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Are Golf Handicaps Misleading?

Recently I played at LaTour Golf Club. It had been a while since I had been down there and knew they were making some changes to the golf course. I didn't expect the changes I saw but it was those changes that brought up this topic in a conversation yesterday.

The changes LaTour Golf Club made to the golf course in a sense made the golf course easier. Many of the sand bunkers are now just grass bunkers. This should change the rating and slope of the golf course. If the golf course has not been re-rated with these changes then the rating and slope used for the course are incorrect when posting scores for handicap purposes or figuring your course handicap from a given tee.

First, let me explain a bit about what the rating and slope are. It is the evaluation of the playing difficulty for a scratch and bogey golfer under normal playing conditions. The golf course rating is a number that says what a scratch player will shoot from those tees. The slope is the difficulty of the golf course and is a number between 55 and 155, with the higher the number meaning the more difficult. Read more about Course Rating and Slop from the USGA - Click Here.

The current rating and slope for the back tees at LaTour is a rating of 74.1 and a slope of 129. Using my current handicap of 0.2 (scratch) and calculating my course handicap using The Grint App, my course handicap is a 2. This is correct for the current rating saying I should shoot 74 playing from the back tees. However, with the changes, the golf course has made this may no longer be correct. Making the golf course play easier with fewer sand bunkers may change the rating to 76.1 and lower the slope to 125. Of course, I am guessing and estimating but here is how it can mislead your handicap.

If you are playing golf at LaTour and posting scores for handicapping purposes you could be giving yourself a lower handicap than you may actually have. Let's say before the course changed its sand bunkers my average score was 75. Now I am a good bunker player but I can chip out of grass much better. Now that there are many grass bunkers let's say my average score drops to 72. If I post these scores with the current rating and slope it will falsely lower my handicap. If I go play English Turn where the rating is 75.0 with a slope of 142 where my course handicap would currently be 3 my new course handicap could become a 1 or a 2 based on the scores I turned in from a golf course with an incorrect rating.

The obvious answer to many would be to not post scores from LaTour golf club until it is re-rated or just not play there but that may not be the only golf course that has an improper rating. Any time a golf course makes changes like that it should be re-rated immediately by the Louisiana Golf Association.

This may not be the only way a handicap can be misleading. It is already a misconception that golfers think because they have a certain handicap that means they should shoot a certain score. A handicap is based on a golfer's potential and not their actual average score. A 10-handicap golfer will not shoot 10 over par every round and will most likely average 12 - 15 shots over par. In fact, if we use the rating and slop from LaTour I mentioned above a golfer with a 10 handicap index would have a course handicap of 14 from the back tees.

Another way this becomes misleading is when the golf courses move the tees on us. The USGA recommends that all tee markers be placed within 10 yards forward or back from the permanent yardage marker. When a golf course moves tee markers to another tee box more than 10 yards from their designated marker this changes how the golf course plays and any score posted is not done so accurately. However, this is not the only way tee markers make handicaps misleading. Many golfers will post a score and not input the score from the proper tee they played that day. I have personally seen many golfers post a score using the rating of the back tees when they played the member tees or where golfers have played back a tee and left the posting from the forward tee they normally play.

The good side of handicapping is that your handicap is only your best 10 out of your last 20 rounds. This is why it is based on your potential and not your actual. The bad side of this is that if you post better scores from a wrong rating you can be lowering your handicap but not actually lowering your scores.

Although we can not do anything about a golf course itself not being rated properly be aware of what tee you play and make sure when posting a score you do so from the correct tee you played. Do your best to make sure your handicap is as true and accurate as possible. I recommend The Grint for handicapping and it has the benefit of GPS, score, stat tracking, and some cool social features.

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