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Do you remember in grade school when a teacher would ask you to define a word? Of course, you knew what the word meant, but actually providing a good working definition often proved very difficult.

Our golf students will frequently ask questions we may consider basic, but giving them an accurate answer that they can understand is a challenge in itself. Just like our teachers challenged us to come up with coherent definitions to words we already knew the meaning of, we must challenge ourselves to answer our students questions in a coherent manner, also. Below are some frequently asked questions, with simplified answers provided.

What is a handicap?
A golfer’s handicap is a measure of his current ability over an entire round of golf, signified by a number. The lower the number, the better the golfer is. Handicaps are based on a pre-determined difficulty rating of the courses the golfer has played. The maximum handicap for male golfers is 36; for females it’s 40.

Handicaps allow golfers of differing abilities to play a fair match, based upon the differences in their handicaps. In other words, a 20-handicapper must give a 30-handicapper 10 strokes before the match starts. In stroke play (total number of strokes for 18 holes), the person who shoots the lowest “net” score (total number of strokes minus handicap) wins the match.  Example: Player A (Aaron) has a 20 handicap and shoots a 90. Player B (Bob) has a 30 handicap and shoots a 98. Bob wins the match, since his net score of 68 (98 minus 30) is lower than Aaron’s net score of 70 (90 minus 20).

What does “course rating” mean?
“Course rating” is one of the two factors used in determining a course’s difficulty, measured in strokes and based on a scratch (0 handicap) player’s ability. The higher the number, the more difficult the course is.

A course rated 68.0 is judged to play seven strokes easier for a scratch golfer than a course rated 75.0. Course ratings are based mainly on the yardage of the course, and not on the course’s par. Par is the number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to take. In the above example, it is quite possible the course rated 68.0 has a par of 72 while the course rated 75.0 has a par of 70.

What does “slope rating” mean?
“Slope rating” does not tell you how hilly a course is. Instead, it is a numerical index of difficulty for an average (bogey) golfer, and is the other part of measuring the course’s difficulty rating. Unlike course rating, the slope rating does not directly reflect the number of strokes in difficulty, it’s merely a numerical measurement. The higher the slope number, the more difficult the course is for the bogey golfer.

For example, let’s say we have two different golf courses, both with course ratings of 72.0. However, one course has a slope rating of 110 while the other has a slope rating of 140. For the scratch golfer, both courses will play equal in difficulty, since the course ratings are the same. However, for the bogey golfer, the course with the slope rating of 140 will play much tougher than the one with the slope rating of 110.

On the scorecard, what do the handicap numbers mean?
The handicap numbers on the scorecard reflect the priority where the lower-handicap golfer must give the higher-handicap golfer strokes when playing a match play (hole-by-hole) match. For example, let’s say a 7-handicapper is playing a match against a 10-handicapper. Each hole is assigned a handicap number from 1-18. The 7-handicapper must give the 10-handicapper one stroke on three holes, where the handicap is listed at 1, 2 and 3.


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