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A Golf Course Handicap History Lesson – The Cliff’s Notes Version

Not for everyone… but I know there are some golfers out there that are merely just curious.  So here goes!

If you want to read the full historical transcript, I’m going to first direct you over to the USGA’s Course Rating History post.

A Golf Course Handicap History Lesson - The Cliff's Notes Version

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes style history in digestible bits:

  • Origin’s of course rating:  The British Isles… just like golf!  The first course rating system ever created was by the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) around 1900.  Yep, ladies first!  Their system of handicapping was generally reliable from club to club.
  • Par:  This word comes from stocks as in financial stocks.  Think of it financially as in a stock can be more or less than its normal par figure.  Two British golfers had a conversation in 1870 regarding what score it would take to win and the response was that perfect play should produce a specific score.  In competition Young Tom Morris finished with two strokes over that “par” and thus the term had stuck.
  • Bogey:  Remember using “ghost runners” when playing neighborhood baseball or kickball?  Same goes for golf.  Back in the late 1800’s a “ghost opponent” named Colonel Bogey was created.  Ol’ Bogey was a low handicap golfer who usually ended up one over par on each long hole but perfect par on regular holes.
  • The USGA Course Rating System:  The USGA established their rating system in 1911 and simultaneously created the first USGA Handicap Committee.  The first par ratings were based on the play of the U.S. Amateur champion of the time Jerome Travers and thus became the acceptable way to determine this rating.  The national amateur champ had a big role to fill! Official USGA Course Ratings were eventually determined by regional golf associations like today.  …think the SCGA.  They handle the Course Ratings for all courses in Southern California.
  • Course Rating Modifications:  Over the years modifications were made to how ratings were established.  This included the “fractional par rating method” which depended on yardage, course difficulty, and experience.  When they say “experience” they mean from the perspective of a scratch golfer or expert golfer.  In 1967 course ratings were no longer rounded to nearest whole number and remained with decimals.
  • Slope System:  In 1978 sloping was suggested and by 1981 the two number course rating system was born.  The first state to adopt the Slope System was Colorado in 1982.
  • Handicap Research Team (HRT):  This team was founded in 1979 and was developed to research and refine the many aspects of the overall handicapping procedure.
  • USGA Committee:  This committee had humble beginnings as the USGA Course Rating Subcommittee in 1987  with primary functions of refining the manual and making decisions on course rating problem situations.

It may be 2016 and all golf associates in the United States that rate courses are licensed to the USGA Course Rating System but since 1998 there are approximately 40 foreign countries who also are licensed under the same guidelines.  …maybe someday in our near future the entire golfing world will be under the same system.  Until then, you can enjoy golfing in many countries all over the world using the same standards.


Here’s a short video about Course Rating from Doug Sullivan, the SCGA’s Director of Course Rating:


Again, to read the full history per the USGA, head on over to their page HERE.



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2 thoughts on “A Golf Course Handicap History Lesson – The Cliff’s Notes Version

  1. blank

    Stunning shots and people on them. Legends…

  2. blank

    I`mwriting job about this topic, so I have to thank you, you`ve helped me!

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