This post proposes two minor changes in the USGA Handicap System. The first change is editorial and its purpose is to clarify the procedure for adjusting Chapman Handicaps in accordance with Sec. 3.5 (Players Competing from Different Tees or Men and Women from the Same Tees). The correct adjustment procedure is now hidden within a labyrinth of subsections. To minimize any confusion, it is suggested that all Sec. 3-5 adjustment procedures be consolidated within Sec. 3-5.
The second change proposes to make the rounding procedure for Chapman handicaps consistent with the rounding procedure for foursome handicaps. This change will improve the equity of competition. Each proposed change is discussed in turn.
Clarifying the Sec. 3-5 Adjustment - There is some confusion about how the team handicap in a Chapman competition should be adjusted in accordance with Sec. 3-5. The confusion stems from the absence of explicit instruction in the USGA Handicap System on the correct adjustment procedure. In fact, a strict reading of Sec. 9-4 (Handicap Allowances) could lead the Committee to assign incorrect handicaps. Here is an example:
Step 1: Players must first determine Course Handicap (from the tees played).
Both players are 10 handicaps on the course with the higher Course Rating.
Step 2: Players should then apply handicap allowances for the appropriate format.
The allowance is 60 percent for the player with the lower Course Handicap and 40 percent for the player with the higher Course Handicap. The player with the lower Course Handicap would have a 6-handicap and the player with the higher Course Handicap would have a 4-handicap.
Step 3: Not applicable.
Step 4: If players are competing from different tees,…players must apply the adjustment for the difference in USGA Course Rating from the tees played.
Our players are competing from the tees with the longer course rating. The difference in course rating is two strokes. The handicap, adjusted by Sec. 3.5, for the player with the higher Course Handicap is 8 (6+2). The player with the lower Course Handicap would have an adjusted handicap of 6 (4+2.) The combined team handicap would be 14 (8+6).
Assigning a team handicap of 14, however, would be incorrect. Sec. 9-3ciii states that in a foursome competition, the side playing from the tees with the higher Course Rating should receive additional strokes equal to the difference in Course Ratings. The method used for adjusting handicaps in foursome competitions should also apply to Chapman competition. Both competitions have a target score equal to a Course Rating + Team Handicap. To equalize the competition when players are competing from different tees, the difference in Course Rating should be added to the handicap of the team playing the course with the higher Course Rating. In our example, the team’s handicap before the Sec. 3-5 adjustment is 10 (10 x .6 + 10 x .4). Adding the adjustment for the difference in Course Ratings, the team’s handicap should be 12.
The confusion can be cured with two editorial changes:
1. Change the heading of Sec. 9-3ciii to Foursome, Chapman, and Pinehurst Competitions Using Different Tees or Men and Women Using the Same Tees. Currently, Sec. 9-3ciii is solely for foursome competitions even though it is referred to in Sec. 9-4aix and Sec. 9-4bvii which are only for Chapman and Pinehurst competitions. It would also be helpful if a Chapman example was presented.
2. The Sec. 3.5 adjustment for foursome competition is now in Sec. 9.3 (Assignment of Strokes). The Sec. 3.5 adjustment, however, does not seem to have anything to do with the assignment of strokes. It would seem reasonable to take Sec. 9.3c (Players Competing from Different Tees or Men and Women from the Same Tees) and integrate it into Sec. 3.5 (Players Competing from Different Tees or Men and Women from the Same Tees). Sec. 9.3ci and Sec. 9.3ii can be eliminated since they are exact copies of Sec. 3.5a and Sec. 3.5b. A proposed Sec. 3.5c would be the revised Sec. 9-3ciii (Foursome, Chapman, and Pinehurst Competitions Using Different Tees or Men and Women Using the Same Tees) discussed above.
Placing all of the Sec. 3-5 adjustment procedures in Sec. 3.5 should reduce confusion and minimize the errors in assigning team handicaps.
