Australian golf to adopt US handicap system

AUSTRALIA has officially moved to adopt the US golf handicap system.

The move was expected following the recent announcement of the adoption of the USGA Scratch Course Rating System, with which it largely goes hand in hand.

The Board of Golf Australia says it has resolved to open discussions with the United States Golf Association about adopting the USGA Handicap System in Australia.

This decision was made immediately following a State Forum at which each State Association expressed the view that the USGA Handicap System provides the best way forward for Australian golf.

Since Golf Australia’s formation in 2006, a unified handicapping system for men and women has been one of the organisation’s key objectives. GA says the USGA Handicap System will not only deliver a series of notable improvements to Australian handicapping, it will also finally realise this goal.

Golf Australia Chairman Anne Lenagan explained the challenge which Golf Australia has been debating for the past three years:

“Right from the outset, we knew we were going to have to commit money either to making overdue amendments to our current systems or on implementing a new system.

“We wont have to worry about re-inventing the wheel..”

“We weighed up continuing to invest in our unique method against implementing a system that’s widely in place around the world, and the arguments just kept coming down in favour of the USGA System.

“Once the system is in place, the significant ongoing research and development costs will be borne by the USGA. We won’t have to worry about re-inventing the wheel; we can dedicate those resources to working with the State Associations on developing other components of the game instead.

“It is important to note that we’re not there just yet. We still need to work a few things through with the USGA however given the significance of this and the degree of discussion it has generated, Golf Australia felt it was important to provide a clear update for the golfing community.

“Does Golf Australia want to adopt the USGA Handicap System? The answer is absolutely yes. Does Golf Australia want to make a few minor modifications to the system to have it better reflect the typical characteristics of Australian golf? Yes. Have other countries been able to secure similar modifications? Yes.

“Now we’ve decided exactly what we want, we can have the discussions with the USGA. We don’t anticipate these discussions turning up any significant issues, but there’s still an endpoint to be reached.

“This is something we are really excited about…”

“I’d like to add that this is something we’re really excited about. We’ve spent the last three years having a dialogue with not just State Associations, golf clubs and individual golfers, but also Golf Management Australia, Golf Link, the media, and any other party that’s shown a desire to have a discussion or express a view on the direction of handicapping in Australia.

“However, the time has come to make a choice and we’re delighted with where we’re heading.”

Golf Australia CEO Stephen Pitt, explained the three major differences that Australian golfers will experience with the new handicap system:

“Firstly, even if each course has an accurate Course Rating, non-expert players naturally require higher handicaps at difficult courses than they require at easier courses. This fact creates a fundamental problem with respect to the ‘portability’ of handicaps. The ‘Slope’ System provides a solution to this problem. A golfer using the USGA ‘Slope’ System converts their Handicap Index to a Course Handicap that is higher on more difficult courses, and lower on easier courses. For example, a player may play off 16 on an easy course and 21 on a difficult course.

Calculated from a rolling sample of your previous 20 scores

“Secondly, the USGA Handicap Index is calculated from a rolling sample of the player’s previous 20 scores. The calculation process involves averaging the best 10 of these 20 scores. The floating sample process is better-geared to producing a more contemporary handicap and one that better indicates a player’s potential than is achieved by the incremental adjustment method currently used in the Australian systems. Currently in Australia (where an outward increase can only occur in increments of 0.1), outward corrections take place at a rate that is far too slow and can be unfair on the player who has one ‘lucky’ round.

“And thirdly, the USGA system doesn’t have a daily rating component. We know that the difficulty of a specific golf course may vary due to changes in weather, climate, and course set-up. The problem has always been in arriving at a system which enjoys golf community-wide confidence and that will reliably produce ratings that are reflective of the actual difficulty of a golf course.

A lack of faith in the current system

“By its nature, there will always be unavoidable problems associated with using a statistical method to measure course difficulty. And our experience and continued feedback on CCR over a long period of time is that the benefits are unfortunately outweighed by the drawbacks. At the end of the day, the average golfer is still prone to lack faith in the concept of the daily course rating being determined by the performance of the field.

“And that doesn’t even touch on the small-field issue. For too long, women’s fields and country fields have been playing the role of the sacrificial lamb, and we just don’t think that’s an acceptable outcome.”

New Australian Golf Handicap System Begins on April 9, 2010 

Golf Handicap Changes Q & A Published March 19, 2010


  1. The USGA handicap system appears to be better than ours and it seems that Australia is going to adopt it. When will this actually happen?

  2. Frank,
    According to Golf Australia (GA), there will be an “incremental introduction” of components of the USGA handicap system.
    They say:
    “The three initial changes scheduled by GA for early introduction are: (note: changes A and B are scheduled to take effect on 1 February 2010; the commencement date for change C is yet to be confirmed but is likely to be mid-2010):

    A. Calculation of handicap – commence operation of the
    USGA’s ‘rolling sample’ method.
    B. Remove daily course rating component (ie CCR) of
    Australian Handicapping Systems.
    C. For handicapping, all eligible scores to be converted to
    (and processed as) Stableford scores.

    The best-known component of the USGA Handicap System is ‘Slope’. However, the introduction of Slope is dependant on all Australian golf courses having USGA Scratch AND Bogey ratings, and this is not scheduled to be achieved until the start of 2012. Nevertheless,
    GA is committed to incrementally introducing those components of the USGA Handicap System that are not reliant on the Course Rating roll-out. “

    I know teams are already being assembled in various areas and states to start work on rating individual courses.

