History of Handicapping: The Growth of Handicapping

The Growth of “Handicapping”

Last month the USGA celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Handicap System. In light of that, they created a four-part series about the History of Handicapping. In honor of the system, and in reference to the USGA, we have also felt the need for honoring the system that helps keep our sport in check!

The Mathematics of Handicapping

The word “handicapping” became increasingly popular as the game of golf increased throughout the 19th century. The vast popularity of the game made it difficult for club members to monitor the handicaps of their fellow players. The clubs then had no choice but to adopt mathematical procedures for determining handicaps.

The most popular method was to take the average of a player’s best three scores for the year. The club would subtract the course’s scratch score from the average to determine the handicap. However, the method did not receive very much support. In fact, many protested against the lack of transparency of the system. Due to the fact that players were competing against unfamiliar golfers whose skills could not be easily verified, a call for a ruling body to administer a uniformed handicap system was made.

Par, Bogey and Scratch

“Par,” “bogey” and “scratch” are common terms that are familiar to any beginner or expert golfer.

Par: is the standard assigned to every hole, determined by its length, and is generally acknowledged as the number of strokes with which a scratch, or expert, player expects to complete the hole under normal conditions.

The term par derived from the financial market and indicated the normal price for a share of stock. According to the USGA, the first known reference to “par” in golf took place in 1870 in an article written by A.H. Doleman in a British magazine called Golf.

Bogey: is one stroke higher than par for the hole.

In the late 19th century, British golfers preferred the term “bogey” to indicate a perfect round, according to the USGA. The name slowly transferred to mean the score that a good player could be expected to make on a hole. Soon enough, players were measuring themselves against the bogey standard.

Scratch: A scratch golfer is a player who can play to a course handicap of zero, while a bogey golfer is a player who has a course handicap of 20 or higher on a standard course of difficulty.

The term scratch was first derived from cricket, boxing and racing in the 19th century and was the line that marked the standard starting point for many sport activities. In golf, the term scratch came to be the standard that expert players could expect to shoot on a given course.

Many new to golf find these terms and meanings to be easily confusing. But in the 1800’s all of these terms had similar meanings and were used to measure the difficulty of a course. Imagine that confusion!

As golf began to become more popular in the United States, par became the accepted standard for each hole for expert golfers. Bogey became known to represent one stroke over (worse than) par. At the turn of the 19th century, the accepted par values were mostly gauged by the distance of the hole.

This article was referenced by the USGA’s History of Handicapping


 By: Cassandra Gonzales

USGA-WSCGA Intern

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One thought on “History of Handicapping: The Growth of Handicapping

  1. Thank you so much for this article! It was so interesting that I immediately went to the USGA site to read the rest of the articles!!! What an amazing journey for this system!

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