Player Services: Handicapping FAQs

The following is a list of questions and answers that are most frequently asked regarding the handicapping system. For more information on handicapping issues, please visit the USGA's official Handicap Section at

Q. How can I get an MGA/USGA Handicap?
It's quite simple. To start, you must be a member of a golf club. The USGA® defines a golf club as an organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (including a Handicap Committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review, and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System™ (See Compliance Checklist, Section 8-2m).

A golf club must be licensed by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System. Once a player joins a golf club, the player should post adjusted gross scores. When the player posts five adjusted gross scores, and a revision date passes, the club will issue the player a Handicap Index.

Q. Why should I have an established MGA/USGA Handicap?
Golf is popular, in large part, because of its unique and equitable system of handicapping. The purpose of the Handicap System is to make the game more enjoyable by allowing everyone from the scratch golfer to the novice compete on an equitable basis. When participating in any kind of competition an established, up-to-date handicap is essential and will make the game more enjoyable for all participating. With an MGA/USGA Handicap you will also receive a complimentary subscription to the MassGolfer magazine.

Q. What does a course handicap represent?
A.  A Course Handicap represents the number of strokes needed to play to the level of a scratch golfer—or the Course Rating™ of a particular set of tees. A Course Handicap is expressed as a whole number (e.g. 12).

A Course Handicap is determined by using charts located at the golf course where the round is to be played. In addition, a Course Handicap can be calculated by these methods:

Course Handicap Calculator:

The USGA Handicap System Reference Guide:

Q. Can I post scores on the Internet?
Yes, but only if your club has specified that they want to offer this feature to their membership. Ask your club professional or handicap chairman for more details. Scores posted on the Internet will be noted on your handicap card by an "I". For a complete listing of MGA Member Clubs that currently allow Internet score posting, please visit the MGA web site.

Q.  How do I post a 9-hole score to my "18-hole" Handicap Index?
A.  Each nine holes on a golf course has its own Course Rating™ and Slope Rating®. Make sure to post the nine-hole score with the appropriate nine-hole Course Rating and Slope Rating. Two nine-hole scores will eventually be combined to create an 18-hole score and be designated with the letter "C."

Acceptable nine-hole scores posted at the golf club where a golfer is issued a Handicap Index will be combined with other nine-hole scores posted at that club, regardless of score type. The combining of nine-hole scores may be any combination of nine (e.g. a front-nine middle tee score combined with a front-nine back tee score). Nine-hole scores posted at a golf club where a golfer does not receive a Handicap Index will be combined with other nine-hole scores posted in the same manner. Please visit Section 5-2d of the USGA Handicap System manual for further reference.

Q. Why are my scores not appearing on the web site?
The web site is only updated every two weeks during the season according to the revision schedule. Your scores will appear with the next revision.

Q: Is it acceptable for a club or an authorized golf association to provide access to a player's complete scoring record to club handicap chairs and committees in charge of competitions?
Yes. A club or an association is encouraged to provide the complete scoring record information to these parties in that this is the essence of Peer Review.

Q.  What scores are acceptable for handicap posting purposes?
Almost all scores are acceptable because of the basic premise of the USGA Handicap System™ which states that every player will try to make the best score at each hole in every round, regardless of where the round is played, and that the player will post every acceptable round for peer review. Therefore, all of the following are acceptable scores:

Q. How should a handicap index be adjusted for players competing from different tees?
A.  The answer is two foldMen vs. Men or Women vs. Women; Women vs. Men
Different tees usually have different ratings. Because a USGA Course Rating reflects  
The probable score of a scratch golfer, the higher-rated course is more difficult, and    
the player playing from that set of tees with the higher USGA Course Rating receives
additional stroke(s) equal to the difference between each USGA Course Rating, with
.5 or greater rounded upward.   The additional stroke(s) are added to the Course    
Handicap of the player playing from the higher-rated set of tees.

