Each of us is responsible for ensuring we play off the correct handicap so it's important that we understand how handicap adjustments are made. If you believe you have played under your handicap and your club has not yet published your new handicap, you must calculate your new handicap before playing in another competition, and use that. Handicap increases, however, are not immediate. Even if you believe your handicap has gone up, you cannot play off that increased handicap until it has been published by your home club.
Higher handicaps were introduced at the beginning of 2018. The maximum handicap a player can now have is 54 (which equates to 3 shots on every hole of an 18 hole course). This is intended to encourage players who struggle to play to the previous maximums of 28 for gents and 36 for ladies and juniors. It also prepares us for the new World Handicap System, due to be implemented in 2020.
Standard Scratch Score (SSS) is the score that it is determined a scratch golfer (handicap 0) should take to complete a round. This is evaluated for each course and may be updated periodically, or when there are changes made to the course.
Competition Scratch Score (CSS) is based on the SSS but adjusted for each competition depending on the range and spread of scores returned. Normally it will not move more than one shot up or down, and often will be the same as the SSS.
How Handicap Adjustments are Calculated
Handicaps are calculated to one decimal place, known as the exact handicap, and rounded to the nearest whole number to give the playing handicap. Half shots are rounded UP, e.g. an exact handicap of 23.5 is a playing handicap of 24.
Improvements to handicap depend on the handicap category and how many shots the score was below CSS. The following table is used to figure out reductions:
For each shot your score is below CSS, you reduce your handicap by the amount for your handicap category. Using a simple example, if your handicap is 15.2 and you score 3 shots better than CSS, you would reduce your handicap by 3 x 0.3 = 0.9, giving an exact handicap of 14.4, so your playing handicap would reduce to 14.
However, we need to watch for handicaps moving from one category to the next. For example, if your exact handicap is 21.6 (playing handicap 22) and your nett score is 6 better than CSS then you would calculate the adjustment as follows:
21.6 - (3 x 0.4) - (3 x 0.3) = 19.5 (playing handicap 20).
You will notice there is also a "buffer zone". If your score falls within that buffer zone, your handicap remains unaltered. However, if your score is higher than the buffer zone, your handicap will increase by 0.1 (regardless of category).
If you do not know what the CSS is, assume CSS = SSS. The scorecard should specify the SSS.
Each hole on a golf course is allocated a "stroke index" which roughly equates to its difficulty. In theory, the toughest hole should be stroke index 1. On an 18 hole course the "easiest" hole should be stroke index 18 ...in theory. In practice it doesn't always work out like that, though it's usually quite close. Our course being 9 holes, each hole has two stroke indices, one for the first time round, one for the second, and of course it should reflect the second 9's alternative tees.
Other factors can come into allocating a hole's stroke index. It is generally considered unwise to bunch all the low index holes near the end of the course, even if those are actually the most difficult holes. Often clubs with an 18 hole course will do something like allocate all odds to the front nine and all evens to the back nine, avoiding the possibility of all the lowest stroke index holes being in one half. This is considered fairer for matchplay.
Strokes received / given
The stroke index is used to decide where strokes are received, both in strokeplay and matchplay. Let's begin with strokeplay:
Singles - full handicap.
Foursomes - half the aggregate handicap of the playing partners.
Four Ball Better Ball - each player receives 90% of full handicap.
Greensomes.... this one's a bit more complicated. To calculate an exact greensomes handicap we add 0.6 of the lower handicap to 0.4 of the higher handicap.
Strokes are deducted at each hole according to the stroke index, e.g. if the handicap is 5, strokes are received at the holes with stroke index 1 to 5.
Singles - full difference between the handicaps of the two players.
Foursomes - half of the difference between the aggregate handicaps of the two sides.
Four Ball Better Ball - the lowest handicap player gives strokes to the others three players based on 90% of the difference between playing handicaps.
Greensomes - full difference between greensomes handicaps.