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An official handicap is required in order to enter many golf competitions, including the Charity Events listed on this site. Information below has been sourced from golf’s governing body Golf Australia, and other sources by ausgolf Editor Selwyn Berg.
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What is a Handicap?
How do Players get a Handicap?
Australian Handicapping Calculation
Equitable Stroke Control
Why all the fuss?

Latest Update - Slope made Simple

Look up SLOPE and other course details via our comprehensive COURSE SEARCH

On 23 January 2014 Golf Australia will implement the final two items into the Australian Handicapping System – daily scratch ratings and ‘slope’.

Players are familiar with terms such as AMCR (Australian Mens Course Rating) which may differ slightly from Par and reflects the score that a scratch golfer (zero handicap) is likely to return.

This Scratch Rating is the most fundamental measure of the difficulty of a course, but note that it only considers the scratch player.

As course difficulty increases for the scratch player, it usually increases more so for less talented golfers.

The USGA determined that on an average course, when they plotted the net scores returned against player handicaps, that the slope of the graph was not 1 or 100% – in fact it was 113% and the bogey marker, on average, returned a score that was 21* over SR. In other words, if the SR was 72 then the Bogey Rating was 93.

113/21 = 5.381, so for any course Slope = (Bogey Rating – Scratch Rating) x 5.381

The reason for using slope is to give all golfers the same statistical chance of playing to their handicap.

Golf Australia have sent out their raters to assess, for every set of tees on every golf course in Australia, both a Bogey Rating and a Scratch Rating, and hence calculate the Slope. The results are here

On 23 Jan, every Australian golfer will be issued with a GA Handicap which will be their handicap on a 113 Slope course (even though GA have already determined that the average Australian course will have a slope of 120 or 121)

Your playing handicap will be Daily Handicap = GA Handicap x (Slope of Course Played)/113

ie you receive more shots on a higher slope course.

Also from 23 Jan, handicap adjustments on GolfLink will be based on a calculateDaily Scratch Rating which will be statistically determined by comparing the scores returned on the day with historical scores taking into account field size, handicaps, type of competition and gender of players (more detail below).

Finally, on 23 Jan GA will intoduce the Australian version of Equitable Stroke Control - all competition scores will be converted to Stableford for handicap purposes (not for determining comp results). In other words, very high stroke numbers on any holes will not enter into handicap adjustments.

Editor's Comments

*Note that 113% of 18 = 20.3 and not 21, and even taking the 0.96 handicap factor into account doesn’t quite explain the maths. No one in Australia seems to understand this fully, and I was referred to the USGA. 

One may also ponder why the raters went out to assess Scratch and Bogey Ratings when the GolfLink computer should have been able to tell us what the Scratch Rating was, and how much extra assistance the bogey man needed on every course in the country in order to have the same reasonable chance as the scratch man of playing to his handicap.

Then there's the concept of the "Bogey golfer" - in my experience there are two stereotypical bogey men (and every shade in between) - one player is the strong young man who belts the ball out of sight but is not very accurate; then there's the senior golfer who once played off single figures but has now lost length (he's closer to the USGA definition). In reality, the Bogey Rating on any course may well be very different for these two golfers. On a very long, wide course the senior golfer needs more strokes; but on a shorter, tight course with lots of tree-lined fairways he needs fewer compared with the less accurate youth.

One may even go so far as to postulate that the 'ideal' course would have a slope of around 100(%) - it would provide all players the same chance of playing to their handicap - a course that could challenge the best, whilst still being fun for lesser golfers, something Mackenzie tried to achieve (and came close at Royal Melbourne).

In fact, when the Slope Ratings are examined one can see that the better (highly ranked) courses often have modest slope ratings whilst extremely high slopes occur on some more questionable designs, and very low slopes occur on courses that provide little challenge to a scratch golfer.

Once this is more generally recognised it should allay earlier concerns that Australian courses would be 'tricked up' in order to achieve high (macho) slopes.

What is a Handicap?
How do Players get a Handicap?
Australian Handicapping Calculation
Equitable Stroke Control
Why all the fuss?

