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The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. The System provides a fair Course Handicap for each player, regardless of ability, and adjusts a player's Handicap Index up or down as the player's game changes. At the same time, the System disregards high scores that bear little relation to the player's potential ability and promotes continuity by making a Handicap Index continuous from one playing season or year to the next. A Handicap Index is useful for all forms of play, and is issued only to individuals who are members of a licensed golf club.


Two basic premises underlie the USGA Handicap System.

  1. Each player will try to make the best score at every hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played.
  2. The player will post every acceptable round for peer review.

The player and the player’s Handicap Committee have joint responsibility for adhering to these premises.


Similar to the Rules of Golf book, the USGA Handicap System has a definitions portion.  Let’s look at a few definitions to get us started.

Active Season
An “active season” is the period during which scores made in an area will be accepted for handicap purposes determined by the authorized golf association having jurisdiction in a given area.

Adjusted Gross Score
An “adjusted gross score” is a player’s gross score adjusted under USGA Handicap System procedures for unfinished holes, conceded strokes, holes not played or not played under the Rules of Golf, or Equitable Stroke Control . (See Section 4.)

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)
“Equitable Stroke Control” (ESC) is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap. ESC is used only when a player’s actual or most likely score exceeds the player’s maximum number based on the table in Section 4-3.

Handicap Index
A “Handicap Index” is the USGA’s service mark used to indicate a measurement of a player’s potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It is expressed as a number taken to one decimal place (e.g., 10.4) and is used for conversion to a Course Handicap. (See Section 10.)

Course Handicap
A “Course Handicap” is the USGA’s mark that indicates the number of handicap strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees at the course being played to adjust the player’s scoring ability to the level of scratch or zero-handicap golf. For a player with a plus Course Handicap, it is the number of handicap strokes a player gives to adjust the player’s scoring ability to the level of scratch or zero-handicap golf. A Course Handicap is determined by applying the player’s Handicap Index to a Course Handicap Table or Course Handicap Formula. (See Section 10-4.) A player’s Course Handicap is expressed as a whole number. The result of any conditions of the competition, handicap allowance, or competition from a different USGA Course Rating that changes a Course Handicap is considered to be the Course Handicap.

USGA Course Rating
A “USGA Course Rating” is the USGA’s mark that indicates the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as strokes taken to one decimal place, and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of a scratch golfer. (See Section 13.)

Slope Rating
A “Slope Rating” is the USGA’s mark that indicates the measurement of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers compared to the USGA Course Rating (e.g., compared to the difficulty of a course for scratch golfers). A Slope Rating is computed from the difference between the Bogey Rating and the USGA Course Rating. The lowest Slope Rating is 55 and the highest is 155. A golf course of standard playing difficulty has a Slope Rating of 113.


A Handicap Index is the result of a mathematical calculation based on scores returned. It is a number taken to one decimal (e.g. 10.4) and travels from course to course and more specifically, from tee to tee. A Handicap Index is converted to a Course Handicap for the particular set of tees being played. It is not rounded to the nearest whole number!

To convert a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap, a player takes the Handicap Index to a Course Handicap Table to find the corresponding Course Handicap. Each set of rated tees will have a different Course Handicap Table for men and women based on its Slope Rating. It is the player’s responsibility to determine the correct Course Handicap, and to know at which holes handicap strokes are to be given or received. Each golf club should have Course Handicap Tables posted in a public area. If they do not please contact the IGA, we can get the club another set for display.

You can also use the Course Handicap Calculator located at or use the USGA/IGA Mobile App and tap the C.H. Calculator on the main screen.

If you want to figure a Course Handicap manually simply multiply the Handicap Index by the Slope Rating of the tees being played and divide by 113. The resulting figure is rounded to the nearest whole number (.5 or more is rounded upward).

Ex: 14.4 Hdcp Index multiplied by 132 Slope Rating = 1874.4 divided by 113 = 16.587 = 17 CH

Never simply round your Handicap Index to determine how many strokes you will receive!!!

In this illustration Snoopy knows his Handicap Index is 11.6 and he knows he will be playing the Beagle Tees. What he doesn’t know is what his Course Handicap will be for this particular set of tees.

Before beginning play he checks with the Course Handicap Table displayed at the club or opens up his USGA/IGA Mobile App and, using the CH Calculator, he sees he will receive 13 strokes.

When Snoopy looks at the scorecard he will see the holes are allocated for handicap purposes from 1 to 18. In his case he will receive 1 handicap stroke on the first 13 allocated holes.

Reminder: If you club does not have Course Handicap Tables visible please ask the club about them or contact the IGA. We will be happy to supply a new set of tables!


