Using the Golf Handicap in Match play

Do you know how to use your Golf Handicap to compete against your friends on your weekly rounds? Do you know what’s the logic behind it? The purpose of this post is to understand how to use it.

The Golf Handicap Index and Course Handicap

First, it is important to revisit that the intent of the USGA Handicap System is to measure the potential ability of the golfer (and not the average ability). Also, the Handicap Index measures your ability on the Average Golf Course. That’s why you should use the Course Handicap and not the Handicap Index. (we explain in more detail here)

The Course Handicap intent is to measure the potential ability of a player on a specific course (based on the difficulty of that course). Therefore, when competing against each other you should always use the Course Handicap and not the Handicap Index. In fact, you could compete against each other even if you are on different Golf courses. You can do that by using the Course Handicap and the Course Rating (you can do this at the Tours section of TheGrint).

To find your Course Handicap (and most importantly your friends’) go to our Course Handicap Tool. It will look like the image below after you enter the names and the course you will be playing.

So what’s the advantage we give to each other during our round?


Well, if we take the previous image for example you will notice that the Course Handicaps and the difference between them are as follows:

In simple terms:

  1. Holly has an advantage of 12 strokes over Jose, 9 strokes over Henry, and 3 strokes over Camil (because Jose is a 11 and Holly a 23, the difference between them is 12)
  2. Then, Camil has an advantage of 9 strokes over Jose, and 6 strokes over Henry
  3. Finally, Henry has an advantage of 3 strokes over Henry

And how do I apply that advantage in Match play?

If you are playing match play, then you will give as many strokes as determined before, distributed on each of the holes starting by the most difficult hole based on the hole Handicap shown on the scorecard. . That sounds complicated so let me explain starting with the easiest one, Henry Vs Jose:

In this case, there are 3 strokes advantage for Henry. So Henry will receive one shot advantage on the 3 most difficult holes on the course, based on the Scorecard Handicap. You can see on the picture below of the Biltmore Scorecard that the most 3 difficult holes are the 7th, 13th and 17th.

So if Jose scored a 5 on the 6th hole, and Henry a 5. There is no advantage so it is a tie for that hole.  However, if Jose has a 5 and Henry a 5 on the 7th hole. Henry has a one shot advantage on that hole so Henry would win the hole.

In cases where there are more than 18 stroke advantage, then you would start giving a 2 shot advantage on those holes that are more difficult. So, if the difference is 19 strokes, you will give 1 shot advantage on all holes except the most difficult one where you would give a 2 shot advantage.

I hope this gives you a better idea on how to use the Handicap Index to compete with each other. I tried to compress the information on the most important points, so if you have questions leave us a comment and I will be happy to discuss directly with you.

Enjoy your golf!

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  1. How useful is this information to generate and increase competitiveness among golf fans, thanks

  2. Zac Anthony

    The above explanation of match play scoring is plain wrong. The additional strokes are taken according to the match index. This index is virtually the same for all courses the world over although it can be modified if required. It is quite different from the Stroke index which rates the holes according to difficulty.

    • Thanks for your comments Zac.
      The intention of this post was to explain in simple terms how to use the Hole Handicaps shown on the scorecards to compete in match play.

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