Golf StoriesHandicapping 101 – Adjusting Hole Scores

March 22, 2019by Brian Hurlburt0

By Tim Quinn, SNGA Handicap Chairperson

The USGA Handicap System requires that we sometimes post a different score than we shot, and post scores when we don’t finish all holes, or don’t play exactly by the Rules of Golf.  For some of this, it’s important for players to know their Course Handicap from the tees being played, not just their Handicap Index, or the strokes received in a game.

A player who starts, but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke must record for handicap purposes the most likely score, limited to the player’s Equitable Stroke Control limit.  There is no limit to the number of unfinished holes a player may have in a round, provided that failure to finish is not for the purpose of handicap manipulation.

If a player does not play a hole or plays it other than under the Rules of Golf (except for preferred lies), the score recorded for that hole for handicap purposes must be a net par (par plus any handicap strokes the player is entitled to receive on that hole). This hole score, when recorded, should be preceded by an “X.”

ALL scores for handicap purposes, including tournament scores, are subject to the application of Equitable Stroke Control (ESC). A handicap determined from scores to which ESC has not been applied may not be termed a Handicap Index. ESC is used when a player’s actual or most likely score exceeds a maximum number, based on the table below, for the player’s Course Handicap from the tees played.

There is no limit to the number of individual hole scores on which an Equitable Stroke Control reduction may be made.  In consulting the Equitable Stroke Control table, a player uses the Course Handicap derived from that player’s actual Handicap Index, disregarding any strokes added or subtracted because of a condition of competition, a handicap allowance, or players competing from different tees.

The Handicap Index of a player who uses this section for such a purpose must be adjusted or withdrawn by the Handicap Committee under Section 8-4.

Example 1: A and B are partners in four-ball stroke play. On a hole on which neither player receives a handicap stroke, A lies two, 18 feet from the hole. B lies two, 25 feet from the hole. B holes a putt for a 3. A picks up on the hole, because A cannot better B’s score. A records X-4 on the scorecard because 4 is A’s most likely score.

Example 2: A and B are playing a match. On a hole on which neither player receives a handicap stroke, A has holed out in 4; B has a 30-foot putt for a 5. B has lost the hole, and picks up. B records X-6 on the scorecard because 6 is B’s most likely score.

Example 3: A player with a Handicap Index of 35.4 and a Course Handicap of 39 might enter a competition in which the conditions of the competition establish a maximum Handicap Index limit of 25.4, which would yield a Course Handicap of 28. When applying ESC, that player uses the Course Handicap of 39.

Example 4: A player with a Course Handicap of 30 might play in a four-ball stroke play competition in which the handicap allowance is 90 percent, or 27 strokes. When applying ESC, that player uses the Course Handicap of 30.

Example 5: A player with a Handicap Index of 25.4 and a Course Handicap of 28 might enter a competition in which players are competing from different tees,, and the player would receive two additional strokes, which would give the player a Handicap Allowance of 30. However, when applying ESC, the player uses a Course Handicap of 28.

Example 6: A player with a Handicap Index of 25.4 and a Course Handicap of 28 is in a tournament where the player shot a score of 92 without applying ESC. The player turns in the score of 92 for the tournament, but must include any ESC adjustments when posting for handicap purposes.

Example 7: The round of a player with a Course Handicap of 23 includes individual hole scores of 9, 10, and 11. ESC reduces each hole score to the applicable maximum of 8. The player’s adjusted gross score enters the scoring record for handicap purposes 6 strokes less than had ESC not been applied (9-8) + (10-8) + (11-8) = 6.

Example 8: A player with a Course Handicap of 6 has a maximum number of par plus two strokes (double bogey) for any hole. A player with a Course Handicap of 13 has a maximum number of 7 for any hole regardless of par. A player with a Course Handicap of 42 has a maximum number of 10 for any hole.

Example 9: A player with a Course Handicap of 10 receives a handicap stroke on the first 10 allocated handicap-stroke holes. If the player does not play the sixth allocated handicap-stroke hole, which is a par 4, because of construction on the green, the player must record a score of par plus one for handicap purposes, or X-5.


Brian Hurlburt

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