It's A Family (golf) Affair!

It's A Family (golf) Affair!

Applying USGA Handicap System (2006-2007), Section 3-5 to your Family Match

Have you ever competed in a round of golf with your wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister? If, yes, this is what you need to know if the family member you are competing with chooses to play from a different set of tees.

After the appropriate Course Handicaps for each golfer are calculated from the tee on which they are competing, a second adjustment MUST be made. The second adjustment is made simply by calculating the difference between the Course Rating of the two different tees. The resulting value either adds strokes to the Course Handicap of the golfer(s) playing the tee with higher course rating, or deducts strokes to the Course Handicap of the golfer(s) playing the tee with lower course rating. Either way, this process is what equalizes any match where golfer’s are competing from different sets of tees.

Let’s use a match between a father and his son as one example. The father decides to play the Gold tees because the golf course is made shorter and that’s where he enjoys playing the most. His son enjoys being challenged by the length of golf courses, so he chooses to play the Championship tees.

The ratings for the tees are as follows:

Gold = 68.5/120
Championship = 73.5/135

The son’s Handicap Index is 5.3; therefore, his Course Handicap from the Championship tees is 6. The father’s Handicap Index is 14.2; therefore, his Course Handicap from the Gold tees is 15. Now that we’ve established their Course Handicaps, it is time to make the second adjustment which will make this a fair match between the Father and Son. The first step is to subtract the rounded Championship and Gold tee Course Ratings.

Championship Tee, 74 rounded – Gold Tee, 69 rounded = 5

The next step is to add the difference (5) to the Course Handicap of the golfer who is playing the higher rated tee. In this example, it is the son playing the tee with the higher course rating, therefore, 5 strokes are added to his Course Handicap making it an 11. The father’s Course Handicap will remain at 15 and the match is fair.

At first glance, this may not seem to fair at all - a course handicap jumping from a 6 to an 11! Indeed, many have questioned why this second adjustment is necessary if the Course Handicaps are already adjusted to the tee that they are playing from. Shouldn’t this be enough to make the match equitable? The answer is, No, and the reason has to do with understanding the Target Score, which we will discuss in our next example.

Mary and Dave are siblings, who decide to play a match in which they do not make the second adjustment to their Course Handicaps.

Mary has a Handicap Index of 14.3 and she is competing from the Red tees with a Course/Slope Rating of 73.0/135. Her Handicap Index converts to Course Handicap of 17. Dave has a Handicap Index of 17.2 and he is competing from the White tees with a Course/Slope Rating of 71.7/129. His Handicap Index converts to a Course Handicap of 20.

If Mary and Dave are satisfied with this single adjustment and compete with their above Course Handicaps, Dave, has a one shot advantage! Why? Target Score.

The Target Score is directly determined by your Course Handicap.

Course Rating (rounded) + Course Handicap = Target Score

The USGA defines the Target Score as the best score a golfer will shoot one out of every four 18-hole rounds. Essentially, this is what your Handicap Index is designed to predict. And it is the reason that only the best scores in your scoring record are used to calculate your Handicap Index.

Therefore, Mary, who has a Course Handicap of 17, now has target score of, 90 (73.0 + 17 = 90), and Dave, with his Course Handicap of 20, now has a target score of, 92 (71.7 + 20 = 92). If Mary and Dave play to their best potential and shoot their target scores, 90 and 92; Mary shoots a net 73 (90 – 17 = 73), Dave shoots a net 72 (92 -20 = 72), Dave wins by one stroke.

In order to make this match equitable, just like in the first example, we have to make the second adjustment by, first, subtracting the Course Ratings.

Red Tees, 73 rounded – White Tees, 72 rounded = 1

This value (1) is then added to the Course Handicap of the golfer playing the higher rated tee (as stated, you may also deduct this value from the golfer playing the lower rated tee), which in this case is, Mary. After the second adjustment is made, Mary’s Course Handicap is 18 (17 + 1 = 18). Now, when Mary and Dave shoot their target scores, they will both shoot a net 72.

In the first example with the father and son, if we had not made the second adjustment to the Course Handicaps, the father who was playing the lower rated tee would have had a 5 stroke advantage! Because, if he shot his Target Score which was 84 (69 rounded + 15 CH = 84) and his son shot his Target Score which was 80 (74 rounded + 6 CH = 80), the father shoots a net 69 and the son shoots a net 74. By adding 5 strokes to the son’s Course Handicap, the son can shoot his target score and have a net 69, just like his father, and now the match is equal.

Confused? If so, it’s understandable, it is not the easiest concept to absorb. However, if you take into consideration the Target Score it should begin to make sense.

It’s also important to note, that this procedure applies to any type of golf competition in which golfers play from different tees.

For more info regarding Section 3-5, Players Competing from Different Tees, visit the USGA website and click on Handicaps. Here you will find a link to the USGA Handicap System Manual, 2006-2007. There is also downloadable brochure called Players Competing from Different Tees . If you still have questions feel free email your inquiries to

Written By, Richard M. Kennnedy
Director of Handicapping and Membership Services
New Jersey State Golf Association

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