A would be regarded as the scratch player. Once the handicap has been deducted from player B's score the winner is then determined on the net score. For example if player B bogeys the hole and player A does it in par, after the handicap is taken off player B's score both players have achieved a par. This is the net score.

In stroke play, each player uses their individual handicap rather than calculating the difference between different players' handicaps. So if player A (handicap 18) and player B (handicap 24) were to play, player A would not be regarded as scratch player and would get 18 stoke deductions over the total of the course and player B would get 24. The same system of using the net score applies.