UPDATE: Starting in January 2020 the USGA will adopt the World Handicap System, and a new formula for calculating handicaps will eliminate the need for a separate calculation for playing from different tees. See our post World Handicap System Coming January 1, 2020.
We’ve all heard the USGA‘s admonition that to improve the speed of play, and have more fun, we should move up a tee. In general this is a good idea, since most courses are too long anyway for the average golfer. However, it does have some unintended consequences, because the shorter hitters are all too willing to move up and the longer hitters prefer to stay back.
Consequently, you will most likely end up with players playing from different tees. But what do you do about the handicaps? The initial argument might be that the handicap system takes care of that because you have different handicaps for the different tees. Sounds good, but in fact the handicap difference between the two tees may not be sufficient to compensate for the difference in difficulty.
The USGA has written a position paper on this topic and, as you might expect, it is slightly complicated.
The Easy Answer
The bottom line of the position paper is that in order to compensate for the difference in difficulty between two sets of tees:
- You simply subtract the lower course rating from the higher course rating and round the result.
- For example a Blue Tee course rating of 73.2 – a White Tee course rating of 71.1 = 2.1, rounded to 2.
- The result (2) is added to the handicap of the golfer playing from the Blue Tees.
If you can accept this at face value then you are done and need not read any further. But, if you want to know why then read on – but be warned it does get a little complicated, though easier to read than the position paper.
The Gory Details
Each set of tees has a course rating and a slope which, using your handicap index, are used to determine your handicap for a given tee. Remember, the course rating is the score that a scratch golfer is most likely to have for a specific tee. And your handicap is what allows you to compete fairly against players of different skill levels. So if you play to your handicap, your net score will tie a scratch player playing to their handicap.
For example: let’s take 2 golfers, A and B with the exact same handicap index of 10.4. Which means that if they were playing from the same tees they would have the same handicap. Now let’s assume on this day they both shoot their handicap. Well, as you would expect they would end up with the same score and be tied. And they go home happy.
Now let’s see what happens when they play from different tees. Player A will play from the White Tees with a course rating of 71.1 and player B will play from the Blue Tees with a course rating of 73.2.
- Player A with a handicap index of 10.4, has a 12 handicap playing from the White Tees. And if he plays to his handicap his score would be an 83(Course Rating of 71.1+12 Handicap = 83 rounded).
- Player B, who also has an index of 10.4, has a 13 handicap playing from the Blue Tees. Now if player B also plays to his handicap then he would shoot an 86 (Course Rating of 73.2+13 Handicap = 86 rounded).
So even if both players play to their handicap Player A from the White Tees will always beat Player B playing from the Blue Tees. So to make things even the USGA tells us to:
- Subtract the lower course rating from the higher course rating and round the result.
- For our example the Blue Tee course rating of 73.2 – the White Tee course rating of 71.1 = 2.1, rounded to 2.
- The result (2) is added to Player B’s handicap of 13 giving him a 15 handicap.
So using the same scores Player A’s net score from the White Tees will be a 71 (83-12) and Player B’s net score will be a 71 (86-15). And voila, they are tied and go home happy.