6 steps to handicap a fair golf match against anyone

When Mary wants to play the greens, Jane the whites, Dick the blues and Tom the white-blues, just follow these 6 steps to handicap a fair golf match and equalize! With this golf advice, even Tiger Woods is fair game!

Image of a scorecard with different sets of teesSUPPOSE YOU meet your regular foursome at the tee this afternoon, only no two players are at the same tee? Tom usually plays the blues with Dick, but he’s tired today and wants to “Tee it Forward.” Mary and Jane usually play the reds, but Mary wants to move up and work on her short game and Jane wants to move back for an extra challenge. But, you protest, how are we going to determine who wins the front nine/back nine/overall wagers if we’re all playing different tees?

It is so simple. Much simpler than getting everyone to agree to play the same tees. Here are six steps to handicap a golf match, using the example shown above of a scorecard from Greenhorn Creek, the rare course with five sets of tees rated for women:

  1. Start with an accurate USGA index for each player. In this example, we’re going to use four players with the exact same index (about as common an occurrence as a hole-in-one). Mary, Jane, Tom and Dick each have a USGA index of 20.
  2. Before the round, go to the computer or the handicap charts in the shop or locker room and convert each index to a course handicap for the designated tees. (The free USGA GHIN app can do this on your phone, and there’s also a nifty little calculator online.) Mary, playing the greens at Greenhorn Creek, has a course handicap of 22. Jane, playing the whites, has a 24. Tom, playing the blue/white combo, is 24. And Dick, starting farthest back at the blues, is also 24.
  3. Check to see which player’s tees have the lowest rating (not slope). In this case, that is Mary at 69.5 for women at the greens. The highest is Jane’s, 73.4 for a woman playing the whites. Tom at the blue/white combo is 70 and Dick at the blues is 71.
  4. Determine the difference between the higher-rated tees and the lowest-rated tee. For Jane, that would be 3.9, for Tom .5 and for Dick 1.5.
  5. Round any difference of .5 or more up a stroke; round anything under .5 down a stroke. So now we have Jane with 4, Tom 1 and Dick 2.
  6. Add those differences to those players’ course handicaps for the purposes of equalizing the match. So now Mary is still 22, but she’s going to have to give some strokes to her friends. Jane is 28 (24 plus 4 for the rating), Tom is 25 (24 plus 1 for the rating) and Dick is 26 (24 plus 2 for the rating).

If Mary and Tom were to play a match of their own, Mary would have to give Tom 3 strokes. If Jane were to play Dick, like her a 24-handicapper from the selected tees, Dick would have to give Jane two additional strokes because the difference in their tee ratings is 73.4 minus 71, or 2.4, rounding down to 2.

Mary could even play the green tees against Tiger Woods this weekend, since he’s not playing the PGA Tour anymore. One golf fan calculated Tiger’s index one year at a plus-6.8. He of course would have to go back to those gold tees at Greenhorn Creek, where he would be a plus-9. The course rating difference of 73.2 minus Mary’s 69.5 equals 3.7, rounding to 4, making Tiger a plus-5. This means that he would have to give Mary his plus-5 plus her 22 course handicap for a total of 27 strokes.

Follow this formula regularly to handicap a golf match — you’ll be amazed at how often players tie when they play to their potential. So make sure you have a tiebreaker format established before heading to the all-important 19th hole.

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