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Bunkerman125

Golf Handicap System Explained for Newbie

62 posts in this topic

Hi all,

It's my first thread after playing golf for the first time, as a work invite and I really enjoyed it, although it's as addictive as it's frustrating!

Interestingly, Some of my colleagues claimed they won, even though they scored more (took more shots) than others playing with us. I didn't feel like asking at the time, but it leads me to the question: What's the premise for the handicap system?

I don't quite understand it, as I'm used to playing sports where you either can't beat the opposition, because they play better than you, or you have different equipment (with a set of standard equipment/horsepower etc. rules).

Fundamentally, how can someone "beat" someone if they aren't better at the game than them?

By way of comparison, if I were racing the same car as someone else and I generally finished 6th or 7th does the 'handicap system' mean that I would 'beat' someone who usually comes 3rd or 4th, if I came 3rd, even though he came 1st or 2nd?

Confused...

All advice appreciated..

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The handicap system measures your potential as a golfer and provides a way to provide you a handicap for each course you play.  So keeping it simple, a good golfer (Player A) may have a 2 handicap while an average golfer (Player B) might have a 20 handicap.  Without getting too technical - the average player would "get" 18 strokes (20 minus 2) if he plays against the better player in a match, or 1 stroke a hole.

So if you're playing match play and Player A gets a 3 on a hole and Player B gets a 4 on the hole, they "halve" that hole because player B is getting 1 stroke a hole.

If you're playing stroke play, Player A shoots 74 (net 72) and Player B shoots 95 (net 75), player A would win.

There are a ton of nuances, but at it's very basic level, just think of it like this.

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The above is a good introduction to *how* the system is used (and further information on that is readily available by either searching this site or googling), but the sense I get is the OP is also curious as to the *why*.

The handicap system is simply a way of leveling the playing field for golfers are differing ability, with the goal being for the winner to be whoever played closer to their own personal potential.

A lot of folks (myself being one) don't like the idea of using handicaps in tournaments, because we don't like the idea of someone being called the "winner" even though they had a worse score than other competitors. And although the system has been refined over the years and is probably as good as it's going to get, it's still not perfect. (It fails when someone is able to manipulate their handicap through what's known as "sandbagging" such that it's higher than it should be.)

But as I say, it's a great system for allowing people to compete and be rewarded based on how well they played compared to their own theoretical potential, vs. how well the rest of the field played to their potential.

For me, the biggest benefit of the handicap system is the ability to use it when I'm playing with friends. It makes it possible for anyone to win (if they play well), which would not otherwise be possible when the skill levels of the guys I'm playing with vary widely.

The racing analogy is a good one. I've participated in and helped define rules for time trial series where you get a certain amount of seconds added to or subtracted from your raw times based on things like horsepower/weight ratio and modifications to the cars. While you still want to group similar cars together (as is done in handicap "flights" in golf tournaments, where golfers with handicaps in a certain ranges only compete against others in the same range), such a handicap system allows different makes and models of cars with varying degrees of modifications to compete more fairly against each other. (At least in the sense that driver skill is rewarded more than how good your car is.)

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Thanks sacm3bill,

That makes it a bit clearer, however, I can see how an amateur golfer might be restricted by his (or her) equipment, like a 'privateer' racer will be playing catch-up against a  factory team, but, in theory, a well healed golfer could purchase any sort of equipment, or does the bespoke equipment, presumably provided by sponsors? make that much difference?

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Equipment makes no difference - the handicap system essentially allows you to measure how you are playing against how you typically play.  So if I normally shoot 90 and I shoot 95, I'm playing "above" my handicap.  If I shoot 85, I am playing "below" my handicap, regardless of what equipment I use.

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Equipment makes very little difference in the scores a golfer shoots, as long as they're using clubs from the last couple decades.  Many pros do have "fine tuned" clubs, but such tuning is only useful at very elite levels, and probably affects their scoring average by less than a stroke per round.

Even if equipment does make a difference at the amateur level, it would be factored into their handicap. I.e., your scores are your scores, whether you're using good equipment or bad. The only difference it might make is if you establish a handicap using clubs from 40 years ago, then get new clubs and start entering tournaments. In that case your handicap might be artificially high (by a few strokes at the most) for a while, until your scores from using your old equipment drop off (only your last 20 rounds are considered in calculating a handicap). And I'm sure such a scenario never happens in reality, I'm just speaking theoretically here.

