HOW TO GET A USGA Handicap
By Dean L. Knuth
Play Equally with your friends with a proper Handicap Index
When you improve to the point where you can bank on breaking 100, you may want to play in some of the tournaments you see announced at various golf clubs. One problem: You normally cannot enter unless you have a "United States Golf Association Handicap Index" – a number, expressed to a decimal point, that indicates a golfer's skill and allows golfers of different abilities to play equally.
You can get a USGA Handicap Index by becoming a member of a club or by joining a golf association. There are several provisions a club must meet. You'll be pleased to find out that real estate – i.e., a clubhouse – is not a requirement. You could join or form a club at a public course, or even at work. The two most important provisions are that a club have at least 10 members who play together regularly and that the club practice "peer review," which means there must be certain by-laws in place to keep everyone honest. Contact your local golf association for complete information.
Your responsibility then is to post, on paperwork supplied to your club's "Handicap Chairman" (one of the by-laws involves his election to chair a Handicap Committee) every score you make, no matter where you play. You should also post the USGA Course Rating of the course you played (it's a number that indicates what a scratch, or highly skilled, player would score) and its USGA Slope Rating (a number that indicates the difficulty of a course relative to the skill of any player). The two ratings normally are included on a course's scorecard. If in doubt, ask at the pro shop or starter's box.
Your local club association then gets down to work. It first computes a "differential" for each of your first five or six rounds by subtracting the Course Rating from your score and multiplying that by the ratio of 113 – the Slope Rating of an average course – over the Slope Rating ([Score – Course Rating] x 113/Slope Rating). The lowest differential multiplied by .96 after review by your Handicap Committee becomes your first Index. Thereafter, when you go to a golf course you should look for its "Course Handicap Table," which should be posted in the pro shop or locker room. Match your Index to the table and you will find out your handicap for the round about to be played – your "Course Handicap."
You should then continue to post scores. Eventually, when you have posted at least 20 scores, your Index will be based upon the best 10 differentials from your latest 20 scores and will be adjusted and mailed to you by your local association at least monthly and possibly every two weeks.
To prevent any abnormal score on a single hole from resulting in an abnormal Index you must apply Equitable Stroke Control. Here's how it works:
Players with Course Handicaps of one through 18 can score – for handicap purposes – two over par on the number of holes equal to the Course Handicap and one over par on the balance.
Players with Course Handicaps of 19 through 36 are limited to three over on as many holes as the handicap exceeds l8, and two over on the balance.
Players exceeding 36 are limited to four over on as many holes as the handicap exceeds 36, and three over on the balance.
So, to have more fun – and to get full information on handicapping – contact your local golf association.
Dean L. Knuth is Director of Handicapping for the United States Golf Association.