A new system of handicapping for golf

by Tim Swartz


The official handicap system of the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) is very similar to the handicap system of the United States Golf Association (USGA). Although both of these systems have changed over time, the greatest recent change was based on the introduction of course slope ratings in the early 1980's. Although the existing handicap systems are complex and have been carefully studied, the systems do not take statistical theory into account. The discipline of statistics is the study of variation, and golf scores are clearly variable. In 2000, the Handicap Research Committee of the RCGA was formed and challenged with the task of developing a new system of handicapping. This paper outlines the proposed system. The proposed system continues to make use of existing course ratings and uses statistical theory to drive the methodology. In this paper, we demonstrate that the proposed system has several advantages over the existing systems including fairness and improved interpretability. The proposed system is supported by both theory and data analyses.


Tim Swartz is a Full Professor in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia. Apart from participation and enjoyment of sport, his interests include statistical computing, Bayesian applications and inference.

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