Example 1: If men playing from the middle tees where the men’s USGA Course Rating is 70.3 compete against men playing from the back tees where the men’s USGA Course Rating is 72.6, the men playing from the back tees will add two strokes (72.6-70.3= 2.5 rounded to 3) to their Course Handicap.

Example 2: If women playing from the forward tees from which the women’s USGA Course Rating is 73.4 compete against men playing from the middle tees from which the men’s USGA Course Rating is 70.9, the women will add three strokes (73.4-70.9 = 2.5 rounded to 3) to their course handicap.

HandicapAdjustment for Men vs. Women playing from the same Tees:

Men and women playing from the same set of tees will have different ratings. Because the women’s USGA Course Rating usually will be higher, women receive additional stroke(s) equal to the difference between ratings, with .5 or greater rounded upward.

Example:  If women playing from the middle tees from which the women’s USGA Course Rating is 77.3 compete against men playing from the middle tees from which the men’s USGA Course Rating is 70.9, the women will add six strokes ( 77.3 – 70.9 = 6.4 rounded to 6) to their Course Handicap.

Q: In Section 5-2, posted scores are to be "readily available." Section 6-3 requires that a list of scoring records (including a Handicap Index list) must be in a "prominent location." What satisfies these requirements?
A: "Readily available" means easy access to this information. If the sole place where posted scores, scoring records, and a Handicap Index list are kept is in a home, behind a golf shop counter, or in some other area where others cannot access this information easily, these requirements are not being satisfied. If all members of a golf club have Internet access, maintaining a club Web site via the Internet with a distinctive Web site address that displays posted scores, scoring records, and a Handicap Index list will meet these requirements. Using a member’s identification number as the sole means of accessing that member;s information is not considered making records readily available; some additional means, such as a name search feature, must be offered.

Q. Can I post scores during the winter?
A. Not locally. No rounds played in Massachusetts during the off season may be counted towards your handicap index. Any rounds played in an area that is in season (i.e. Florida) must, according to Rule 6-2, be posted. The player has a few options when posting the score.

First, the player may be able to post as a guest on the club's computer if the two clubs use the same computation service or through the IGN network if both clubs use a handicap service that subscribes to the IGN. Second, if the player's home club has approved Internet posting, a score may be posted back to the home club via the Internet. Third, the player can keep a copy of the score and the ratings and post when the player returns to the home course no later than the start of the active season.

Also remember that new for the 2008 season... Bay State golfers who venture to warmer climates during the winter season can now post scores during the winter months and see a change in their handicap index. The first " off season" revision will take place on January 1 and will be followed by additional revisions on February 5 and March 4. A fourth revision date will take place on December 2 to round out the 17-revision season.

Q: What does the designation "R" indicate next to a USGA Handicap Index?
A: The "R" signifies that a "reduction" has been placed on your Handicap Index. The USGA has a section in its Handicap System that automatically reduces the Handicap Indexes of players who consistently score better in competitions than in informal play. To be used, the procedure requires that a player have two or more eligible tournament scores and a minimum of two tournament score differentials which are at least three strokes better than the player's current USGA Handicap Index.

What most players don't realize is that an eligible tournament score under Section 10-3 of the USGA Handicap System Manual is a tournament score made within the current year or a tournament score contained within the player's last 20 scores. All tournament scores posted will stay on a scoring record for a year from the date that they were shot. A tournament score may stay on a record longer if in a year it is still a part of the most recent twenty scores. The Handicap Committee at the golfer's club, not the MGA, may decide to override a reduction in certain cases.

