Scotland Course and Slope Ratings
Course Rating
Dealing with Sandbagging
Handicapping Guidelines
History of Handicapping
Handicap Formula Trailblazer Passes Away
How It All Began and Joe Ewen
A History of Handicapping: Part 1
A History of Handicapping: Part 2
Golf from Two Sides
Match Play Handicapping by Farrell--1952
Bernard Darwin in 1921
GOLF by Horace Hutchinson 1900
Advanced Golf
History of Golf in Scotland
The Scottish Invasion
Handicapping by Walter J. Travis in 1901
Calkins Par versus Cracknell Scratch--1907
History of USGA Handicap Procedures
Comments on History of USGA Handicap
New Ratings: More to Golf Than Yardage
The Beginning of a National Handicap
The First USGA Handicap System
The Slope System Becomes Official
The Theory of Handicapping in Golf
USGA names Dean Knuth Director, Handicap Services
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About the Pope Of Slope

Pope Of Slope

The First USGA Handicap System

By Leighton Calkins
Secretary Metropolitan Golf Association
Chairman Metropolitan Golf Association Handicap Committee
Chairman New Jersey State Golf Association Handicap Committee
(USGA Executive Committee 1907-1908)

Plainfield, New Jersey
March, 1905

(Note from Dean Knuth: This Handicap System was adopted by the USGA in December, 1911 as a procedure to determine eligibility for entry into the U.S. Amateur Championship. It was based on a British par-based procedure, but Mr. Calkins made the very significant change of introducing the concept of course rating, which at this time Calkins based on Jerome Traver's expected scores. Travers was arguably the best amateur golfer in the United States in this era of golf)


For those who may interested in a more detailed discussion of the theory involved in this system of club handicapping, reference is made to an article I wrote for "Golf" in October 1904.

In order to make a success of this system it is important to have a Handicap Committee which is willing to work. The Committee should not consist of more than three players, and the Chairman should have leisure enough to be able to devote time to the work. He should have a card index, recording the scores made by all players who compete in handicap events. The importance of Rule I cannot be exaggerated; and the rule should be enforced strictly.

If all the players at a given club competed regularly, rules numbered 5 to 7 inclusive would not be necessary. But these rules, as a matter of fact, will be found to be very important exceptions to the general rule of handicapping on the basis of the average of the three best scores, in exact accordance with the Handicap Table.

Clubs adopting this system will find that it means a great deal of work for the Handicap Committee at first, but only because the handicaps will be found to be in sore need of adjustment and equalization. There will be less work after the first few months, because the great majority of players will have arrived at a "Best Score Average" which cannot be bettered easily. The end of one season of conscientious handicapping in accordance with this system will unquestionably produce a handicap list of merit.

The system is not mere theory. I devised it a year ago for a club of which I am a member, and its success was even greater than was anticipated. It was tried throughout the entire season, and worked perfectly. For the first time the scratch players were found to have a chance; and, as scratch players are more likely to play up to their form than are players with high handicaps, it followed that they were winners of not a few of the handicap events.

I shall be very glad to answer any inquiries from players who are interested in the contents of this little pamphlet.

25 Broad Street
N.Y. City
March, 1905



The principal feature of this system is that not only is the good player handicapped because he is a good player, but the bad player is also handicapped because he is a bad player. The reason is this: The object of handicapping is to put all players on the same level, and if an allowance of a certain number of strokes is to be made to the less skilful player because he cannot play as well, some allowance ought to be made to the more skilful player because he can not improve as much. The usual method of handicapping, in all cases, on the exact difference between Par and the average of a player's three best scores for the links, takes into consideration only the advantage held by the good player, namely his superior skill. It overlooks the advantage held by the bad player, namely a greater possibility of improvement. Theoretically a club handicap list should so be made up that each player has as good a chance to win as any other, but no better, whenever a competition is held. But as handicaps can not be readjusted daily, it is evident that the chances will not really be equalized unless some measure is taken of relative probabilities of improvement in play. It is fairly well proved by actual results in handicap events, that the scratch player and the player with a low handicap has not, under the usual methods of handicapping, as good a chance to win as the player with the high handicap. This system tends to make the chances of all players more nearly equal.