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So if equipment doesn't make much of a difference (assuming it's reasonable kit - borrowed some) it comes down to skill levels?

I assumed, before I heard the after golf pub banter, that I would have to score less (less strokes) than my opponent to win, not that I expected to, although I beat a couple of guys, not bad for a newbie!

I think the gist is that I can beat other players, if I don't play as well as them?

Sounds odd.

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If you play to your potential better than *they* play to *their* potential, then theoretically you will have a lower net score (your actual score - also called your "gross" score - minus any handicap strokes), which means you have beaten them. Your actual score may have been higher than theirs, but the handicap strokes adjust the actual score.  Reread chriskzoo's first post again if you're still unclear.

Remember, no one is forced to play in a handicapped tournament. If you play someone straight up without handicaps, lowest score wins. I.e., whoever played the best golf wins. The problem with that is you will never have a chance of beating someone who is 15 strokes better than you. So if you want to make it more fun and/or interesting, you have the option of using the handicap system, either informally among friends or in an official handicapped tournament, where the goal is not to find the best golfer, it's to reward whoever played the best golf relative to their potential (their potential being defined by their handicap.)

And also note that most handicapped tournaments have a "gross" flight for the best golfers, wherein handicaps are not used.

Also note there's a similar handicap system in bowling. Also note that informal handicap systems exist on the playground in all sports, like when an underdog individual or team is spotted a few points at the start of a game. So it's really not that odd at all.

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I think I'm getting there, it's just that, as an outsider, it seems like a really alien sporting premise. I looked it up on google and it seems to be a system to legitimise poor performance.

I assume that it's just an informal, good spirited concept for friendly play. What happens if there's money or prizes, or both! involved?

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Originally Posted by Bunkerman125

Sounds odd.

Sounds odd you got a 24 handicap (as a newbie)

Handicaps are not used by pro's or top amateurs (tourneys). At my club you can win 'best without handicap' and 'best against own handicap'. This way it is fun to compete, also for the lesser players.

When playing a friendly match against a much better player, there is no match at all without the handicap system. Using the handicapsystem makes it a challenge to both players.

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I had to guess a number to join. It was mandatory! (adds smiley etc.)

So, when someone with a higher handicap 'beats' someone else, even though they didn't actually beat them, it's not a serious win.

I have to say that my colleagues were pretty convinced they'd actually beaten the better golfers.

If I continue to play golf to a level that I'd actually like to win, rather than pretend I've won, what are my options? Can I play without a handicap system until I'm good enough to not have one?

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Originally Posted by Bunkerman125

So, when someone with a higher handicap 'beats' someone else, even though they didn't actually beat them, it's not a serious win.

I have to say that my colleagues were pretty convinced they'd actually beaten the better golfers.

See, that's kind of the problem I have with handicapped events - you may win, but you haven't proven you're the best golfer so you really don't have any justification to brag about it. (And make sure you tell your colleagues that.)

Originally Posted by Bunkerman125

If I continue to play golf to a level that I'd actually like to win, rather than pretend I've won, what are my options? Can I play without a handicap system until I'm good enough to not have one?

You can play socially without a handicap all you want. If you want to enter a tournament, you'll usually need a handicap. But sounds like you wouldn't want to be entering any tournaments until you're good enough to compete in the non-handicapped flight anyway.

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are you a troll?

The purpose of handicaps is so players of all skill levels can play a competitive game against each other.

It's hard to have a fair bet when you just started and a friend may have been playing for 20 years (although it is a bit more fun when you beat said friend in gross scoring)

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Originally Posted by meenman

are you a troll?

His post in the "favorite golfer" thread leads me to believe he's from France. Let's cut him some slack based on language differences.

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Originally Posted by sacm3bill

His post in the "favorite golfer" thread leads me to believe he's from France. Let's cut him some slack based on the language barrier.

I've just seen posts in the past from newbies who think a net win is cheap - I can you tell you in our tourneys, net and gross winnings spend the same.

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Originally Posted by meenman

Quote:

Originally Posted by sacm3bill

His post in the "favorite golfer" thread leads me to believe he's from France. Let's cut him some slack based on the language barrier.

I've just seen posts in the past from newbies who think a net win is cheap - I can you tell you in our tourneys, net and gross winnings spend the same.

They may spend the same, but don't get in my face if you just won with a gross 90 to my 85. On that I agree with the OP.

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