What is a Handicap?

A handicap is a number assigned to a player which reflects their ability or relative ability. Handicaps allow players to compete on an equal footing with others. The lower the handicap, the better the player is relative to someone with a higher handicap.

Most competitions are played as net competitions and the aim is to achieve net par (actually it's an adjusted par for the course known as the Course Scratch Rating, but more on that later). Net par is when a player’s handicap is deducted from their gross score. So, in a competition on an 18-hole course with a par of 70, a player with a handicap of 6 must have 76 strokes to achieve net par, while a player with a handicap of 20 can have 90 strokes to achieve the same result.

The most common misconception made by a new player is that because he often shoots 30 over par his handicap will be 30. Your handicap is based on your BETTER scores, and only 93% of the difference vs par is given to you. The actual formula used is here. And even then very bad holes (eg a 10) will be discounted - see Equitable Stroke Control

How do Players get a Handicap?

There are two types of handicaps - an official Golf Australia Handicap and a Golf Australia casual handicap. A casual handicap prevents players from playing in official competitions, but it can be used to play against friends and in social events. It also allows players to track their improvement.

An official Golf Australia Handicap can only be obtained by joining a golf club*. Many competitions will require players to have an official Golf Australia Handicap to be eligible to compete.

Both official and casual handicaps are calculated in the same manner, and a certain number of rounds (3) of either 9-holes or 18-holes must be played before a handicap is allocated. With either handicap the player is allocated a GOLF Link Number, which is a number unique to them. GOLF Link is Australia’s handicap system software, and by logging on to players can monitor their scores and view their most up-to-date handicap.

*This does NOT need to be a traditional 'private' Golf Club. Golf Australia have permitted various affiliated bodies to issue their official GOLFLink handicaps.

If you want a handicap, see Joining a Club


GOLFLink was a world-first computerised handicapping system developed by GA's predecessor, the AGU in the 1990s. The AGU operated from 1898 until it merged with Womens Golf to form GA in 2006. Together with its State/Territory bodies, GA represents 445,000 amateur golfers belonging to 1530 Golf Clubs, and sits alongside bodies representing the Pros, Superintendents, Managers and Architects.

When GOLFLink was first introduced it contained two key characteristics that set it apart from other world handicapping systems:

  1. It relied on a Calculated Course Rating to determine how difficult the course was on the day, and upon which handicap adjustment was made
  2. It utilised a 'swipe' card that enabled a player to access his handicap from any GOLFLink terminal in Australia

Australian Handicapping Calculation

Equitable Stroke Control
Why all the fuss?



In a tacit admission that a dis-service had been done to Australia's golfers when our Aussie CCR (Calculated Course Rating) was discarded in an attempt (now abandoned) to fully align us with the USGA handicap system, Golf Australia has announced that they will introduce a DSR (Daily Scratch Rating) - this is anticipated to be operational by March 2013.

How will the new DSR (Daily Scratch Rating) system work?

"Under the new DSR system, we will assess a current course rating for you each day. This rating will be appropriate to the conditions you actually experienced. GOLF Link will do all of the work and publish the DSR immediately after the scores are processed."

In other words, its another form of CCR with some more intricate maths involved (now that we have the computerised GolfLink system). Whereas CCR was determined (basically) by taking the 15th percentile score (ie assuming that 15% of players played to their mark or better, with 85% worse), the new DSR is more thorough:

"The formulas used to assess the DSR are complex as our statisticians have advised that simple formula options are not efficient enough to produce reliable ratings – this was the problem with CCR.

Through GOLF Link, the DSR system will establish each of the following:
The average net score for a field.••
The average handicap of a field.••
The field size.••
The type of competition (Stableford, Par, or Stroke).••
The gender of the competitors.••

Once it has established each of these factors, GOLF Linkwill compare the ACTUAL average net score on the day with theaverage net score GOLF Link EXPECTS for this precise fieldcomposition. (The EXPECTED average is determined byGOLF Link from millions of prior rounds.)GOLF Link will then determine the DSR by using the differencebetween what ACTUALLY happened on the day and what wasEXPECTED to happen.

