GET INTO GOLF: Evening the playing field |

GET INTO GOLF: Evening the playing field

John Renslow
Golf Columnist
John Renslow
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

You have new friends in the golf club that you have joined. Thanks to your local PGA professional and some lessons, you are getting comfortable or maybe even a little cocky.

Maybe you’ve been pressured by your buddies into playing in your club’s annual invitational. Hey, your game is improving, but you’re not exactly sure that you’re ready for competition. Most of the guys that you play with are better than you anyway and the odds of you winning are slim and Slim left town. Heck, you could end up being paired with the club champion. Oh, what a joy that would be.

That is why this game has what we call a “Handicap.” It is a way of balancing the scales for players of different skill levels. For example, say Tiger Woods and I are going to play golf. Assuming that Tiger feels well that day, he is going to beat me like a drum.

A Handicap provides a more equitable condition for competition. It essentially takes something away from Tiger and gives it to me. Or, more accurately, takes something away (strokes) from me to level the playing field.

Support Local Journalism

If I am an 18 Handicap and shoot a score of 90, my next score is 72.

This is a very simple explanation for Stroke Play.

The question that came up during the week is about Match Play. How are strokes applied or reduced for a hole-by-hole match?

On each scorecard, in addition to the par and length listed for each hole, there is another number that at first glance isn’t in concert with everything else. They appear to be random numbers associated with each hole.

Yet, they are not random. Each hole is assigned a rank for the course handicap system.

In Stroke Play, one’s handicap strokes are simply subtracted from their total score. This, of course, does not work in Match Play. Match Play, being played hole-by-hole requires a method to level the playing field one hole at a time.

The easy way to describe this is a player with an 18 Course Handicap competing with a “0” or “Scratch” player. The 18 player would receive one stroke on each hole. If the 18 player has a score of 6 on a given hole and the scratch player a score of 5, the hole is tied.

However, most matches are not this tidy. What do we do if a 14 Course Handicap player has a match with a scratch player? We have to apply these 14 strokes to an 18-hole golf course.

This is the situation in which our ranked holes come into play. In this match, we would assign 14 strokes, one at a time, to the first 14 ranked handicap holes on the course. Starting with the so-called #1 Handicap hole, a stroke is “given.” Then, the #2 Handicap hole and so on. The remaining four holes would be played even.

A common misconception is that this ranking is achieved by identifying the most difficult hole, then the next, until the easiest hole is ranked. But this is not the case.

Each course arrives at this ranking based on the greater need for the higher handicaps.

As we know, the most difficult hole on the course will likely be a high score for the less skilled player. Yet, in many instances the skilled player may not play this hole well either. So, if they’re both making a score of 6 or 7 or what have you, there may not be a high ranked need for a stroke to be given.

These rankings are generally determined based on actual play on the course. Hundreds of scorecards are collected from two groups, a low-handicap group and a higher handicap group.

Each hole will then have an aggregate total for each group. With few exceptions, the hole with the greatest disparity becomes the #1 Handicap hole. This will alternate, front 9 and back 9 until the final, #18 handicap hole is ranked.

Bear with me, there is one more important piece. Remember that the #1 handicap hole is where the higher handicap of the two players needs the stroke. So, what if we have a 18 handicap player in a match with a 4 handicap player? They would not both receive a stroke on the first four holes, that would be defeating the purpose of the system.

We take the difference between the two players and apply that as the handicap. For this match, the 4 handicap player would play at scratch and the 18 handicap play would apply 14 shots. This would be one stroke per hole for the first 14 handicap holes.

If you’ve been playing for a while, this will likely answer some questions you may have thought were awkward to ask. If you are new to golf, this may be a lot of information to absorb, but you will be all the more prepared as you become more comfortable.

Familiarity with bowling or other sports with handicaps, will help you pick up on this pretty quickly. If not, just keep playing and don’t fear getting into a significant tournament or event.

You have now gained a great deal of information so you won’t get snowed by the same friend who also “doesn’t know” how to play poker.

John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Connect with needs and opportunities from

Get immediate access to organizations and people in our area that need your help or can provide help during the Coronavirus crisis.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User