you didn’t lose a well-struck, well-planned drive in the mud or the lush, high
rough that the gushing skies gifted to Colorado this summer, well, you must not
have been playing golf!
When you couldn’t find it, what did you do? Go back to the
tee to play your third? Doubt it, unless it was a league or CGA competition.
Drop in the approximate area, take a two-shot penalty and
play your fourth? Doubt that too, even if the foursome behind you had hands on
No, you probably either dropped a ball and played on as if
you’d found the original, or played it as if you lost your ball in a penalty
area, dropping and taking a one-stroke penalty.
And then after the round you entered your score that way and
posted it to your record.
USGA Director of Handicapping and Outreach Lee Rainwater
says you may have meant well but broke the rules and possibly manipulated your
“A lot of that is probably in the spirit of the wishes of
the golf course or not wanting to hold up the folks behind and just take that
drop,” says Rainwater. “If you do that one time in one round and it wasn’t
otherwise a very good round of golf anyway, the impact is going to be pretty
much nothing because it’s going to fall out of the top eight scores (of your
last 20) that make up your Handicap Index.
“But if it was an otherwise good round of golf and you didn’t
proceed correctly by the rules and didn’t take the proper penalty strokes, then
you end up with a score differential that is too low, and if you do that on a
regular basis then the handicap index is going to be too low.
“As a result, playing in a more formal setting by the rules,
you’re going to start off behind a little bit because you haven’t played by the
The same thing happens when, in playing two against two with
friends, the other team has holed out for birdie and yours has a 12-foot par
putt. “That’s good,” they’ll say, and you pick up the ball and record a par.
Or when your friend gives you a mulligan when you hit it
into the trees on No. 10 and you post the score you had with the second ball?
Wrong and wrong.
The USGA is crystal clear on what scores a golfer should
post: every score from every round that is played and scored according to the
Rules of Golf. Rainwater calls these “acceptable scores” for handicap purposes.
The USGA doesn’t have statistics on what percentage of
golfers play strictly by the rules, or even say they do, but Rainwater
concedes, “We all know folks that are very serious about playing by the rules
and can’t stand the thought of a gimme or picking up before the ball is holed.
And then we also know the other golfers that are very lax about rules. But I
think by and large people are trying to play with integrity and play by the
Yes, by and large – but… In fun weekend rounds with friends,
gimmes, mulligans and questionable drops are common. And if we don’t post
scores for those rounds, described as “general golf” in the rules, pretty soon
we end up with a Handicap Index based only on tournament rounds.
Some Colorado leagues prefer to do their own handicapping
using only scores from their tournaments. The USGA allows that, but doesn’t
“We like a golfer to post all their scores because it is the
best representation of demonstrated ability,” Rainwater says. “It’s got all
performances and not just a selection of scores that are purely based on
Most of us don’t want an artificially reduced handicap,
known as a “vanity handicap,” or an artificially inflated one, which makes us a
“sandbagger.” But many of us simply don’t know how to score these fun rounds
First, get to know “net double bogey.”
In the old days, the USGA had a complicated system called
ESC that determined the maximum score a player can post on a hole based on the
player’s handicap. That’s been replaced by net double bogey, which represents
two over par plus any strokes your handicap gets you on a given hole.
Just check the “handicap” numbers on the scorecard, which
ranks holes from 1 to 18 in order of difficulty. If your handicap from the tees
you’re playing is 20, your net double bogey equals double bogey plus one on 16
holes and double bogey plus two on the two hardest holes.
“One of the great things about net double goes back to
casual play,” says Rainwater. “I’m playing Monday and I had a few holes just
hitting it left and left and right. At net double bogey, from a USGA
standpoint, we’re supportive of the golfer picking up. Ball in the pocket,
let’s try again next hole. In a casual round with friends, that’s supported,
and it’s not going to skew your Handicap Index in any way, shape or form.”
That’s also a way to maintain the integrity of your handicap
on holes where you played a mulligan or incorrectly dropped: Just write in net
double bogey – or do what one friend does and input 10 in the GHIN app and let
the app figure out net double bogey.
Second, if you’re using match play format in your fun round,
consider “most likely score.” And no, it does not mean that the 10-foot putt
your friend just gave you counts as one stroke.
Take a look at this graphic from the USGA for a more
accurate way to score holes you do not complete in match play.
“When a foursome is out and everyone is playing their own
ball, ‘most likely score’ is not intended for that purpose,” Rainwater says.
“But practicality comes in if you’re playing with your friends and you have a
2-foot putt and they say, all right, pick it up, that’s good.
“From a practicality standpoint, ‘most likely score’ is
fine. It’s just that you’re not going to find that language verbatim in the
rules of handicapping.”
One might argue that “most likely score” sometimes produces
a more accurate number than “net double bogey.” For example, when you couldn’t
find that tee shot that meandered off the fairway into the Colorado rough and
had to take a drop, maybe it’s a hole you usually par and would never make net
That’s a story for another day. The point today is, if
you’re playing golf and doing your best, you almost always can, and should,
open up your GHIN app or the web portal and post a score.
journalist Susan Fornoff has written about golf for publications including the
San Francisco Chronicle, ColoradoBiz magazine and her own GottaGoGolf.com. She
became a CGA member when she moved from Oakland, CA, to Littleton in 2016, and
ghost-writes as “Molly McMulligan,” the CGA’s on-course consultant on golf for
fun. Email her at email@example.com.