"Will the DSR system mean more work for clubs?

No. GOLF Link will do all of the work and provide the DSRimmediately after the scores are processed.

Why do we need course ratings?

In order to process a player’s score for handicapping,we need to know how hard the golf course was. If we don’t,the score itself is largely meaningless and is unusable.For example, 82 on a very hard golf course is a much betterachievement than 82 on a very easy golf course.For this reason, every set of tees on every golf course hasa Scratch Rating assessed for it by a group of State/TerritoryAssociation experts.

What is the benefit of changing the course rating fromday to day?

Course ratings currently stay the same day after day, ignoringall daily shifts in conditions. We all know that the difficulty of a golfcourse can vary substantially from day to day. This means that onmany days the Scratch Rating will not currently reflectthe course difficulty.In a computerised world, clubs and golfers are becomingincreasingly expectant of improved service standards. Utilisingtechnology to provide ratings more closely aligned to the difficultyof a course is an innovation that will increasingly be seen as abasic requirement.With the vast majority of our golfers playing in coastal citiesthat are prone to variable weather conditions, it is particularlyimportant for Australia to have a handicap system that issufficiently flexible to cater for daily movements in course difficulty.If we don’t, we end up processing scores against inaccuratecourse ratings, and that makes handicaps inaccurate.DSR will lead to more stable and comparable handicaps thanif the vagaries of fluctuations in conditions from day to day andseason to season prevail.

Can the DSR strategy be summarised in one paragraph?

DSR will provide golfers with a rating that is a reflection of theconditions they played under. The complex formulas will determinewhether the difficulty presented at the time by the playing conditionswas normal or different to normal.

Changes from September 2011 - BEST 8 CARDS TO COUNT

Well it didn’t take too long after Golf Australia’s move to the USGA method of handicap calculation in April 2010 for the outcry to commence.
Exactly as predicted by GA’s own statistician, ‘better’ golfers were no longer winning their Club competitions.
Because the new system gave everyone a handicap that pretty much reflected their AVERAGE score, it became much more likely that one of the more erratic ‘high markers’ who were capable perhaps of playing 8 or 10 shots better (or worse) than their average would win, rather than the steady single figure player who usually only deviated by 2 or 4 shots – and on a ‘day out’ might finish 6 up.

So, what did GA do? Return, perhaps to the best handicapping system in the world – using the Aussie-invented CCR – the system under which a player's handicap was much more representative of his ABILITY because it was reduced by perhaps 1 or 2 shots when he bettered it, but was only ever increased by 0.1 shot when he played poorly?

No, GA has now adopted a modification of the US system – making us unique in the world once again, but without all the benefits of our previous Aussie system.

Your exact handicap will be the average of the best 8 differentials of your 20 most recent valid scores, the result of which is multiplied by 0.93
(for definitions see below)

Additionally, your handicap is not permitted to go up by more than 4 shots from the best handicap you held over any rolling 12 months, and Golflink will limit any score that goes into a player's record at no more than 40 over the CR for men, 50 over for women.

The new calculation, statistically, restores some equity between high and low markers and addresses many of the concerns that were ringing out loud and clear from the clubs.

But since the original purpose of the change was to bring us into line with the world that uses the USGA system, I simply ask “why this?”


"From 9 April 2010 the method used to calculate your Australian Men's or Women's Handicap can be explained in one sentence:

Your exact handicap will be the average of the best 10 differentials (differential = gross score - AMCR/AWCR) of your 20 most recent valid scores, the result of which is multiplied by 0.96.” GolfLink.

AMCR = Australian Men’s Course Rating

AWCR = Australian Women’s Course Rating

When looking at GolfLink, ‘differential’ is the handicap you actually ‘played to’ for the round (taking into account the Course Rating which may be slightly higher or lower than the course Par).

The 0.96 factor is described as ‘a bonus for excellence’ so that higher handicap players calculate a handicap that is reduced below their average ‘played to’ more so than better (low hcp) golfers.

i.e 0.96 x 27 = 25.9 (plays off 26, effectively losing a shot)   whereas  0.96 x 4 = 3.8( still plays off 4)>

“This is a much more straight forward process than the current incremental calculation system, and is the first step of several on the way to full adoption of the USGA's handicap system.” Claims Golf Australia.