When on the course you play each hole until you have holed out. However, for score posting purposes there is a maximum number of strokes you can take on each hole based on the golfer’s Course Handicap.

Example: The round of a player with a Course Handicap (18-hole) of 23 includes individual hole scores of 9,10 and 11. ESC reduces each hole score to 8. The adjusted gross score to be entered to the players scoring record for handicap purposes is 6 strokes less than actual taken.

(9-8) + (10-8) + (11-8) = 6.

Note 1: There is no limit to the number of individual hole scores on which an ESC reduction may be made.
Note 2: A player without an established Handicap Index should use the maximum Handicap Index allowed: 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women. (9-hole limits are 18.2 for men, 20.2 for women)
Note 3: A handicap determined from scores to which ESC has not been applied may not be termed a Handicap Index.


I played golf in early spring; can I post the score to my handicap scoring record?
A golfer must post all acceptable scores to their scoring record if they are played on a course that is in the active season (see definition above). Most northern areas have an inactive and an active season while many southern states are active all year. The active season in Iowa is April 1 through November 14. All golf played at a course during its inactive season (in Iowa, November 15 thru March 31) cannot be posted for handicap purposes. Consult the state or regional golf association in the area to determine if you are playing golf during the active season.

I am a member at a club in Iowa and played golf in Florida in December. Iowa is in an inactive season but Florida is in an active season in December. Should I post this score?
Yes. If you play golf and have an acceptable score from a course that is in an active season you must post the score to your scoring record.

Does my scoring record start over each active season?
No, the scoring record is a le of up to twenty of the most recent scores posted, plus any eligible tournament scores, along with appropriate USGA Course Rating, Slope Rating, course and date of each score.

I am moving from one club to another. How do avoid losing my scoring record?
Your GHIN number and scoring record travel with you. Ask the old club to “inactivate” your GHIN number and inform your new club that you have a GHIN number and you want to be added to the club’s handicap roster with your GHIN number. After the club transmits records, your scoring record will be transferred to your new club and you will resume without losing any records.

I changed clubs and was assigned a new GHIN number, now what?
Simply call the IGA at 888-388-4442 and let us know. We will merge your previous GHIN number and scoring record into your new number. It is a quick and easy process but it is important!

There is a mistake in one of my scores that has been posted. How do I make the correction?
Individuals do not have the ability to make a correction on their own. Contact the club where you keep your GHIN number or the IGA and the correction can easily be made.

How long are my scores good for? When is it too late to submit them?
Scores are good as long as they are in the golfer’s scoring record of the last twenty scores. Tournament scores are good if they are either made in the last 12 months or are in the record of the last 20 scores. Always post scores as soon as possible.

How are nine-hole scores treated in my 18-hole Handicap Index?

  1. When two nine-holes scores are combined, the USGA Course Rating is the sum of each nine-hole USGA Course Rating and the Slope Rating is the average of the two nines (rounded to the nearest whole number).
  2. Two nine-hole scores combined to create an 18-hole score should be designated with the letter C (e.g., 82C). If either of the two nine-hole scores was posted via Internet the score should be designated CI.
  3. Nine-hole scores are combined in the order that they are received into the player’s scoring record from any club or from any combination of nines, regardless of score type. For example, a front nine middle tee score could combine with a front nine back tee score made from any course.
  4. An 18-hole score created by the combination of two nine-hole scores will display the date and course name (if applicable) of the last 9-hole score (e.g. April 29 and May 4 = May 4).
  5. A 9-hole score will be retained for combination with another 9-hole score until it is older than the twentieth oldest 18-hole score in the scoring record, and 9-hole scores will be combined in the order they are received in the player’s record, and “not necessarily by date.”

Why is there an “R” after my Handicap Index?
The “R” means your index has best reduced due to exceptional tournament performance. A Handicap Index is displayed with an “R” (e.g. 10.4R) because two or more tournament scores have been posted within the past year in which the differential is at least three strokes better than the current Handicap Index based on the most recent twenty scores.

Tournament Scores (T-Scores) are kept for a minimum of one calendar year from when they are posted or longer if they are still within a player’s current 20-score history.

At each handicap revision the most recent twenty (20) scores as calculated are weighed against the average of the two best T-Score differentials, and 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 club Handicap Committee has the authority to increase, decrease, or even remove the “R” if it feels the reduced Handicap Index does not accurately reflect the player’s potential ability.

A Handicap Index intends to reflect potential ability, and this procedure enhances that likelihood. Statistical tables show the probability of shooting two exceptional T-Scores:

Please visit Section 10-3 of the USGA Handicap System manual for further reference.

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