Handicap FAQs

Q: What is a USGA Handicap Index and how do I get one?

A: The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete equitably. It’s based on the premise that a handicap should measure a golfer’s potential ability to play, not necessarily how he is currently playing.

While the USGA developed the rules of the Handicap System and the formulas used in its calculation, it does not issue them directly to individual golfers. The USGA grants each state association a license to utilize its system.  By joining the CGA, you automatically bet a handicap.  

Q:  Why do I need a handicap?  I don’t play in tournaments…

A:  Many people are intimidated by the word “tournament” because it draws to mind the high-profile events such as the Colorado Open and the CGA Match Play Championship. The percentage of members who play in these events is actually very small. There are hundreds of tournaments every year that include some relaxing and fun formats for individuals as well as teams. You never know when your co-workers, friends, or in-laws might ask you to play in a corporate outing or a charity event, and a handicap gives you the option of saying “I’d love to!”

Do you play at least five times a year? Of course you do! Did you know that you only need five scores to have an official USGA Handicap Index calculated? Eventually, it will be based on the last twenty scores in your score history, but five is the minimum to get started.

Q:  I can average my own scores, so why should I pay the CGA to do it?

A:  Handicap Index is a tool that measures your potential golfing ability. It is not an average of your scores. If you average 90 on a short, less difficult course, and your friend averages 90 on a long, more difficult course, are you both equal in playing ability? Of course not. Your friend would likely average an 85 or less on your course, and you would likely average a 95 or higher on their course. A Handicap Index is accurate because it is based on your scores and the difficulty level of the courses you achieve them on. And don’t forget that your Handicap Index is portable. Take it with you everywhere you play because it adjusts each course to your potential ability, rather than you trying to adjust your ability to each course!

Q;  I want to wait until I play better before getting a handicap.

A:  Actually this is the perfect time to get a handicap. Imagine someone who decides to lose weight and goes on a diet. The first thing you would purchase is a scale in order to monitor progress and help set goals. The handicap is the equivalent to the dieter’s scale. Your handicap is the only true gauge by which to measure your progress as your golfing ability improves. By using it to set and achieve short-term goals each time you play, you are working toward your long-term goal of improving, which is demonstrated by a decrease in your handicap. When the dieter hops on the scale and sees his weight drop, he will feel the same sense of self-accomplishment that you will when you see your handicap drop.

Q: I renewed my membership last June. Will it remain active until next June or did my membership end at the start of the new year?

A: CGA membership runs from January 1st to December 31st each year. Now, it’s important to realize membership is handled at the club level. This means the individual club you joined through will decide when to inactivate your membership. If you joined in June, your membership is good through December 31. Keep in mind some clubs will start inactivating members right after December, but some may leave you active until end of April! It is good to know the club’s policies when it comes to membership so be sure to ask before joining/renewing.

Q: I made a mistake when I posted my score or I have an incorrect score in my file. How do I fix it?

A: To have a score corrected or removed, a golfer must contact the Handicap Chair at his/her golf club. We do not perform any file maintenance requests that come directly from individual members.

Q: Why is Colorado inactive for score posting from November 15th to March 15th?

A: When a member posts a score to his/her handicap, they are posting against the Course Rating and Slope of the given tees they played. These rating values were calculated by Course Raters during the peak playing condition of the course. When winter hits Colorado, these playing conditions change considerably (i.e. green speeds aren’t normal, rough height is shorter, less foliage on trees and shrubs, drives can roll farther, etc). These altered playing conditions will in many cases lower scores across the board, ultimately lowering handicap indexes to a value that cannot be played to during the active season. Another way to look at it is to imagine what the Course Rating and Slope would be if the courses were rated in January. This is why authorized golf associations across the nation determine their respective inactive seasons that golf clubs in their jurisdiction must follow. Colorado’s starts on November 15th and ends on March 15th. As a side note for you snowbirds that are traveling to warmer climates, check to see if your destination is seasonal or year-round. Remember, you must post rounds played at courses in states that are active, even if Colorado is not!

Q: I just reactivated my membership and GHIN number at my home club. I have a full score history from the previous year yet my Handicap Index is reading “NH”. Why?

A: The “NH” stands for No Handicap. Do not be alarmed as this is an automatic function of the system when reactivating a GHIN number. Once you are reactivated, you must experience a Handicap Revision or “update”. Once you go through a revision with your active GHIN number, your index will re-populate. Revisions occur the 1st and 15th of every month, 12 months a year. Just because we cannot post scores in Colorado during the inactive season doesn’t mean the handicaps go inactive. They are continually updated as long as you remain an active member of the CGA.

Q: What is the “R” next to my index?

A: The “R” indicates that a golfer is being Reduced due to exceptional tournament scores. The reduction is an automatic part of the index calculation. Eligible tournament scores remain in a stored tournament file for a minimum of one year from the date they were posted . Each month, the computer looks at what the golfer’s calculated (10-2) Handicap Index is. If there are at least two tournament differentials in the file at 3.0 points below the calculated index, then the golfer may be reduced. The calculation also takes into account the total number of tournament scores the golfer has posted over the last 12 months. If the golfer has shown they can play to a certain level but the current index is not reflecting that potential, the system automatically reduces the golfer down to his or her playing potential.

