The plain truth about your handicap

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Teeth of the DogGolf is a wonderful game for many reasons, but mainly because people of different abilities can play together, enjoy the golf course, and have a good and fair match because of the handicap system. Can you imagine a 50 year old man playing Rafael Nadal in a tennis match and having a chance to win? I don’t think it would be possible unless Nadal played blind folded.  This could happen in golf if Tiger Woods gave his opponent who is a 15 handicap at least 23 shots because Tiger is + 8 handicap.  The handicap system cannot factor the stress and the intimidation factor of playing Tiger but if you did not know it was Tiger, you would have a chance of winning.

The handicap system is complicated and very few people really understand how it works.  To be honest, I am not an expert, however, I can explain it so that you will be able to understand why you are a 10 handicap instead of the 14 you think you are. 

slopeFirst, let me start by saying that all golf courses are not created equal. This is why different courses have varying slopes and ratings. The slope of a golf course and the ratings are established according to length and difficulty related to the number of hazards, out of bounds, etc.  If you look on the back of our scorecards you will find that the more difficult the course, the higher the slope and rating.  If you normally play a course with a 115 slope and you play in a tournament on a course with a 126 slope, you will probably get one or two extra shots that day to make up for the course difficulties.  If you play the white tees on your home course instead of the gold tees you normally play, you will probably drop a few strokes.  It works both ways.

By submitting all your scores, eventually you will have an index and a course handicap that symbolizes your potential as a golfer; lets call it your “golf fingerprint”.  Your course handicap is your handicap on your home course from the tees you play most often.  Your index is like your fingerprint and will be used to identify you and your ability as a golfer on other courses.  Your “golf fingerprint” won’t send you to jail if you don’t enter all your scores but it might identify you as a sandbagger, which is like being in golf jail with your friends and fellow competitors.

After you play at least 20 rounds, the handicap system will have a good idea of what kind of golfer you are.  The system uses only your best 10 scores out of your last 20.  A few high scores do not affect the outcome but a few low and unusual scores will drastically changes your index.  So, let’s say for the sake of this article you are an 18.3 index.   If you play the Teeth of the Dog from the blue tees you would be a 22 handicap and if you play the white tees on the Links it would be a 19.  Why? Because the Links from the white tees is a much easier course compared to the blue tees on the Teeth of the Dog. 

Now, this is a problem when you do not believe you can play with the handicap the system has calculated for you.  The average amateur golfer believes they can play close to par, after subtracting their handicap from their score, every time they play.  Frankly, they are mistaken.  It is a fact that the average amateur golfer shoots a NET par only twice out of 10 rounds.  One of the most popular comments I continually hear is, “You gave me a 20 handicap, and I am not that!” I did not “give” you the handicap; the computer gave you your index according to the scores you posted.  

Lets say you and I were to play a match.  If I am a zero handicap, and you are a 20 handicap, I must give you 20 shots.  Because you also like to play the white tees and I like to play from the blue tees, then we must also take in to account their rating in order for our match to be fair.  If the rating from the white tees is 70 and the blue tees is 72, then I must subtract 2 shots from you, therefore your handicap for our match is now 18.  

Golf is a wonderful game.  The greatest game I have ever played.  It is most definitely the one game you can enjoy at any age. The idea behind the handicap system is to submit all of your scores and TRUST that the system works.  I promise you it does work and if you believe in it, you will have more fun playing the game.  I don’t really believe I am a scratch golfer, however, computer says I am.  So, guess what?  I do play par or better, 2 out of 10 rounds, so I must be a 0 handicap. 

The handicap system works no matter what you or I think.  I guarantee if we turn in all of our scores we will find that our handicap will match our abilities as golfers.  Most importantly it really doesn’t matter what our handicap is, just as long as we can play a round together, set up a fair match according to our handicap, and have a great day.  I hope we both play well and that the pesos go to the player who played the best that day according to our handicap.


gillesThis article contributed by
Gilles Gagnon
Casa de Campo
Director of Golf Operations 

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