Q: Can a golf club's Handicap Committee modify or change my USGA Handicap Index?
Yes, Rule 8-4/b of the USGA Handicap System states the following: The Handicap Committee has the responsibility of making certain that a player's USGA Handicap Index reflects his/her potential scoring ability. There are five areas in which a Handicap Committee may modify a player's USGA Handicap Index. (i) Improving faster than the system can react. (ii) Numerous away scores change Handicap Index (iii) Temporary Disability (iv) Failure to post scores (v) Player manipulates round

Q: A club wishes to adopt a rule by which there would be a limit on the number of strokes a player's USGA Handicap Index would be allowed to increase from one revision to the next. Is the club allowed to adopt such a regulation?
No, Rule 8-4 of the USGA Handicap System explains.

Q. How do I correct an erroneous score that has been posted to my handicap?
To correct or delete incorrect scores in your record, contact the handicap chairperson at your club. He/she can make the corrections (this also applies to scores posted via the Internet). After your club has made the correction, it must transmit (send) it to the GHIN server. Once this has been done, your handicap score history will be corrected. The scoring record which appears online at will not be updated until the next Handicap Revision. However, if you click on "View 20 Most Recent Scores" on, the change will be reflected immediately.

Q.  How do I post a score if a hole is not played or not played under the principles of The Rules of Golf?"
A.  For handicap purposes, the player must record a score of par plus any handicap strokes normally received for the holes not played or holes not played in accordance with The Rules of Golf. These scores should have an “X” preceding the number. For example, player A is not able to play holes 16, 17, and 18 due to darkness. Player A has a Course Handicap™ of 12 and holes 16, 17, 18 are a par 5, 3, 4, and are allocated as the number 4, 16, 10 handicap holes, respectively. Therefore, player A will record an x-6, x-3, x-5 on holes 16, 17, and 18, respectively.
Please visit Section 4-2 of the USGA Handicap System manual for further reference.

Q. Why can't I find myself on
There could be several reasons for this; 1) if you have registered for a handicap recently, you will not appear online until the web site is updated with the next revision or 2) your GHIN number has been inactivated or deleted. Please check with your handicap chairperson or golf professional to verify your status.

Q. What is Equitable Stroke Control and how do I use it?
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is a downward adjustment of an individual hole score based on handicap to ensure that one bad hole does not have a disproportionate effect on a golfers handicap. This procedure is used for handicap score posting only and is not to be used in any type of competition. Please review the Equitable Stroke Control table which shows the adjustment to be made for golfers of different abilities.

Q. Can I post scores when I play out-of-state courses?
Yes. Most states use the GHIN system so you can post a score the same way you would at an away club in Massachusetts. The MGA is also a participant in the International Golf Network (IGN) program. This is a network that allows golf associations that have USGA all over the world to share handicap information no matter what system they use.

Q. What is a Course Rating and Slope Rating?
A USGA Course Rating is based on the score a scratch golfer should shoot from a certain set of tees. The more difficult the course for the scratch golfer, the higher the Course Rating. Not many golfers play at scratch or better. That is why the USGA created Slope Rating. It defines a golf course's degree of difficulty for the average golfer. The higher the Slope Rating, the more difficult the average golfer will find the course. Slope Rating makes your handicap 'portable.' You will get more strokes on a course with a higher Slope than on your home course. On a course with a lower Slope Rating, you will receive fewer strokes.

Q. What do the different letter(s) mean next to my scores?
The letter(s) immediately following each adjusted score indicate(s) specific aspects of a score within a player’s scoring record. The following is a list of possible score types:
A = Away
I = Internet
AI = Away Internet
P = Penalty
C = Combined Nines
T = Tournament
TI = Tournament Internet
CI = Combined Internet Scores

Q. What does the letter mean next to my Handicap/Handicap Index?
The following is a list of possible handicap index designations:
J = Local Nine-hole Handicap for player's home course.
L = Local Handicap for player's home course.
M = Modified Index (Index has been changed by the golfer's handicap committee.
N = Nine-hole USGA Handicap Index
R = Reduction (Reduced automatically by GHIN program for exceptional tournament play)

Q. Where can I view more frequently asked questions about handicapping?
The web site provides a comprehensive list of questions regarding the handicapping program at