Tag Archives: USGA Rules


USGA logoAllowable posting in several situations addressed in revisions to Handicap System.

In tandem with the 2016 updates to the Rules of Golf, the United States Golf Association has announced revisions to the USGA Handicap System™, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

“The USGA Handicap System is constantly evolving to ensure that the System works for the game today and tomorrow,” said Steven Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of Handicapping & Course Rating. “As we examine the game domestically and globally, these revisions support the integrity and reliability that millions of players around the world expect of this System. We continue to explore substantive changes as we work toward a World Handicap System in the years ahead.”

Six significant changes are among those noted in the upcoming edition, which will impact approximately 10 million golfers who hold a Handicap Index® issued throughout the U.S. and 32 licensed associations, federations and unions around the world. Those highlighted changes include:

  • Definition of a tournament score: Additional guidance is provided to Committees conducting competitions regarding the definition of a tournament score, placing greater emphasis on “significant events.” The definition excludes fundraising events and regular league play, in favor of designated competitions such as a member/guest or club championship, local amateur tournament or national qualifying and competition. (Section 2: Definitions)
  • Adjusting hole scores: A revised decision provides clarity for acceptable scores in limited situations where the player has not played a hole(s) under the Rules of Golf, but his or her score would be sufficiently accurate for handicap posting purposes. Three areas covered under the examples include: 1) where the Local Rule is not in effect, but a player chooses to use a Distance Measuring Device or preferred lies; 2) where a player does not wish to cause undue delay; or 3) where the situation is outside of the player’s control, such as an incorrectly marked golf course.  (Section 4: Adjusting Hole Scores)
  • Posting scores when a player is disqualified: To improve alignment with the Rules of Golf, the revised Handicap System is clearer about what scores are acceptable when a player is disqualified. In general, a score is acceptable for handicap purposes even when a player fails to hole out, or apply a Rule that affects the rights of another player. If the disqualification breach is determined to provide an advantage for the player, the score is deemed unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Anchoring and posting: A new reference concerns a player who anchors the club while making a stroke during a round and fails to apply the appropriate penalty or an adjusted hole score (Section 4-2). Since the score would not be reflected as playing under the Rules of Golf, it would be unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Playing alone and necessary peer review: To further support the key System premise of peer review, scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable for handicap purposes. This change underscores the importance of providing full and accurate information regarding a player’s potential scoring ability, and the ability of other players to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a posted score. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores)
  • Committee responsibilities: In an effort to assist the Handicap Committee with its responsibilities, this revision addresses a player with a temporary disability or permanent disability who has a Handicap Index that is no longer reflective of his/her current potential ability. In the particular instance cited, the Committee will no longer assign a local handicap (denoted with the letter “L” for local use only), but instead will issue a (temporary) modified Handicap Index (denoted by the letter “M”). This change supports the portability of a disabled player’s handicap, so that it can be used outside the player’s home club. (Section 8-4c: Handicap Index Adjustment by Handicap Committee)

An overview of these changes with more detailed information will be provided at usga.org before the end of 2015. The complete USGA Handicap System Manual will be posted to the same site, and it will be available for purchase at USGAshop.com, on Jan. 1, 2016.

About the USGA Handicap System™
The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. A Handicap Index, represented as a number taken to one decimal place (such as 10.4), indicates a player’s potential, and can be adjusted as the player’s game changes. It is useful for all forms of play.

A Handicap Index reflects the player’s potential because it is based upon the best Handicap Differentials posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds. The Handicap Index is portable from course to course, as well as from one set of tees to another set of tees on the same course, as a player can convert a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap™ based on the Slope Rating® of the tees played.

For more information: www.usga.org/handicapping.html

Mr. X answers a question from “Can’t Count”

In his running advice column, Mr. X, answers a question from “Can’t Count”.

Q: Dear Mr. X,

I was in a club tournament this past week and my match play competitor called a penalty on me when he discovered I had more than 14 clubs in my bag (an extra lob wedge I’d put in my bag to practice with the day before). I hadn’t hit the club during the round, but now understand it was a rules violation to have more than 14 clubs.

I was penalized two holes in match play, which is the maximum number of holes I can be penalized. It still sits wrong with me that my competitor conveniently noticed my violation on the 3rd hole of the match, but I can’t say for sure he purposely waited until the 3rd hole to call the penalty.

I understand the rule now, but my question comes from trying to understand why 14 clubs, and where did the number come from anyway? Everyone seems to understand the rule, but has no idea where or why the number is 14.


Can’t Count


A: Can’t Count,

It sounds like you are well aware of your mistake and rules violation. Rule 4-4 of the USGA Rules of Golf covers the 14-club limit and the penalties assessed in either Match or Stroke Play.

From your description, it sounds like you and your fellow competitor followed the rules correctly with your penalty of a maximum of two holes lost in your match for the violation. I do understand your suspicion that your competitor “conveniently” noticed on the third hole of the match. Was it gamesmanship or bad sportsmanship? Who knows, but I would let that one slide off your back and just chalk the whole thing up to a good lesson learned instead of putting your competitor in a bad light for calling the violation.

