STILL ARGUING about handicaps on the 1st tee?

Actually, arguments on the course break out often when there is no full understanding of stroke advantage in handicap play. This happens too often especially on the holes rated most difficult (holes 1-7) because this is where golfers with higher handicap get 2-stroke benefit.

Using FULL HANDICAP is quite straight forward. A golfer with 18 handicap gets a stroke benefit on EVERY HOLE. Someone with 25 handicap gets 2 stokes on holes rated 1 – 7. In a skins game, a par gives the 25-handicapper an eagle (on a par 5 less 2 strokes).

Using STROKE DIFFERENTIAL gets a little bit more confusing even for our SUNNY guys! Why is that?  Somehow, they confuse individual play against foursome play. When four players are competing against each other, it is important to fully understand on which hole each player is awarded a stroke advantage. For example, on the highest rate hole (1) when 3 players (out of 4)  have a stroke advantage and when one of them gets PAR (and the other two get 1-over par), they often say “NO, IT’S A TIE because I get 4 strokes from you.” Are you confused?    

So who is correct? And how is that dispute resolved? In order to solve this dilemma, here is a pictorial illustration:



Let me explain. Using “fictitious” names and handicaps above, four friends decided to go out and play skins at Mayfair Lakes. Their handicaps are as follows:

ED – 17; ERNIE – 19; HARRY – 22; SUNNY 23

To demonstrate clearly, let us assume everyone shot PAR. As a test of accuracy, here are the results:

DIFFERENTIAL PLAY – You will note that ED (with 0 handicap) ends up with 71 (par); ERNIE gets 69 (2 better than ED); HARRY has 66 (5 better than ED); and SUNNY gets 65 (6 better than ED). Notice that all the holes are TIED except on hole #15 (6th most difficult) where SUNNY has the only hole advantage.

FULL HANDICAP PLAY – Notice that all the net scores are correctly adjusted for each player’s handicap.  HOWEVER, look at where the STROKE ADVANTAGE is recorded. Since SUNNY has the highest handicap (23), he gets a stroke on HOLE #9 (5th most difficult).


In the above case, the difference between the highest and lowest handicap player is only 6. Under differential play, the hole won is #15 (easier); whereas in full play, the hole won is #9 (harder). With full handicap play, the reverse happens. Tougher holes are won (because of 2 stroke advantage by the higher handicapper).


This is where some people are confused. Refer to the chart above. If on hole #3, ERNIE scores par and HARRY and SUNNY both shoot bogie (net 4), ERNIE wins the hole (with a net 3). It is not a tie even if ERNIE gives SUNNY and HARRY a stroke advantage. Why? Because in group play, the lowest (ZERO handicap) player, ED, gives all three a stroke advantage! TO BE ACCURATE in scoring, mark all the tough holes where each player gets a stroke advantage AGAINST the (ZERO handicap) golfer and deduct the corresponding stroke against the gross score on that hole. Then compare all 4 scores to determine if there is a TIE or if the hole is won. DO NOT COMPARE individual scores!

Hopefully, this will remove all misunderstanding and misconception about DIFFERENTIAL or FULL HANDICAP play!


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