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ne of the greatest attributes of the Handicap System is its versatility. Whether you prefer stroke play or match

play (see the Point/Counterpoint on pages 16-17), the Handicap System has the answer. Let’s look at two of the most common forms of play (in- dividual and two vs. two) and see what the system calls for.

Individual Stroke Play Each player receives 100% of his or her course handicap. Subtract the course handicap from the gross score to determine the net score.

Singles Match Play The higher-handicapped golfer receives the full difference in course handi- cap between the players; the lower-handicapped player plays from scratch (in a match between a 15 and 16, the 16 receives one stroke on the #1-ranked hole).

Most golfers are probably under the impression that the

Handicap System is stacked in the favor of high handicap- pers. The opposite is actually true. High handicappers do not play to, or better than, their handicap with any greater frequency than low handicappers; it’s just that when they do, they have the capacity to go lower. Meaning, that if a single low handicapper competes against a single high handi- capper in a series of head-to-head competitions

How about another popular form of play, four-ball stroke play or match play (better ball of two)?

Four-Ball Stroke Play Men receive 90% of their course handicap and women, 95%. It is further recommended that part- ners’ course handicaps not differ by more than eight strokes (after the applica- tion of the 90% or 95%). If a difference of more than eight strokes cannot be avoided, it is sug- gested that an additional 10% reduction be applied to the course handicap of each partner.

Four-Ball Match Play The course handicap of all four players is reduced by the course handicap of the player with the lowest course handicap, who then plays from scratch. Each of the three other players is allowed 100% of the differ- ence. In a match between a 10, 12, 14 and 16, the 10 plays at scratch, the 12 receives two strokes (on the #1- and #2-ranked holes), the 14 receives four strokes and the 16 receives six strokes.

The match-play recommendation is pretty straightfor-

ward and follows the same premise as singles play. The stroke-play recommendation does provoke a lot of

Men receive 90% of their course handicap and women, 95% in four-ball stroke play.

questions. Why 90% for men and 95% for women? Why the eight-stroke rule? Simple. A high handicapper’s hole-by-hole scores tend to be quite volatile while a low handicapper’s hole-by-hole scores tend to be consistent. Two such hot-and-cold, high- handicapped players will absolutely thrive in a format that calls for the selection of just one score per hole. They will thrive to a point where they will enjoy an advantage over steadier, low-handicapped teams. The 90% allowance negates this advantage and levels the playing field. At all handicap levels, women’s scores tend to be less vola- tile than the scores of their male counterparts. As a result, they do not have to forfeit as much of their course handicap for this form of play (95% allowance instead of 90%). Lastly, wide-gapped four-ball teams tend to enjoy an

(stroke or match play), the low will prevail slightly more often than the high. If a single low handicapper competes against a field of high handicappers in stroke play, however, odds are that a high handicapper will take home the low net prize for the field (and if the same high handicapper wins the same low net prize every time, there’s a problem with his or her handicap, not the system). This isn’t just a theory or opinion, it is actually ordained by the mathematics of the Handicap System. Because handi- caps are based on 96% of the difference between our scores and course ratings, and not 100%, a built-in, ever-so-slight advantage is afforded to the lower handicapper.

70 / NCGA.ORG / FALL 2012

advantage over narrow-gapped teams. For this reason and for this form of play only, the recommendation is that you place a limit of eight strokes on the spread in partner’s handicaps (this limit is applied after the application of the 90% or 95% allowance). And if you do decide to allow teams with a gap in handicaps in excess of eight strokes, the recommendation is that both partners face a further 10% reduction. For more information on

handicap allowance recom- mendations for a variety of stroke play and match play formats, refer to chapter nine in the current NCGA Handi- cap Manual.

By Jim Cowan Director of

Course Rating & Handicapping


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