Par of Links, 75.
Best Score Average. Strokes off Difference Between Average and Par Club Handicap
70 and better. -- +3
71 -- +2
72 -- +2
73 -- +1
74 -- +1
75 -- 0
76 -- 1
77 -- 2
78 -- 3
79 -- 4
80 1 4
81 1 5
82 1 6
83 1 7
84 2 7
85 2 8
86 2 9
87 2 10
88 3 10
89 3 11
90 3 12
91 3 13
92 4 13
93 4 14
94 4 15
95 4 16
96 4 17
97 5 17
98 5 18
99 5 19
100 5 20
101 5 21
102 6 21
103 6 22
104 6 23
105 6 24
106 6 25
107 7 25
108 7 26
109 and over. -- 27

(Note. If the Par of a links is 73, a similar Table can be drawn up, beginning to deduct one stroke at 78 (instead of 80); two strokes at 82 (instead of 84); three strokes at 86 (instead of 88); four strokes at 90 (instead of 92); five strokes at 95 (instead of 97); six strokes at 100 (instead of 102); seven strokes at 105 (instead of 107). No higher club handicap than 27 should be given. If the Par of a links is 80, the committee should begin to deduct one stroke at 85, two strokes at 89 and so on.

If it is preferred to handicap club members on the basis of Bogey, rather than Par, the same method should be followed in drawing up the table. Suppose, for example, Bogey is 75. The Table, in that event would be identical with the Table given above, except that the word "Bogey" would be inserted in place of the word "Par" wherever the latter word occurs. If Bogey is 80, a Best Score Average of 80 would produce scratch; one stroke would be deducted from the difference between a Best Score Average of 85 and Bogey, producing a handicap of 4; two strokes would begin to come off at 89, and so on.

But if the Table is made up on the basis of Bogey, the Committee at the end of the season should add to each handicap the exact difference between the Par and the Bogey of the links, for the purpose of reporting the handicaps to Golf Associations which make Par the basis of their handicapping.)


The general plan is simply to strike an average of a player's three best scores. This will give the "Best Score Average." Then, by reference to the Handicap Table, the club handicap is at once obtained. But in order to know exactly how all members are playing, it is important to get returns. This necessitates a rule to penalize players who do not return cards in stroke competitions. Again, it is evident that it is the players who compete regularly whose playing form can best be determined, while those who play at home infrequently are the most likely to produce unexpected scores. In some other cases, too, it will be found that exceptions must be made to the general plan of simply striking an average of the three best scores. The following rules have been devised to cover all such cases, and should be followed closely:--

    1. All players shall be required to return attested cards, in stroke competitions, under penalty of disqualification from the next medal play competition; and no excuse of any kind for failure to comply with this regulation shall be accepted.

    2. The Committee shall keep a card index for the purpose of recording the scores made by players in club competitions. Players are requested to report recorded scores whenever made in private matches.

    3. Players desiring handicaps must return three attested score cards. The Committee will then allot tentative handicaps, based to some extent on such returns, but arbitrarily made somewhat lower than called for by the Handicap Table, until such players have competed often enough to furnish a fairly reliable indication as to their playing form. Thereafter, they will be handicapped according to the Table, as interpreted and applied in accordance with these rules. Unless some exceptional reason exists therefor, a player's handicap (after the tentative handicap has been superseded by one allotted in accordance with the Table,) will not be raised during the first season that his name appears on the list, or at least until after several months of fairly regular play (see Rule 8); but will be reduced whenever called for by a new Best Score Average, until finally his handicap by gradual reduction has found its equitable place on the list.

    4. While the Best Score Average is to be computed from the average of a player's three best scores, as shown by the attested returns, an exceptionally low score not approached a second time may be disregarded entirely.

    5. Where a player competes irregularly or infrequently, so that his playing form at any given period must be somewhat a matter of conjecture, the Committee may take either the average of his two best scores, or his best score for the links, disregarding averages entirely.

    6. Where a player competes so infrequently that his playing form at any given period is almost entirely a matter of conjecture, the Committee may handicap him on whatever his reputed record for the links may be, or may arbitrarily give him a low handicap, or even place him at scratch.

    7. In general, the oftener a player competes, the more strictly will he be handicapped in exact accordance with the Handicap Table; and the more irregularly and infrequently he competes, the greater the advisability of keeping his handicap somewhat below that which would be produced by the Table.

    8. Handicaps which have once found their level will not be raised except where a player by constant competition through the whole or greater part of a season, proves that his play is permanently inferior to what it was, and not that he is only temporarily off his game.

    9. All handicaps are subject to change at any time. But after one season of frequent competition, a player's handicap during the next succeeding season will not be reduced the first time a new record score is made, but only after a better Best Score Average has been produced at least more than once.

    10. At the end of each season, the Committee will make a final adjustment of all handicaps, and in doing so will be guided largely by Rule 7.

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