It is highly likely – almost certain, in fact – that one of the most frequently asked questions golf professionals get about handicaps pertains to Section 3-5, which deals with allocation of strokes when players are competing from different sets of tees.  Section 3-5 can be difficult for clubs to understand and even more challenging to explain to members.

It’s worth noting that a Handicap Index is NOT established from a particular set of tees, it is simply a standardized benchmark of a golfer’s potential that helps establish a player’s Course Handicap for the particular course he or she plays.  If two golfers are playing a match against each other and are playing from a different set of tees, they are not playing the same golf course.

Let’s break this down into a real-world example to make it easier to understand how Section 3-5 works. For illustration purposes, we will use two friends, Jerry and George.  Jerry has a GHIN Handicap Index of 2.2 while George has a GHIN Handicap Index of 25.0.  As they look over the scorecard, Jerry decides to play from the back tees measuring 6,800 yards with a Slope Rating of 130. George decides to play from the forward tees (5,800 yards, Slope Rating of 115). With a much shorter course and a higher handicap, it appears that George has an unfair advantage.

This is where Section 3-5 comes in. To apply this rule to the match, you only need to collect a few pieces of information.  You will need:

  1. Each player’s Handicap Index
    1. George = 25.0
    2. Jerry = 2.2
  2. Slope Rating for the set of tees from which each golfer is playing
    1. George’s tees = 115
    2. Jerry’s tees = 130
  3. Course Rating for the set of tees from which each golfer is playing
    1. George’s tees = 67.0
    2. Jerry’s tees = 72.0

The rest of the process is simple math.

  1. Calculate each player’s Course Handicap for the tees they are playing
    1. Handicap Index  X  Slope Rating  /  113 = Course Handicap (Round to nearest whole number)
    2. Using this formula, George’s Course Handicap is 25 and Jerry’s is 3
    3. You may also use the USGA’s Course Handicap Calculator to automate this calculation.  You may calculate Course Handicaps on the GHIN Mobile App or on the USGA website by clicking HERE
  2. Determine the difference between the Course Ratings of the two sets of tees (round up to the nearest whole number)
         a. In this example, 72.0 – 67.0 = 5  
  3. Add the difference between the course ratings to the golfer playing from the higher-rated set of tees
    1. In this example, Jerry’s tees are rated higher than George’s
    2. Jerry’s Course Handicap (3) + Course Rating difference (5) = Jerry’s Handicap for this match is 8

Far too often, however, clubs choose not to follow Section 3-5 for fear of the backlash from whatever percentage of the field that sees its advantage cut down in a club event. Is that allowed? Well, according to Decision 3-5/2 of the USGA Handicap Manual, it is not. As stated in the manual:
“No. Not applying Section 3-5 of The USGA Handicap System when players are competing from different tees would be waiving a Rule of Golf, and the committee in charge of a competition does not have the authority to waive a Rule of Golf.”
So there you have it – use Section 3-5 properly, and the competitions will be equitable. Choose not to use Section 3-5, and you technically don’t have a competition at all.
A few other helpful tips:

> The TGA staff is available and always happy to assist with any questions or guidance about adjusting Course Handicaps or any other Handicapping questions. Contact Mary Harrison (214) 468-8942 or [email protected] and let us help!
> Section 3-5 of the USGA Handicap System Manual

> USGA Handicapping Minutes: Competing From Different Tees (Video)

> USGA Course Handicap Calculator