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How to Allocate Handicap Strokes in Golf Match Play

Golf Handicap FAQ

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Two golfers playing match play

When two golfers are playing match play, the one with the lower handicap should play off scratch.

Dougal Waters

Say Player A and Player B are going head-to-head in match play. Player A has a course handicap of 14 and Player B has a course handicap of 10. Player A is going to get some strokes. But how many, and on which holes? In other words, how are strokes allocated in such a scenario?

Contrary to the practice of many golfers, Player A does not get strokes on the 14 highest-ranked handicap holes while Player B gets strokes on 10.

The proper way to allocate strokes in one-on-one match play is to subtract the lower handicap from the higher, then assign the difference to the weaker player. In our example, Player B's 10 is subtracted from Player A's 14, leaving 4. Player A now takes strokes on the top 4 handicap holes, while Player B plays from scratch.

Why is it done this way? I'll quote the USGA, from the decisions section of its Handicap System Manual:

"Handicap stroke holes are established to maximize the number of halved holes in a match by assigning strokes where player A most needs his four strokes in order to obtain a half on those holes. If both A and B receive strokes on those four holes, the better player (B) will have a greater chance of winning those holes. On holes allocated 14, 15, 16, and 17, A will receive strokes and B will not. A will have a greater chance of winning those "easier" holes. The result will be more holes won and lost than halved and the better player (B) will have an unfair advantage in the match."

Back to Golf Handicap FAQ index

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