It’s better, in Mr. X’s opinion, to just recognize you made a mistake, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.

As far as why and how the 14-club maximum originated, it dates back to a time where golf was played with hickory shafts and involves the great Bobby Jones and Britain’s, T.A. “Tony” Torrance.

LocalGolfer’s writer, Keith Cook, covered this topic in an article entitled: Why We Yell “Fore” & Other Golf Traditions in January 2014. The following section on “Why are there 14-clubs in the bag?” is taken from that article.

Why are there 14 clubs in a bag?

R&A Clubhouse-St. Andrews

The official rule for a maximum of 14-clubs in a player’s bag was put in place by the USGA in 1938 and the R&A in 1939. But why 14-clubs and not another number?

Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones

The origin of the number is a legendary story, and one that gives Bobby Jones and T.A. “Tony” Torrance credit for settling the debate. Most are familiar with Bobby Jones and his place in the game. However, not as well known, T.A. “Tony” Torrance, a dentist by profession, was a well-respected golfer in the United Kingdom and a person of great influence within the R&A.

T.A. "Tony" Torrance
T.A. “Tony” Torrance

The story’s origin dates back to the 1936 Walker Cup, held at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. After a round, Bobby Jones and Tony Torrance were discussing the numbers of clubs that different players carried. There was no limit to the number at the time, and it was common to see 20 or more clubs in a player’s bag. The issue had been in debate for a number of years, but to no avail because no one could come up with an agreed upon number. During the discussions, I’m sure over a drink or two, Jones shared that he carried 16 clubs in his bag during 1930, the year he won the Grand Slam. Torrance then shared, he had only carried 12 clubs in the Amateur Championship in 1935 at Royal Lytham. “Let’s split the difference,” one or the other of them says, “and we’ll make it 14.” The story sounds far fetched, but is given some credence because Tony Torrance was about to become Chairman of the R&A Rules Committee, and Bobby Jones also had significant influence within the USGA. It should be noted, the 14-club rule was first introduced and established by the USGA in 1938, and in 1939, when Tony Torrance was appointed as the R&A Rules Committee chairman, the R&A adopted 14 as the fixed number as well.

To Read More From Mr. X, Click Here

To ask Mr. X a question, please either leave your question/s in the comment section of the column, or email Mr. X at askmrx@localgolfer.com

If you prefer, questions can be asked anonymously through email. Just let Mr. X know you want to keep all names private to protect the innocent.

Mr. X Answers A Question From “High Handicapper”

Golfer picking up ballIn his running advice column, Mr. X answers a question from “High Handicapper”.

Q: Dear Mr. X,

What is the deal with writing down a lower score according to your handicap? I played with a guy who picked up his ball and didn’t finish out the hole in a skins game. He was just off the green and laying 7. As far away as he was, he probably would have taken three more shots to finish out. When I asked him about it, he said that according to his handicap, he couldn’t take more than a 7 on a hole. What’s the deal?  Aren’t you supposed to count all strokes, and finish out the hole? I just joined a men’s club and I am an 18 handicap. Can I do that, too?


High Handicapper

A: High Handicapper,

What you witnessed (in incorrect fashion by the way) is called Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) under the USGA Handicap System. And yes, you can – and should – use ESC to manage your handicap.

However, it always surprises Mr. X how many golfers use and understand ESC, but don’t know the proper procedures of how to drop from a hazard, hit a provisional ball, or other common rules. The reason is simple though because ESC lowers your score after a round and the other examples add strokes to your score and so are not as advantageous to learn.

What you saw is common and take some comfort in knowing that most golfers incorrectly apply and use ESC. Most golfers do exactly what your competitor did; they stop and pick up their ball and say things like “that’s the highest I can get.” Also, take comfort in knowing a 7 (or higher) on a hole is probably not going to win a skin.

To fully answer your question, the actual application and procedures of Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) are covered under the USGA Handicap System Manual and also referenced in Section 4, Handicap FAQs (image).

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC), USGA Handicap System Manual
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC), USGA Handicap System Manual

So as you see, ESC is correctly applied AFTER the round … not during the round … not when you’re having a bad hole, etc. However, what you saw it in action, with your competitor picking up his ball, is much more common by golfers than the actual correct application of ESC.

Many times this is done by golfers due to a misunderstanding of how ESC is supposed to work. It’s also even fair to say that sometimes golf leagues have maximums as well (double bogey max, double par max) to save time. Check and see what the maximum score rules (if any) are of your new league. It’s great to hear you’ve joined a league for the first time and now since you understand ESC, you can correctly apply it to your handicap (after the round) and help others understand it as well.

Thank you for your question.

1429477010_portrait-16-256To Read More From Mr. X, Click Here

To ask Mr. X a question, please either leave your question/s in the comment section of the column, or email Mr. X at askmrx@localgolfer.com

If you prefer, questions can be asked anonymously through email. Just let Mr. X know you want to keep all names private to protect the innocent.