Yes, it’s simple to use, but let me confess up front. I’m a huge fan of the old Australian handicapping system, whereby Calculated Course Rating was used to compare each player’s score with the scores of all the other golfers on that course on that day, thereby taking into account the relative difficulty of both course and weather conditions – thus a player who won his club competition with a nett 73 (ie did NOT even better his handicap) on a dreadful wet and windy day would still expect his handicap to be reduced, because everyone else played worse resulting in a CCR of perhaps 75. In effect, he DID play better than his handicap after allowing for course and weather.

Under the new system, the Course Rating does not take into account extreme conditions on the day, difficult pin placements, nor the performance of other players. Any time you score higher than the Course Rating (or earn fewer than 36 points) you will be deemed to have played worse than your handicap (even though you may win the daily event).

Conversely, on an easy day, when you score 37 Stableford points, but fail to win a ball because the winner had 48 and the CCR was well below the course Par your old handicap may have increased by 0.1. Under the new system, you have beaten your handicap and your card will most likely be amongst your ‘best ten’, tending to reduce your handicap.

I thought our “world first” Calculated Course Rating system was fairer, as it used the overall performance of the field to determine how well you played, thus allowing for both course toughness and playing conditions (weather etc) on the day.

The second, and probably the more important thing I don’t like about the new calculation method is that it allows more rapid increases in handicap, and, overall, more volatility.

Proponents of the new system have criticized the old method which quickly reduced the handicap of a player who had a ‘day out’ with a great score. I’m not sure that was too much of a problem. Anyone who wins their club comp with 45 points is clearly able to play (albeit once off) 9 or so shots better than their old handicap – so an immediate reduction (probably by about 3) seems reasonable. Enjoy your win, and then if you simply cannot repeat the performance over the next 30 rounds you will be back where you started (increase hcp by 0.1 per round x 30 rounds).

With the new system, and especially if handicaps are only to be recalculated once per fortnight, the player who produces a brilliant 45 points is free to play off the same handicap for several more rounds – and depending upon what old scores drop out of his ‘most recent 20’ his mark may even INCREASE!!!

I reckon it’s ripe for manipulation – go away to a golf school, practice, and then come home and win several events in a row before your handicap catches up with you.

Alternatively, note where your good scores are amongst your 20 most recent, and ensure that before you enter that important event they are getting pretty old – ideally you want all your really good scores in the 16th to 20th positions. Then all you need do is go and play 5 rounds on some tough tracks (Moonah Links?) in rough weather – and even without ‘handbraking’ (ie deliberately playing below ability) you’re almost certain to see quite a jump in your calculated handicap. You’ll now be able to play from this new mark for several rounds – ideal to win that 4-day trip away with your mates!

Even without any deliberate attempt at manipulation, we’re already seeing the effects of this volatility.

Because higher handicappers are almost always more erratic in their scores than low markers, we’re seeing the former 18 marker suddenly get a calculated handicap of 25 just because of the way a few good rounds drop out of his recent 20 and are replaced by poor rounds. The same will almost never happen for a 2 marker.

The new system will be improved when the “US Slope” factor is introduced, perhaps in about 12 months time. Slope will be a more rigorous evaluation of course difficulty than the current CR system, and will include a factor for prevailing weather (but not daily weather). When sufficient Australian courses have been rated for “slope”, then your handicap will be adjusted according to a published table so that you obtain more shots on a high slope course, and fewer on a low slope course. (Slope can range from 55 to 155, with 113 being considered a course of average difficulty.) So on a local/easy track, your handicap for the day may be, say, a 12, while on a monster it could be a 17 or 18.

Finally, Golf Australia intends to introduce an amended version of the US “Equitable Stroke Control” which sets a maximum score per hole when calculating your handicap and is used to minimise the effects of “blowout holes” on your handicap.

