What Is a Handicap Hole on a Golf Course?

The United States Golf Association's handicap system is designed to create equitable playing conditions among players of different playing abilities. The system is applicable on any golf course once players have a legitimate handicap.

Determining Handicaps

Players should have legitimate handicaps from recognized clubs or clubs formed for social functions with at least nine members.

The handicap committee of the club must certify the handicaps.

Once the handicaps are determined, the difference in handicaps will permit the competitors to determine where strokes shall be awarded. The procedure applies to both men and women.

Handicap Holes

Each hole is assigned a level of difficulty from one to 18, so the most difficult hole is the No. 1 handicap hole, the second most difficult is No. 2 and so on up to 18. When playing a match, the golfer with the higher handicap receives handicap strokes equal to the difference between his handicap and that of his opponent. For example, a player with a handicap of 12 receives seven shots from a player with a handicap of five. The players then consult the course scorecard to determine the first seven handicap holes. The system is applicable to both the front and back nines. For example, a player receiving a shot on the first handicap hole may get it on the front nine and the second hole may fall on the back nine, and so on.

Getting Multiple Strokes

It is possible for a player to be awarded multiple strokes on a handicap hole. For example, if a player with a handicap of six is paired with a player with a handicap of 25, the difference is 19 strokes.

Therefore, the higher-handicap player would receives one stroke on 17 holes and two strokes on the hole on the course with the No. 1 handicap rating.

Equitable Handicap Use

The USGA recommends that the handicap committee review the course to determine where handicap strokes should be allocated for men and women. The USGA encourages the committee to use common sense in an effort to equalize the allocation of strokes to make them most available where a higher handicap player would need a stroke to be able to halve the hole in match-play competition.