How to handicap when it’s men vs. women

Here’s an example of how the old Rules of Golf made it quite complicated when men and women had a match. Now, just use your GHIN app to look up your course handicaps, and you’re good to go.

DEAR GGG: When I play a weekly competition between male and female friends, I think the women should get some extra strokes. The guys say that my handicap from the tees I play takes care of that. What’s the real deal? Tell me how to handicap men vs. women.

A: Interestingly enough, both men and women struggle with the concept of handicap adjustments that might be needed when men compete against men playing from different sets of tees or men and women compete against each other.

The handicap system assigns each set of tees a rating and a slope number. The rating number is the first number, the one with the decimal point, and the second is the slope — for example, 74.0/135.

The rating number tells us what a scratch player is expected to shoot on a given course playing her best golf. In this example, it is a difficult course so the player is expected to shoot 2 over the course’s par of 72.

The second number of 135 is what we use when we go to the USGA’s Course Rating Tables for Slope Rating to determine our “basic” handicap for the day when playing a specific set of tees.


When considering women and men competing against each other, we use the difference in the rating number to make any needed adjustments. Since typically women get a stroke or two or even three added to their handicaps, I have found women to be as resistant to this adjustment as the men. Women want a lower handicap in order to look more skilled.

“I have worked very hard to get down to a 12 handicap and I do not want to play to a 14!” one club member told me. She finally realized she was still a 12 handicap, but needed to equalize the playing field because in essence her course played 2 strokes harder for women than for men.

Men, on the other hand, just do not want to give away any strokes. In a conversation a few years ago a gentleman was adamant that he should not be giving extra strokes to the women at his course. When explanations failed to convince him, I made the situation personal. “From what you have said, I bet you are a low handicap golfer. Do you ever play the back tees when your men friends play the regular tees?” I asked him.

The answer was, “Yes.”

I found the rating and slope for the various sets of tees at his course while we were talking and so I said, “Do you know you are giving them 3 strokes before you ever hit your first shot?”

That got his attention. The back tees at his course were rated 74.3 and the regular tees were 71.2.  This difference was 3.1 and rounding makes this an even 3 strokes.

He could hardly wait until his next round with “the boys” to tell them he now got 3 more strokes. Now that this applied to his game on a daily basis with his male friends, he could apply the logic to playing against women.

For more detailed information please read Section 9-3c in the USGA’s Handicap System Manual at under the HANDICAP heading.

Remember, our handicaps are based on the same gender playing from the same set of tees. But the Handicap System also finds an equitable way when different tees are used for men vs. men; women vs. women or women vs. men. There is also an adjustment on how to handicap for women vs. men when the same set of tees is used.

One more point to consider. When playing in a couples club competition where the best two-ball score is used of the four-person team, the rating adjustment still needs to be applied in order to have an equal opportunity for women to contribute to the team. No adjustment is needed if using the best score of the women and the best score of the men for a total team score, because, in effect, the genders are competing separately against their own to achieve their best result for the team.

Let’s enjoy the game and win by our skill, not an incorrect handicap.

This article first appeared in the October 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.

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  1. Susan Fornoff April 1, 2016
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