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History of handicapping


Golf handicap history goes way back to the 1600's. Below you will find snippets from a four-part series published by the USGA in 2011 when it celebrated the centennial for the Handicap System which it innaugurated in 1911. Each snippet is followed by a link to the full article.


That the effectiveness of any handicap system lies with the players themselves has not changed since the first rudimentary attempts to equalize uneven skill levels, which no doubt took place soon after early golfers in Scotland recognized the competitive (and wagering) possibilities of the earliest game.

The earliest known written mention of golf handicapping can be traced to a diary kept during the 17th century by Thomas Kincaid, a medical student at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. Kincaid played at Bruntsfield Links and Leith Links, and wrote about many aspects of the game, including equipment and technique.

"Part I -- Roots of the System"

After the word “handicapping” took hold in the 1870s, references increased rapidly along with the growth in the numbers of golf courses and golfers in Great Britain and Ireland during the late 19th century. The popularity of the game made it increasingly difficult for club members to monitor the handicaps of fellow players, so many clubs began to adopt mathematical procedures for determining handicaps.

"Part II -- Increasing Demand"

By the dawn of the 20th century, the rapid growth of golf – on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean­ – outstripped the capabilities of existing handicapping methods, which lacked a centralized system that offered the same standards for all golfers. The biggest source of inequality was the lack of a uniform procedure for determining par, bogey or scratch scores.

"Part III -- USGA Leads The Way"

By the mid-1970s, the USGA Handicap System had grown and developed to oversee a nationwide network of courses and players. Despite the refinements over the decades, two related issues remained: the incompleteness of Course Ratings and the portability of handicaps.

The main issue was that Course Ratings, which are determined largely by length and are meant to reflect the skill of a scratch player, don’t really address how a course would play for the average player.

"Part IV -- The Rise Of The Slope System"