Currently, in a stroke round, any hole on which you score more than a nett 2-over par is reduced to a nett double bogey (5 for a par 3, 7 for a par 5) – ie the lowest score for which you receive zero Stableford points. If your handicap is 18, then this would be 6 on a par 3 and 8 on a par 5.

With ESC, all your strokes count in the daily round (assuming it is stroke play). But only the adjusted scores (max nett double bogey) are used to calculate your ‘played to’ differential and thus count towards your handicap.

In order to eliminate the very high stroke scores, players will be asked to mark a Stableford score that will be submitted to the GolfLink computer.

More on “Slope”
Whilst Course Rating is based on how difficult each hole is for a “scratch” golfer, the USGA uses “slope” to adjust for a “bogey” golfer.
A scratch golfer is defined by the USGA as a male golfer who hits his drive 250 yards (230m) and can reach a 470-yard (430m) hole in two; or a female golfer who hits her drives 210 yards (190m) and can reach a 400-yard(360m) hole in two (and, of course, plays to scratch).

A bogey golfer, in this use, is defined by the USGA as a male golfer with a handicap index of 17.5 to 22.4, who hits his drives 200 yards (180m) and can reach a 370-yard (340m) hole in two; and a female golfer with a handicap index of 21.5 to 26.4, who hits her drives 150 yards (135m) and can reach a 280-yard (250m) hole in two.

Course raters will visit a course and consider ‘effective playing length’ and ‘obstacle stroke values’ – i.e. the actual length adjusted for upslope or downslope, prevailing wind, type of grass and course altitude; and the difficulty of hazards, narrowness of fairways, length of rough, OOB, speed and contour of greens etc.

The raters will consider this for a scratch golfer and a bogey golfer. Slope, then, is a number representing the relative difficulty of a course for bogey golfers compared to scratch golfers. The calculation that determines slope is: bogey course rating minus scratch course rating x 5.381 for men or 4.24 for women.

For a typical bogey golfer with handicap index of 21, an average course will have a slope of 5.381 x 21 = 113.

If this golfer plays a tougher course, say slope = 145 (max slope is 155 and min is 55) his course handicap will be calculated as 21 x 145/113 = 27. He gets 6 extra shots.

For a low handicap golfer, say handicap index = 3 for a 113 slope course, his course handicap on the tough track will be 3 x 145/113 = 3.8 or 4. He gets one extra shot.

That’s why it’s called ‘slope’ – it's the slope of the adjustment graph for a weaker player’s handicap as he tackles more difficult courses, in order that he has the same chance of playing to his mark as a scratch golfer - and the more strokes he needs, the higher the slope.


GA have cited the 'simplicity' of the new handicap calculations (of course the complexity of course ratings and slope are an entirely different matter) and the objective (now abandoned) of bringing us into line with the USGA.

There was another agenda, and some hint of it is given by the September 2011 acknowledgement that the statisticians had predicted that by moving away from the 'old Aussie' system, better players would less often win Club events. In other words, the original system gave 'better' players a slight advantage - a handicap that was a little generous.

And what was wrong with that? Even the USGA system allows a 'bonus for excellence' (see above).

Well, at the really 'elite' level, that advantage might have given a top Aussie amateur a mark of +2 whereas his US counterpart, returning the identical set of 20 cards might have been placed on +4 for Club competitions.

Now, for NATIONAL amateur competitions, of course, all players play off 'scratch' (ie handicaps do not apply) BUT the National event organisers limit their fields to the most qualified applicants by handicap.

Let's blame it all on Victorian golfer Andrew Martin, who won the Australian Amateur played at Glenelg and Royal Adelaide GCs in 2004 when he defeated fellow Victorian Jarrod Lyle 2 & 1 in the final. Young Andrew was not amongst the 288 'most qualified' (by handicap) applicants for The Amateur Championship held at St Andrews that year...and so the lobbying started for a change in the way all Australian handicaps were calculated.

Now, gentle reader, do you ask "Why could not our National body use the USGA formula to award 'qualifying handicaps' - which are not even used in the event - to International aspirants, and leave the vast majority of Aussie Club golfers with their Aussie system that was functioning very well"?

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