Bob Green, head PGA professional at Tedesco Country Club

In May, representatives from golf’s six governing organizations met discreetly to discuss the development of a World Handicap System for approximately 15 million golfers in more than 80 countries. The intent is to make handicap indexes more portable from one country to the next.The news came out after an extensive review of existing handicap systems used by the USGA, the Council of National Golf Unions (Great Britain and Ireland), and the Golf Associations of Europe, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.

Tentative plans call for new proposals to be announced later this year.

Let’s look at the USGA’s Slope System and the number of scores that are actually used to compute your handicap.

In the USGA system, every score, except those shot while playing alone (no “peer review”), is to be recorded. In fact, the USGA has made it so easy to record scores that you can play as few as seven holes to record a 9-hole score, and as few as 13 holes to record an 18-hole score.

How do you fill in scores for the two or five holes you didn’t play? When playing against par at 100 percent handicap, if you would be getting a stroke on a particular hole you would record a bogey, or if you were getting two strokes you’d record a double bogey, and so on. If you would not be getting a stroke, you’d record a par score.

Sorry, you can’t make a birdie on a hole you didn’t play.

In Great Britain and Ireland, only designated tournament scores are eligible for posting toward handicaps. Most golfers in those countries only post, on average, three to five scores per year. In case you think that’s a great system, and surely would catch those “sandbaggers” who miraculously play better than their handicaps in tournaments, using that few scores makes the system very slow to respond to current ability. It simply does not keep pace with current skill level.

In Australia, just about every round a golfer plays is part of a competition and all are entered to establish a handicap. It’s not unusual for Aussies to post more than 30 competition scores per year.

Europe and Australia have established a handicap system that utilizes a net double bogey limit and scoring using Stableford points. Example: one point for a bogey, two points for a par, three for a birdie, and zero for double bogey and anything higher. If you average 20 points out of a max of 36, your handicap would be 16. The USGA’s Equitable Stroke Control Policy is a facsimile of that system.

In the United States, a committee must announce in advance what scores are designated as Tournament Scores. Examples at the club level that should be designated as tournament scores are club championships, stroke or match play, and member-guest events.

Considering that, it seems the USGA system wants to limit the number of tournament scores.

Currently, your USGA handicap is based on your 10 lowest out of your most recent 20 scores. Those 10 scores are calculated to form a “handicap differential,” involving four elements: adjusted gross score, USGA course rating, Slope rating and 113 (the Slope rating of a course of standard difficulty).

Let me explain.

The course rating is determined by the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer (0 handicap). It is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent they affect the scoring ability of a
scratch golfer

The Slope rating is the number that represents the difficulty of how a bogey golfer would play a course. It is computed from the difference between bogey rating and course rating.

The Slope rating is what really separates us from other governing bodies.

At whatever course you play, you apply your handicap index to the Slope chart at that course; it will tell you what your handicap will be on that course. This allows your handicap index to be portable, and adjusted to the ease or difficulty of the course you play that particular day. For more difficult courses, your handicap would go up; for easier courses, it would go down, depending on the Slope rating.

It’s commendable that the USGA and the other governing bodies are trying to hammer out a World Handicap System. But who would it benefit?

The fact is, a small percentage of golfers play competitively in other countries.

According to the USGA, 2.3 million golfers maintain handicaps in the United States.

That’s less than half of the dedicated golfers in the country.

Golf is unique compared to other sports, in that a handicap system somewhat levels the playing field, enabling a less-skilled player to compete against a highly-skilled player and actually have a chance to win.

I compare the USGA handicap system to democracy: It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have.

The system relies on the honesty and integrity of each player. A handicap should be derived from scores shot with honest (there’s that word again) effort to shoot the lowest score possible.

I’d like a dollar for every time a golf professional has heard the expression, “I’m comfortable at that handicap.” A handicap should reflect your current potential, not your average score. It is a result, not a number to be planned and manipulated.

There have always been “sandbaggers” and “vanity handicappers” at every club. They may think they’re getting away with something, but the reality is most see through their scheme.

What do you think about the possibility of a World Handicap System? Do you think the USGA should instead concentrate on other issues that directly affect a majority of U.S. golfers, like slow play maybe?

I’m all ears. Let’s hear your comments.

Bob Green is the head PGA professional at Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead. Write to him at

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