How Including Par Affects Handicap

The Moral Of The Story

The new system will change your course handicap but it will not change the score required to shoot your handicap (your target score) or how you compete against anyone else. The change in handicap is a mathematical artifact. It is not a change in how you are expected to score and will not put you at a competitive advantage or disadvantage. The change happens because handicap is now referenced to par instead of only to course rating. Everyone will be affected, no matter where they play golf or what tees they use.

If you go to another course, your handicap index will be adjusted by the slope rating, course rating, and par of the other course and it will work just fine.

How It Works

Under the old system (the one we are using right now and everyone is used to) your handicap index (the number with decimals on the sheet posted in the pro shop) was based on the best 10 of your last 20 rounds. The difference between your score and the course rating for the tees you played was calculated and adjusted for course difficulty (the slope rating of the tees). The average of the adjusted differences between course rating and your scores for your best 10 rounds gave you the handicap index.

Your course handicap (the round number that is different depending on the tees you are playing) was then calculated for each set of tees. The slope rating was used to adjust your handicap index to the difficulty of the various sets of tees giving you a course handicap for each set of tees. (I’ll go into excruciating detail about how that works in a later post, but for now remember that a course of average difficulty has a slope of 113. The slope rating is one of those convoluted topics that will require a post of its own.)

The new system will do 2 things that will almost certainly reduce your handicap. First, only the best 8 rounds of your last 20 will be used in the calculation. That will eliminate 2 rounds that would have been used before. Those will be the worst 2 scores of the 10 that would have been used, so your handicap index may go down a little bit.

More importantly, the difference between the stroke rating of the tees you are playing and par will be subtracted as a final step in calculating your course handicap. For 2 examples, the rating of the gold tees for men is 67.3, so 4.7 (72-67.3) will be subtracted. For women playing the red tees, the rating is 67.1, so 4.9 (72-67.1) will be subtracted. Par did not matter in the old system, but it matters in the new system.

Remember that the old course handicap you got for each set of tees was not how many strokes away from par you needed to shoot to shoot your handicap. We used it like that when we figured tournament scores because we all think in terms of par, but the course handicap was really how many strokes away from the course rating of the tees you were playing you needed to shoot. The difference in par and course rating made no difference to a competition when everyone played from the same tees, but if we competed with each other from different tees we had to adjust handicaps to make it fair. Arguments and confusion often ensued.

The new system is trying to reduce the arguments and confusion. In the new system we won’t need to adjust handicaps to account for which tees someone is playing because the adjustment will already be done when course handicap is calculated.

The new course handicap will take your handicap index and adjust it for difficulty (the slope rating) of the tees you are playing. Up to this point it is just like the old system. But the new system then includes the difference in par and the stroke rating of the tees you are playing. Most of us play from tees that are rated at less than par 72 so our course handicaps will go down.

Old System

Course handicap = Handicap index adjusted for slope, then rounded to nearest whole number.

New System

Course handicap = Handicap index adjusted for slope, minus difference in par and course rating, then rounded to nearest whole number.

Take my current handicap index of 8.2 as an example.

Old System

To get my white tees course handicap under the old system, multiply 8.2 by 123/113 (the slope adjustment accounting for our course from the white tees being more difficult than average) and get 8.9. Round this to a course handicap of 9. This means my target score is 9 strokes above the course rating of 70.7. So I need to shoot 79.7, rounded to 80 to shoot my handicap.

New System

First, my new handicap index becomes 8.1 when only my best 8 scores are used.

To get my white tees course handicap, multiply 8.1 by 123/113 and get 8.8. The difference in course rating and par is 1.3 (72-70.7), so subtract 1.3 from 8.8 and get 7.5, rounded to a course handicap of 8. This means my target score is 8 over par, or 80 to shoot my handicap. Note that my course handicap went down by 1, but my target score to shoot my handicap is the same under the old and new systems. The old system predicted how much I’d shoot above 70.7. The new system predicts how much I’ll shoot above 72.

I’ll go more into competition from different tees, the effect of different tees on handicap, slope, course rating, and hole handicaps in future posts. There are several less noticeable changes with the new system, and I’ll get to those later as well. Right now I need to rest my fingers.