To be clear, this is not a penalty, but rather part of the formula for calculating a player’s Handicap Index. If you feel this reduction is not warranted, you can speak to your Handicap Chair about removing or modifying the reduction.

Q: Why does it seem as though I do not play as well as my handicap index suggests that I do?

A: USGA Handicap Index is calculated in a way to reflect a golfer’s POTENTIAL ability. It is not the average of all your scores. A golfer is expected to play to his/her Course Handicap only about 20-25 PERCENT of the time.

Q:  What is “Equitable Stroke Control”?

A:  Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the downward adjustment of the individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential scoring ability. ESC sets a maximum number that the player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap. A Handicap Index determined from scores to which ESC has not been applied may not be termed a USGA Handicap Index.

Q:  How does Equitable Stroke Control work? 


  1. Convert your USGA Handicap Index to a Course Handicap for the set of tees you are going to play.
  2. Use the chart below to look up the maximum score you can post on any hole based on your Course Handicap.
  3. If you do not complete a hole, write down the score you most likely would have made. If you do not play a hole or do not play a hole under the Rules of Golf, write down par plus the handicap strokes you would receive on that hole. Such scores should be preceded by an “X.” Do not write down your maximum score for an incomplete hole unless your probable score exceeds your maximum score.
  4. Once you have completed your round, scan your score card to locate any scores higher than your maximum score and reduce them to your maximum score.
  5. There is no limit to the number of holes you can adjust.

Course Handicap

Maximum Score for Any Hole
9 or lessDouble bogey
10 – 197
20 – 298
30 – 399
40 +10

COURSE RATING QUESTIONS – the handicap calculation is based not just on your score, but on the relative difficulty of the course based on its course rating. 

Q: What is SLOPE?

A: Most golfers believe that the higher the Slope Rating, the more difficult the golf course. This may or may not be true, depending on what level of golfer you are. The Slope Rating for a golf course tells you how difficult the golf course is for a bogey player (about a 20 handicap for a male golfer) compared to a scratch player. The higher the Slope Rating, the harder the course is for the bogey golfer, relative to the difficulty of the course for the scratch golfer. Slope Ratings can range anywhere between 55 and 155, with the average slope rating in the United States being approximately 120.

The Slope Rating is used to convert your Handicap Index into a Course Handicap. This allows the player to receive enough strokes from a particular set of tees to play at the same level as a scratch golfer from the same set of tees.

When your course is rated, a scratch rating and bogey rating are both determined from each set of tees. The scratch rating is the same idea as the Course Rating only for the Bogey golfer. From both the bogey rating and the scratch rating, a formula is used to determine the Slope Rating. 

Q: Who rates a course?

A: An experienced CGA/CWGA staff member, trained under the USGA’s Course Rating System, leads the CGA’s Course Rating Team. All licensed golf associations have been trained to use the exact same processes as set forth by the USGA.

There are approximately 35-40 volunteer committee members throughout Colorado who assist the CGA staff in evaluating a course. Everyone on the committee has been trained in course rating procedures and must renew their training certification at a course rating seminar once every four years.

Q: How often is a course rated?

A: The USGA requires all authorized golf associations, including the CGA, to periodically review the ratings of their courses and to revise them if necessary. The CGA is required to re-rate a golf course within a 10-year period. All newly constructed golf courses change as they mature. The CGA rates these courses the year they open and then again three years after the first rating to account for these changes.

If there have been any significant changes to your course, the size of the greens have changed, greenside or fairway bunkers have been added or removed, or a new set of tees has been added, your course may be in need of a rating adjustment. The course probably does not need a full course rating, and a CGA representative can be sent to view the changes made on the course. These changes are entered into the USGA Course Rating Program to calculate an updated Course Rating and Slope Rating. 

Q: Why is our course rated the way it is?

A: Golf courses are rated based on the measured length of the course from each set of tees. The measured length of a particular set of tees is taken from the middle of the teeing ground to the center of the green.

Accurate permanent marker placement is essential to an accurate course rating. Permanent markers are to reflect the average placement of the movable tee markers. Permanent markers should be placed on the teeing ground at a spot where the movable tee markers can be placed on either side to consistently reflect the overall length of the hole and course.

Inaccurate placement of the tee markers is more likely to have a greater effect on a player’s handicap differential than any course obstacle. For instance, if a course consistently placed their movable tee markers in front of the permanent markers by an average of 10 yards per hole, the golf course would play almost one shot easier than the rating indicates. This practice would result in an artificially low Handicap Index.

The USGA recommends placing the permanent markers in the middle of every teeing ground. When two tees share one teeing ground, the teeing ground should be divided in thirds. This process maximizes the ability of the golf course to use the entire teeing area and gives the best chance of reflecting the overall yardage.

At no time should a permanent marker be less than three yards from the front or less than four yards from the back of a teeing area. Courses are encouraged to consult the CGA for assistance in determining accurate placement.

Q: Who allocates handicap stroke for each hole?

A: The short answer is; the Club. The CGA does not assign hole by hole handicap strokes to individual holes as a result of the course rating process. The rating of your golf course will have no effect on which hole is more difficult, nor does the individual handicap selection process influence your overall Index. The allocation of handicap strokes is the responsibility of the club and can be accomplished through specific procedures.