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Handicapping – The basics….

Handicapping – The basics….

Want to learn about golf’s unique handicap system and what makes it so special? This guide aims to take you through all the basics and hopefully explains everything you might need to know. If by the end you have any additional questions then please get in touch by emailing

What is a handicap?

  • A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability.
  • It enables players of varying skill levels to compete against each other on a more level playing field.
  • The maximum handicap is 28 for men and 36 for women.
  • Your exact handicap is calculated to one decimal place (e.g. 15.7).
  • Your playing handicap is rounded to a whole number (e.g. 16)
  • Simply put, the lower the handicap of a player, the better the player is.

How do I get a handicap?

  • To get a handicap, you need to be a member of a golf club that is affiliated to Scottish Golf (which is just about every course in Scotland, but it’s best to double check!).
  • You need to play 54 holes of golf, marked on a scorecard, to receive your first handicap.
  • The scorecards submitted can be from rounds of 9 or 18 holes.
  • Each scorecard must be marked and signed by a person acceptable to the Handicap Committee (usually another member who already has a handicap).
  • The submitted scores will be assessed by the Handicap Committee, along with any other information relating to your previous playing history. The Handicap Committee will then allocate you a handicap appropriate to your skill level!

How do handicaps change?

  • Scores for handicap purposes are usually submitted in Club Competitions, but golfers also have the option to return ‘Supplementary Scores’ in a more relaxed manner outwith competition play.
  • Each score you return in a qualifying competition (or Supplementary Score) will determine any adjustment to your handicap.
  • In simple terms, if a player plays better than their handicap level, their handicap will be reduced or ‘cut’. If a player plays worse than their handicap level their handicap will increase. If the player plays to the level of their handicap there will be no change.

As a player what are the key responsibilities with regards my handicap?

The player must:

  • If you are a member of more than one golf club, you have to nominate one of them as your ‘Home Club’. That club will be responsible for administering your handicap. Any other club(s) are classed as your Away Club(s).
  • You must report all qualifying competition scores played away at other golf courses to your Home Club.
  • You also need to ensure that all handicap reductions are applied to your handicap before playing in future competitions.

What are the different Handicap Categories?

  • Category 1 – Handicaps of 5 and below
  • Category 2 – Handicaps 6 to 12
  • Category 3 – Handicaps 13 to 20
  • Category 4 – Handicaps 21 to 28
  • Category 5 – Handicaps 29 to 36
  • Category 6 – Handicaps 37 to 54

What is a disability golf handicap?

  • A disability golf handicap is allotted to a person with a recognised disability who is unable to play to a handicap of 28 (men) or 36 (women).

What is ‘Competition Handicap’ status?

  • Any player who has returned three or more qualifying competition scores per year is considered to have a live ‘Competition Handicap’ status. These handicaps are annotated with a ‘c’.
  • If a player does not return three scorecards per year their handicap will lose its ‘Competition Status’.

What is the effect on a player if they do not have ‘Competition Handicap’ status?

  • The player will be unable to enter competitions in which a handicap is required for entry. This includes official club stroke play and match play competitions and any Qualifying Competitions at other golf clubs.
  • A player may still play in a club stroke play competition for the purposes of submitting a scorecard for handicap allotment purposes.
  • The player’s handicap may still be used for social golf.

What is the Standard Scratch Score (SSS)?

  • The SSS is a measure of the playing difficulty of a course.
  • It is the score a scratch golfer is expected to return in competition play, given normal mid-season course and weather conditions.

What is the Competition Scratch Score (CSS)?

  • Competition Scratch Score (CSS) is calculated for each qualifying competition based on the performance of the participating field relative to the SSS of the course.
  • The CSS takes into account the influence of the weather and course conditions on the scoring ability of the field.
  • Examples include wind, soft wet fairways, awkward pin positions etc.
  • If the scoring on competition day is generally high due to say bad weather conditions, the CSS calculation is likely to increase above the level of the SSS.
  • The CSS can vary from SSS-1 to SSS+3, Reduction Only.

What is a Stableford Nett Double Bogey Adjustment?

  • The Stableford/Nett Double Bogey Adjustment is the capping of individual hole scores at a maximum equivalent nett double bogey.
  • The purpose of the Stableford/Nett double bogey adjustment is to place a limit on the maximum score that can be recorded at any hole in order to make your handicap more representative of your potential ability.
  • It allows you, where you do not complete a hole(s), to continue recording your score for handicapping purposes.

What is CONGU?

  • CONGU is the Council of National Golf Unions and is made up of representatives from each of the GB&I Home Unions, a representative from the R&A and the Ladies’ Golf Union and an elected Chairman.
  • CONGU sets out the rules and regulations of the handicapping system including the responsibilities of each involved party and guidance on how to administer the system.
  • CONGU release an updated handicapping system on a four year cycle.

What is my Scottish Golf ID Number?

  • Your Scottish Golf ID Number is a unique lifetime ID that recognises you as a member of an affiliated golf club for handicapping and membership purposes.
  • If you choose to transfer golf clubs, you must take your ID with you. This unique ID will remain with you for your full golfing career.
  • If you play in Open Competitions, you require your Scottish Golf ID so that your score is automatically returned to your Home Club.
  • Your Scottish Golf ID is also used to access the online Members Clubhouse, where you can access all the benefits of being a golf club member in Scotland.
  • It is a 10 digit number and is printed on the back of your Scottish Golf Membership Card.
  • If you do not know your Scottish Golf ID Number, please contact your Home Club and they will be able to provide you with this.

What do I need to do if I move golf clubs?

  • You must notify your current golf club that you are ceasing membership and ensure that they remove you from their club handicapping software.
  • You must provide your new golf club with your Scottish Golf ID Number. This unique ID will remain with you for your full golfing career regardless of how many times you move club.
  • Once you are added to the handicapping software at your new club, a new Scottish Golf Membership Card will be sent to your new club for collection within approximately 2 weeks.