  3. I am a lady golfer playing off a handicap of 12 ,from what I can work out with the new handicap system is that longer handicap golfers using a the new system using the stableford scoring instead of stroke it seems they might reduce more so than the us shorter markers .The only thing that is abit disappointing for myself because with my rounds of golf, I might only have good round maybe once or twice in 20 rounds and that is how I reduce my handicap .I think when the new system comes in,it looks like it will be harder for me to reduce.I hope I’m wrong because my main aim is to reduce my handicap for 2010

  4. Christine,
    The mission in life of a lot of us is reducing our handicaps and I suppose the real goals are genuine improvement and the big word – consistency.
    I don’t really see why the changes will have a greater affect on lower rather than higher handicappers. Don’t forget under the new system you also don’t automatically go up .1 every time you have a “bad” round and if you have 19 “bad” rounds currently your handicap will have increased by 1.9. – before it goes down again for your winning round.
    The architects of the new system say it does not “penalise” people for one good round so I suppose it is all about playing to your real handicap.
    Still, if you are on 12 and have 20 bad rounds (and play say twice a week) your handicap could increase dramatically in just a couple of months.
    I have heard it said a few times that people who play with Americans, (and others) who are under the same system, are often surprised at how low their handicaps are compared to their golfing proficiency.
    I don’t personally know the veracity of that and we will also have to wait to have the full associated new course rating system in place as well.

  5. In the old system, if a player did not submit a card, they still went out the 0.1 the same as if they had a “bad” round. Under and average system, how will it work if the card is not submitted at all?

  6. Tom,

    Golf Australia has given the following information regarding this. It covers people “cheating” by not submitting a card when suspected of having a good score.
    But as for people trying to maintain a low handicap by not submitting “bad” score cards I don’t know. This is probably one of the issues GA is still working on.

    “I’m the handicap administrator at my club. When the new regulations take effect, how should I handle
    Exactly as you currently do unless you suspect the player has had a good score. You will then have the option of
    using your computer system’s existing functionality to credit the player with the equivalent of one of their best scores.
    We will provide more information regarding this on 29 January.”



  7. Under the new system (with the first package to begin on April 9, 2010) people not handing in cards is covered in two ways:

    Most often, when a card is not returned, a player will be recorded a “No Score – Not Approved” and for handicapping purposes will be assigned with a score equal to his worst in the preceding 19 rounds. This covers people not returning bad or no scores for various reasons. It stops people trying to protect ”vanity” handicaps.

    However, if a committee believes a person is most likely to have had “good” score and is attempting to manipulate the system by not having their handicap reduced, they can be assigned a score equal to their best in the preceding 19 rounds.

    To answer another comment, the Golf Link system will automatically calculate the 20 most recently played rounds as of April 9 and will come back on line at 9am with the new handicaps.

  8. This is a stupid move. We had the best handicap system in the world and now we have wrecked it…I agree on the slope system for the course though..that is fine….

    I for one will love it. I can play to 2-3 quite easy, but every now and then have a 80….no big deal….I am thinking I can rort this system quite easily with a few NCRs and be off 8 in a matter of weeks….read the regualations…unless there is evidence of a good round..I get my worst differential…. it will be fantastic for those weeks of golf events when every bloke has inflated a handicap by 5 shots in preparation…some of us blokes play 4 times or more a week…especially when daily handicapping goes out the door and it is done fortnightly or is all up in the air…so who knows…it is a joke…

    Of course I would not do it…but it is possible…

    what people do not realise is that in the good ol US of A…they play maybe one comp round a month like we do…..but get this..they handicap on very round…often not putting out….counting mulligans…and plain old do not add the score up properly…and what is even better…they do not need a marker to enter a score for handicapping they do it themselves…thank goodness we have not gone that far yet…but I hear it is on the cards…go figure…

    How do I know this…I have played under both systems….something a lot of you probably have not.

  9. the comment on 0.1 back is valid too…

    I would like to see something like what I am subject to being on less than a 4 handicap….0.1 5 shots..

    what if for other grades this was introduced….and lets say…0.3 for >10 shots….0.4>15 shots…

    what I propose could be done on a daily basis….gives a good indication of form….it will not stop sand bagging…but will stop the whingers who complain they cannot get shots back quickly for the one the good round they have a year where they lose 4-5 shots in one hit…..funny how the complaints always happen near club championship time….

    It amazes me that such a simple fix actually exists…and yet we went with the USGA method….

    btw…one thing that has not come up is the fact that each member is paying not only a golflink levy….but now a USGA handicapping levy as this system is a licensed trademark I believe…..

  10. hmm..that last post left out the explanation of the current less than 4 handicap scenario…basically… you get 0.2 back for a round greater then 5 shots above your handicap (based on ccr of the day).

    with the slope system…here is some interesting news that was passed on to me..they have been calculating slope in Sydney lately and for some reason they seem to be getting the same result for each course….hmmmm…something is amiss…

  11. Richard,

    I’m shocked that Australia is adopting the American system. I played most of my life in Scotland, with a handicap system based on the Australian one. It works very well, with no drastic changes in handicap after a few weeks of bad play – only a 0.1 increase per round.

    I’ve been in Canada for the last 4 years, and have to live with this seriously flawed handicap system. You’re correct, it’s mickey mouse stuff here with mulligans, gimmes and even the requirement to post scores after a matchplay rounds!

    As far as I’m aware, a scratch golfer could return 20 scores of 90 and become an 18 handicapper – the system is ripe for sand baggers.

  12. Will your new handicap system be compatible with the New Zealand one.Will the scores made in Australia be used with the N.Z. system that I think is a USGA one.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here