Scotland Course and Slope Ratings
Course Rating
Dealing with Sandbagging
Handicapping Guidelines
History of Handicapping
Junior Golfers
Pace of Play
Scramble Tournaments
Tournament Point System
World Rankings
Magazine Articles
First-Tee Mulligans
Handicaps of PGA Tour players.
Meaning of codes after Handicaps.
Trying to handicap a scramble?
Handicap Differential
Picking Your Ideal Partner
Net Skins Game
Canada Adopts USGA's Stroke Control
FIGURE IT OUT- Course Handicap Formula
Post a Score on Un-played Holes
Two Outstanding Tournaments
Posting Off-Season Scores
San Diego Country Club to Host 2017 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.
100th Anniversary of the USGA Handicap System
Sports Legend Revealed: Does the course at Ko'olau Golf Club exceed the maximum slope rating?
How Tough Is Augusta National?
Average Slope Rating
Beating Your Handicap by Nine Strokes
CAR-NASTY: Just How Hard Is It?
Competing from Different Tees
Dancing About Architecture
Every golfer needs to get carded
Frank Hannigan on the Stimpmeter
Get a Handicap
Go Figure
Handicap Formula Trailblazer Passes Away
High Heat Driver
How are holes assigned their handicap?
How often you should beat your handicap?
How to break 60
How to detect a Sandbagger
Pope's points try to level fields
Sandbagger's Hell at the World Am
Sandbaggers wary of this Dean's list
Vanity Handicaps
Was Madoff A Cheat at Golf, Too?
What does "bonus for excellence" mean?
What is a "Handicap Differential"?
Why 96 percent?
About the Pope Of Slope

Pope Of Slope

Every golfer needs to get carded

Establishing a handicap is easier than ever,
and Golf Digest is here to help get you started

Illustrations: Paul Slater

By Peter McCleery
Golf Digest

Matt McGrath is your typical, vagabond New Jersey public golfer. But establishing a handicap is complicated for him because he lives in a county that doesn't have a public course, and he doesn't belong to a golf club. A title examiner in Manhattan, McGrath likes to compete and says life as an un-handicapped golfer "stinks." He and his buddies play the guessing game. "I play with my brothers and friends all the time, and we just have to estimate our handicaps," he says.

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McGrath and his buddies are among the majority of American golfers -- they don't possess an official U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index. Of the 26.2 million golfers in the United States (adults who played at least one regulation round in the past year), as calculated by the National Golf Foundation, less than 20 percent have an official handicap. "Every golf association in the country sees those stats," says Jim Cowan, handicap director for the Northern California Golf Association. "We wonder, How do we bring more people into the fold?"

Commencing with this issue, Golf Digest is launching a campaign to encourage more golfers to get a handicap. We recommend establishing a handicap through the USGA Handicap System (, but if that remains too daunting, we offer the Golf Digest Handicap as a free, easy and reliable entry-level alternative (Click here to register for the Golf Digest Handicap tool).

Duane Rost took up golf more seriously in the past few years after retiring from Youngstown State University in Ohio. But when he signed up for an international "net" competition that factors your handicap into your score, he was assigned a handicap because he didn't have one. "They assigned me a 22, which is about 10 shots lower than it should be," says Rost. "So I started the [four-round] tournament about 40 shots behind." Sensitized that not having a handicap was a handicap, Rost now has one: He's a 31.2.

Golfers without handicaps, even though they're in the majority and are violating no rule by not having one, take their share of heat. They're sometimes known as "Aboutas" -- as in, "I'm about a 12." Dirk Kingma, a past president of the Southern California Golf Association, explains the rudimentary thinking: "The Abouta figures his handicap like this: Take your average score and subtract 72, then add a couple [just in case you need 'em!], and there's the number!"

Dave Tiberii, a Connecticut public golfer, says not having a legitimate handicap "calls into question whether you're legit. You definitely get some ribbing, especially if you're playing well. When you don't have the number to back it up, it can be kind of awkward." Like many un-handicapped golfers interviewed for this article, Tiberii says he plans to get a handicap this season. "I don't feel like a complete golfer without one," he says.

Construction worker Matt Reeves is in a similar situation. As his game progresses, he hopes to play in tournaments, and he knows having a handicap would upgrade his status. In the meantime, he and his friends play each other without surrendering or taking strokes -- even though one player in the group wins a disproportionate amount of the time.

A handicap, defined by a number, is a measure of a golfer's potential ability compared to an expert amateur's ability.

It allows all golfers to compete on an equal basis. A USGA Handicap Index is calculated using a fairly complex formula that's applied to the best 10 of a golfer's last 20 rounds. A USGA Course Rating indicates the playing difficulty (total strokes) of a course for scratch (0-handicap) golfers. So on a course with a 72.0 rating, a 10-handicapper will score, on average, 82 to 88.

For golfers who belong to private clubs, getting a handicap is routine. "If you join a private club, they put you on the handicap roster automatically," says Steve Foehl, executive director of the New Jersey State Golf Association. "If you're a public golfer, you have to initiate the effort."

Getting a USGA handicap does require membership in a "club," but it can be the golf group at your local public course or your own ad-hoc assemblage of 10 forming a "club without real estate." Says Kevin O'Connor, the USGA's senior director of handicapping: "When people hear that you have to join a club, it stops a fair amount of them in their tracks." A survey of 9,225 golfers conducted by the website showed a healthy appetite for handicaps among those who don't have one, but also intimidation ("I'm not good enough") and lack of information ("I don't know how to go about it").

"Sometimes," says golfer Pete Aldrich of San Diego, "you play with friends and friends of friends, and they don't have a handicap, so they make something up. It's not that they're cheating. They just don't know. I'd encourage everyone to get a handicap, because it's not that hard to do nowadays."

We concur, and hope to make it even easier. In coming months the Golf Digest Handicap Campaign will answer commonly asked questions and offer practical applications for players of differing abilities.

1. Establishing some kind of handicap, even if it's not an official USGA Handicap Index right away, will lend credibility to your ability level and to your status as a golfer. "I look at it not as a badge of honor but something that tells people you're a serious golfer," says Jay Mottola, executive director of the Metropolitan Golf Association.

2. By posting your scores -- and in the Golf Digest system, logging some simple statistical data -- you'll build an effective tool for tracking your improvement
and trends over time.

3. A legitimate handicap will help you to make matches with your friends and playing partners fair and equitable, and it eliminates guesswork in the allocation of strokes, perhaps strengthening your argument to get a few more.

4. It will eliminate awkwardness in outings, member guests and other competitions.

5. A USGA Handicap Index is required to enter most state, regional or national competitions.

August 2003

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