Inconsistent and Inequitable Rounding Procedure - In foursome stroke play, the handicap allowance is 50 percent of the partners’ combined Course Handicap (Sec. 9-4bvi). In essence, the procedure is the same as taking 50 percent of each player’s handicap, adding the two together and then rounding to the nearest integer. For example, assume the team consists of a 9- and an 11- handicap. The team handicap would be:
Team Handicap = .5·9 + .5·11 = 4.5 + 5.5 = 10
If the handicap of each player was rounded first and then added together, the team handicap would be 11 (5 + 6). Under this procedure, a team with two odd-numbered handicaps would always get an undeserved stroke—e.g., two 11 handicaps would play as a 12, and two 12-handicaps would also play as a 12. Wisely, the USGA does not recommend rounding individual handicaps for computing foursome handicaps.
In Chapman, however, the USGA does recommend this procedure. The allowance is 60 percent of the lower Course Handicap and 40 percent of the higher Course Handicap. Though not explicitly stated, the examples in Sec. 9-4aix and Sec. 9-4bvii shows the handicaps of each player being rounded before added together. Taking the same players as in the example above, the Chapman handicap would be:
Player A = .6·9 = 5.4 rounded to 5
Player B = .4·11 = 4.4 round to 4
Team Handicap = 5 + 4 = 9
Had the same rounding procedure recommended for foursome competition been followed, the Chapman handicap would have been 9.8 rounded to 10.
The best measure of a team’s ability should be its unrounded handicap (i.e., a 9.8 handicap should be a 10-handicap and not a 9-handicap). Therefore both for equity and consistency reasons, the team handicap in Chapman should be rounded and not the handicaps of individual players.
To make this change, only the examples in Sec. 9-4aix and Sec. 9-4bvii need be changed. The example in Sec. 9-4bvii would be changed to:
Example: On side A-B, Player A has a Course Handicap of 10 and Player B a Course Handicap of 18. 60% of Player A’s Course Handicap is 6.0 (10 x 60%) and 40% of Player B’s Course Handicap is 7.2 (18 x 40%), so the total is 13.2 which is rounded to 13. Side A-B will receive 13 strokes.
Questions about Four-ball Stroke Play and Four-ball Match Play Allowances - In four-ball match play, players are assigned their full handicap (Sec 9-4aiii). In four-ball stroke play, men are assigned 90 percent of their course handicap (Sec. 9-4bii).
If high handicap teams have an edge in stroke play, why don’t they also have an edge in match play? And why does the USGA recommend a maximum difference in handicaps for four-ball stroke play, but not four-ball match play?
Strangely, the USGA is of no help. The USGA has not published any research on the equity of its handicap system when applied to singles matches. The USGA has reported summary results on the equity of multi-ball competitions (e.g., four-ball match four-ball-stroke play). This research, however, was completed by 1978. The research involved taking s from multi-ball events at 31 clubs. Soley plotted team scores versus team handicaps to determine appropriate allowances. Since this research was conducted before the implementation of the Slope Handicap System, Soley’s sample contained measurement errors. He considered all players of the same handicap to be equal, though Slope Theory maintains there would a difference in ability depending on the Slope Rating of the course. Slope Theory also holds that it is easier to have a net score under the Course Rating the higher the Slope Rating. Soley clearly did not make any adjustments to his data since Slope Ratings had not yet been invented. In any event, the USGA has little to contribute to the debate over the equity of its handicap system.
I have looked at your proposal and reviewed with Steve (Edmondson, Director of Handicap and Course Rating Administration) once he returned to the office. We both agree your suggested proposals have merit and will be reviewed at the next Handicap Procedure Committee meeting. Thank you for taking the time to review and contact us with this issue. If you have any additional concerns please feel free to reach out to us.
 This tenet of Slope Theory cannot be substantiated in theory or empirically. See “Far Hills, We Have a Problem,” www. ongolfhandicaps.blogspot.com.
 The Course Rating for a Chapman competition would not be the same as the Course Rating for an individual player. The USGA assumes the difference in Chapman Course Ratings between tees is the same as the difference in the individual Course Rating between tees.
 There appears to be a typographical error in Example A of Sec. 9-3iii. Currently it reads: “…The difference in Ratings is 2.4. After the Course Handicap of each team is determined, one-half of the difference between Ratings (1 stroke) is added to the Course Handicap of each team with the resulting figure rounded off to the nearest whole number…” I believe one-half the difference between Ratings is 1.2 strokes not 1 stroke.