FREQUENTLY Asked Questions

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 Handicap Section. Questions below address the following:

  • Getting Started
  • Posting Scores
  • Understanding Your Handicap
  • Managing Your Handicap


Getting Started

Q. How can I get a Mass Golf/USGA Handicap?

A. 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 Mass Golf/USGA Handicap?

A. 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 a Mass Golf/USGA Handicap you will also receive a complimentary subscription to the MassGolfer magazine and a slew of other individual benefits.

If you are a current student-athlete at any MIAA high school, you can take advantage of the Mass Golf/MIAA Student Member program which assigns free Mass Golf/USGA Handicap indices to any student-athlete in the Bay State.

Posting Scores

Q.  What scores are acceptable for handicap posting purposes?

A.  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:

  • When at least seven holes are played (7-12 holes are posted as a 9-hole score; 13 or more are posted as an 18-hole score)
  • Scores on all courses with a valid Course Rating™ and Slope Rating®
  • Scores in all forms of competition: match play, stroke play, and team competitions where each player play their own ball
  • Scores made under The Rules of Golf
  • Scores played under the local rule of “preferred lies”
  • Scores made in an area observing an active season

Q. When is the active score posting season in Massachusetts?

A. The Mass Golf score posting season begins on April 1st and ends on November 14th.  Handicap index revisions take place on the 1st and 15th of the month throughout the entire year.

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.

Q. I just got back from vacation and would like to post my score, but there is no drop-down for other states. How do I post my score?

A. If you are posting scores via the My Mass Golf program (via the Mass Golf’s web site) or the the Mass Golf Mobile app, you can utilize a drop-down menu to post home and away scores for all courses in Massachusetts.

If you played a course outside of the Bay State, you simply need to post that score via the manual entry method, and the process is very simple.

Once you log into the Mass Golf Mobile app or utlize the My Mass Golf home program, for instance, you should select the “Manual Entry” option located at the top right of the screen.

Once you select that option, you will be given the opportunity to fill in the following fields – Course Name, Rating, Slope & ESC Score. That information is available on the scorecard. The final and most important step is – as always – to click the “Submit” button.

If you prefer to utilize a drop-down menu for out-of-state scores, you can also post scores at GHIN.com. The main GHIN site does have drop-down menus for all states since the program manages handicaps for all state golf associations.

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.  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. Can I post scores on the Internet?

A. Yes, but only if your club has specified that they want to offer this feature to their membership. You should ask your club professional or handicap chairman for more details, but the majority of clubs do now allow online score posting.

Q. Why are my scores not appearing on the GHIN.com web site?

A. When viewing your score record – whether that be at GHIN.com or any of the Mass Golf resources – you will see two tabs – “Recent Scores” and “Revision Scores”. If you just posted a score, that information will appear under the “Recent Scores” tab. The “Revision Scores” tab is updated when a revision is conducted by the USGA, on the 1st and 15th of each month.

Understanding My Handicap

 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 Mass Golf, may decide to override a reduction in certain cases.

Q. What do the different letter(s) mean next to my scores?

A. 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
P = Penalty
C = Combined Nines
T = Tournament

Q. What does the letter mean next to my Handicap/Handicap Index?

A. The following is a list of possible handicap index designations:
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. 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:
USGA Handicap Manual

Q. What is a Course Rating and Slope Rating?

A. 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.

Managing My Handicap

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.

Handicap Adjustment 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. How do I correct an erroneous score that has been posted to my handicap?

A. 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).

Q. What is Equitable Stroke Control and how do I use it?

A. 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: 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?

A: 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: Can a golf club’s Handicap Committee modify or change my USGA Handicap Index?

A: 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?

A: No, Rule 8-4 of the USGA Handicap System explains.

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.