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The USGA scoring system

There are three main elements to calculating a USGA handicap (or handicap index as the USGA refers to it) :

  1. Adjusted Gross Score (this is a player's actual gross score on any round minus any blow-outs, i.e. there is a maximum score per hole based on a player's handicap)
  2. USGA Course Rating
  3. USGA Slope rating

Every golf course receives both a USGA Course and Slope Rating for each set of tees that is rated. The rating established for the scratch golfer is known as the Course Rating. There is also a rating for the bogey player known as the Bogey Rating. This Bogey Rating is not normally published but is used to determine a Slope Rating. The Slope Rating is an evaluation of the relative difficulty of a course for players other than scratch.

The formula for calculating a USGA handicap index for each round of golf is:

(Adjusted gross score - USGA Course Rating) x 113 / USGA Slope Rating

Every player's actual gross score will be adjusted downwards for handicap purposes to disregard blow-outs, i.e. there is a maximum number of strokes any player can score (for handicap purposes) per hole. This is done using the following guidelines.

Equitable stroke control
Handicap Maximum strokes per hole
9 or less Double bogey
10 to 19 7
20 to 29 8
30 to 36 9

When the adjusted gross score is higher than the USGA Course Rating, the handicap differential is a positive number. When the adjusted gross score is lower than the USGA Course Rating, the handicap differential is a negative number.

The USGA Handicap Index Formula is based on the best handicap differentials in a player¡¦s scoring record. If a player's scoring record contains more than 20 scores, the best 10 scores of the player¡¦s most recent scores are used to calculate the USGA handicap. The percentage of scores used in a scoring record decreases from the maximum of the best 50% as the number of scores in the scoring record decreases.

Here's how it works.

Handicap differentials that count
Number of acceptable scores Differentials to be used
5 or 6 Lowest 1
7 or 8 Lowest 2
9 or 10 Lowest 3
11 or 12 Lowest 4
11 or 12 Lowest 4
13 or 14 Lowest 5
15 or 16 Lowest 6
17 Lowest 7
18 Lowest 8
19 Lowest 9
20 Lowest 10

Note that a minimum of five scores is necessary for a USGA handicap.

Once the number of differentials to be used has been determined, the next step is to average the handicap differentials being used and then multiply that number by .96. Then delete all numbers after the tenths digit. Do not round off to the nearest tenth. This will give you a USGA handicap.

This is a summary of the main points of the USGA handicap system. For more details, please refer to the USGA website:

The Stableford scoring system

Some players appear to have a problem getting their heads around the system of scoring in Stableford matches, so here is an attempt to explain how it works.

There are 3 basic requirements for working out a Stableford score.

  1. Your gross score for the hole.
  2. Your handicap
  3. The stroke index for the hole.


Gross score: the number of shots taken to hole the golf ball irrespective of handicap.

Handicap: the number of shots you receive and take off your gross score.

Stroke index: the difficulty of the hole set by the course owner/designer, stroke index 1 being the most difficult through to 18 being the easiest. The stroke index for each hole is shown on the score card.

Working out the Stableford score for the a particular hole

When playing stroke play the handicap is deducted from the total gross score at the end of the round i.e. 100 gross -28 hcp = 72 net.

When scoring a Stableford match the handicap system deducts shots on a hole by hole basis, the stroke index enables us to do this in an appropriate way.

Remembering that players receive more help on the harder holes (see stroke index definition) compared to a player off a lower handicap is fundamental to understanding how this system works.

The Stableford system awards points for your NET score, your net score is worked out using your handicap and the stroke index of the hole.

The points awarded are as follows (remember that points are for NET scores only)

Double bogey (2 over par)
and so on...

Some examples

A 6 Handicapper

This player has a handicap of 6, being the stunning player that he is he only needs help on holes stroke index 1 through to 6, ( the 6 hardest holes ) and by help I mean he can knock a shot off the gross score for those holes thus giving a net score.

So if he holes out in 4 shots on a par 4 which has a stroke index of 3 he gets 1 shot help which gives him a net score of 3, which is a net birdie, if you refer to the table above that's gives him 3 points.

On holes stroke index 7 to 18 he receives no help (or to put it another way receives no shots to knock off).

So if he holes out in 5 shots on a par 4 which has a stroke index of 12 his net score is 5, which is a boogie and from the table above gives him 1 point.

So a player off scratch (0 handicap) gets no help ( receives no shots ) at all, so effectively his gross scores are his net scores.

This is simple to understand all the way up to an 18 handicapper (an 18 handicapper receives a shot on all holes a 12 handicapper get a shot help on the holes indexed 1 to 12 and so on) the problem comes with players who play with a handicap above 18.

What happens here is that the player receives the shots that an 18 handicapper would get plus another shot on the harder holes again until he's reached his handicap figure.

A 20 handicapper

So a player off 20 would get the help on all holes plus an another shot each on stroke index 1 and 2

18+2=20 (the handicap of the player) so in effect he's get 2 shots help on stroke index 1 and 2 and 1 shot help on the rest.

If he shoots a 6 on a par 4 with stroke index 2 his net score will be 4 (he's getting the 2 shots help) this gives him a net par for 2 points (see table above).

If he shoots a 6 on a par 4 with a stroke index of 10 his net score will be 5 (he's only getting 1 shot help on that hole) that gives him a net boogie for 1 point.

A 28 handicapper

So a player with a handicap of 28 gets 1 shot help on all 18 plus an extra shot on holes that have stroke index 1 to 10 (the ten hardest holes).

18 + 10 = 28 (the handicap of the player)

So a 6 on a par 5 with stroke index 8 gives a net score of 4 (a birdie for 3 points) because he's getting those two strokes help on all holes up to stroke index 10.

Finally all the points are added up and presented in the appropriate box on the score card

If a player scores a total of 36 points, on average that equates to 2 points per hole, that's a par for every hole and means you are playing to your handicap. Anything greater that 36 points is playing under handicap and anything under is playing over handicap.