The success of the math calculation in the USGA Handicap System™ is only as good as the data entered.
Short and Sweet: the vast majority of scores are acceptable — there aren’t very many good excuses for not entering a score into your record.
The SCGA offers various tools for posting acceptable scores: at the course computer, using the GHIN mobile app on your smartphone, going to scga.org, etc.
A key tenet of the Handicap System is that it is believed that a golfer will try to make the best score at every hole in every round. Play 18 holes under the principles of the Rules of Golf — absolutely an acceptable score. Actually, if you play at least 13 holes, you still have an acceptable 18-hole score. For the holes you haven’t played, you post par for the hole, plus any handicap strokes that you are entitled to (a player with a Course Handicap of 18 gets 1 stroke a hole, so that player would post bogey for each hole not played). If someone plays between seven and 12 holes, this results in an acceptable nine-hole score for handicap purposes. So far, so good.
Scores on All Courses
Both a USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating are required in order for a score to be posted. What scenario would result in one or both of these not being available? A course that is less than 3,000 yards for 18 holes or less than 1,500 yards for nine holes don’t receive a Slope Rating. This is because it is extremely difficult to determine how a player overcomes distance when playing such a course and translating that capability to a longer course. Also, some foreign countries have not adopted the USGA Course Rating System, so the relevant Rating information might not exist if you play abroad. As an example, a golfer going to England may see a value identified as SSS, or Standard Scratch Score. Elements of the USGA Course Rating System are used in the determination, but no Slope Rating is issued (periodically you can find a USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating at some of the popular courses in Great Britain if you look really hard).
Scores in All Forms of Competition
Scores in match play and stroke play must be posted for handicap purposes. You might ask how to address a stroke conceded in a match. We’ve discussed the concept of “most likely score” in previous editions of Handicap Hints. This same concept applies in a four-ball (often called best ball) when a player picks up on a hole because he or she is unable to better the score of the partner.
Scores made when playing preferred lies or winter rules result in acceptable score for handicap purposes.
Please don’t think that a “bad” score should not be entered, as such a score might knock another score out of your scoring record and impact the calculation of the Handicap Index. The most current data is the best data. Plus, if your round was derailed by one or two "blow-up" holes, you likely won't be posting with adjusting your score according to Equitable Stroke Control (ESC). To see the maximum number that you can take on a given hole, refer to the following chart:
18-Hole ESC Chart
Course Handicap Par 3 Par 4 Par 5 9 or less* 5 6 7 10-19 7 7 7 20-29 8 8 8 30-39 9 9 9 40+ 10 10 10
9-Hole ESC Chart
Course Handicap Par 3 Par 4 Par 5 4 or less 5 6 7 5-9 7 7 7 10-14 8 8 8 15-19 9 9 9 20+ 10 10 10
* The maximum number a single digit handicap player may take on any hole is a double bogey.
There are only a few situations when a score is unacceptable for handicap purposes:
- Do not post if you play alone.
- When a player uses non-conforming clubs, non-conforming balls, or non-conforming tees;
- When two balls are played throughout the round;
- While not playing your own ball — think scramble or shamble or foursomes (alternate shot).
Didn't play a full 18? Kicked the round off with a breakfast ball? Here are some interesting situations that might come up next time you're on the course and how you should handle them for score posting purposes: