The CONGU® Unified Handicapping System - Section 1

Table of Contents
Section 1 - Introduction
Section 2 - Competitions
Section 3 - General Play
Section 4 - Memberships
Section 5 - Handicap Suspension

Section 1 - Introduction

What is a Handicap in Golf?

A handicap is a measure of standard of golf that typically represents the number of strokes per round a player takes more than that which a 'scratch' (zero handicapped) golfer is considered likely to score(*). For gents, there is a maximum handicap of 28. For Ladies, the maximum is 36.
(*) This is our own interpretation. This is not explicity stated in the Handicapping System.

Is Handicapping the same for Ladies and Men?

With the introduction of the CONGU Unified Handicapping System on 1st February 2004 the same handicap system applies.

Who organises the CONGU Handicap Scheme?

The 'Council of National Golf Unions' publishes and administers 'The Unified Handicapping System'. The address for the Council of National Golf Unions is
The Honorary Secretary
M. Goddard
1 Peerswood Court,
Little Neston,
CH64 0US.
Web site: www.congu.com
The Council of National Golf Unions retain the copyright of the Handicap Scheme.
'CONGU' is a trademark of the Council of National Golf Unions.

Who is the 'Council of National Golf Unions'?

The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) is a collection of representatives from England Golf , Scottish Golf Union, Scottish Ladies Golfing Association, Golf Union of Wales, the Golfing Union of Ireland and Irish Ladies Golf Union.
In addition, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the Ladies Golf Union each have a representative on the Council.

Who can be given a CONGU® Handicap?

The only organisations that can allocate and administer CONGU® handicaps are 'affiliated Clubs'. These are clubs who have become a member of one of the National Unions, usually through affiliation to a County Union or Association.
These member clubs must pay a subscription for each playing member to their local 'Area' Authority and to their National Union, in part to cover the cost of operating the national scheme.
Golf Societies may not allocate CONGU® handicaps to their members. A handicap given by any organisation other than an 'affiliated club' is not a CONGU® handicap.

How can I get a Handicap?

The only way to obtain a CONGU® handicap is to become a member of an affiliated club.

Can I lose my Handicap once I have been given one?

A Handicap is lost at the time you cease to be a member of an affiliated club. Handicaps can be suspended by the club when there has been a breach of the rules.
It is not normally possible for a club to remove or lapse a handicap simply because you have not played in many competitions. However, some regional variations exist.
In England, your handicap will have a status of 'non-competition' assigned to it if you do not complete three or more 'qualifying scores' in a calendar year. This may restrict which competitions you are allowed to enter using this handicap.
In Wales, your handicap will have a status of 'competition' assigned to it if you complete three or more 'qualifying scores' in a calendar year. Where your handicap is not designated 'competition', you may be restricted into which competitions you are allowed to enter using this handicap.
In Scotland, your handicap will have a status of 'competition' assigned to it if you complete three or more 'qualifying scores' between 'Annual Reviews'. Where your handicap is not designated 'competition', you may be restricted into which competitions you are allowed to enter using this handicap. Although the designation is the same as in Wales, the regulations for assigning the status of 'competition' are different.
In Ireland, no handicap status designation is used.

How will I be allocated a Handicap by my Club?

Your club will ask you to submit three (or more) cards for consideration. A calculation is performed on each of the cards to discount any strokes you will have taken which are more than 2 over the par of any hole. The card with the lowest total (after this calculation) is then used to allocate a handicap. Your handicap is likely to be the difference between this total and the 'Standard Scratch Score' of the course (clubs may vary from this if there is good cause to).
You will be given an 'Exact Handicap' which will (typically) be a whole number and can be changed to a decimal number (e.g. 22.4) later on by the process described below. Your 'Playing Handicap' (Handicap which will be used for competitions, etc.) is your Exact Handicap rounded to the nearest whole number (e.g. 22.4 = 22 Playing Handicap). Exact Handicaps ending in 0.5 are rounded up (e.g. 22.5 = 23 Playing Handicap).

What is the 'Standard Scratch Score' of a course?

This is a score which a 'scratch' (zero handicapped) player is considered to be expected to score around any particular golf course. It is usually identified on the scorecard as the SSS of the course.

How is the 'Standard Scratch Score' of a course calculated?

The Standard Scratch Score (SSS) assessment is typically made by the County Unions on behalf of their National Union (especially England). Provisionally, it is based upon the total length of the course and need not match the sum of the Par's for each hole. Consideration is given to difficulty of natural conditions (number of hazards, etc.). Ultimately, it is a subjective assessment, typically made by a small 'committee' of top amateur golfers.
The Welsh Golfing Union, Scottish Golfing Union and England Golf (Ladies) now rate their courses using the 'Course Rating System of the United States Golf Association' as the basis.
English Golf (Men) uses their own criteria for assessment. Here, when a club first requests a Standard Scratch Score for a course (perhaps the club is a new club, or they are opening a new or revised course), they will be allocated a 'Provisional' Standard Scratch Score based on the overall length of the course. This is based upon the 'Table of Provisional Standard Scratch Scores'. Later, a visual inspection and assessment may be made, taking into account playing difficulty of the course, etc. This may recommend an adjustment to the Provisional SSS, for the final SSS.
Standard length of Course Lengths included in Standard Length Provisional Standard Scratch Score
Yards yards
7392 7282-7501 75
7172 7062-7281 74
6952 6842-7061 73
6732 6622-6841 72
6512 6402-6621 71
6292 6182-6401 70
6072 5962-6181 69
5852 5742-5961 68
5632 5522-5741 67
5412 5302-5521 66
5192 5082-5301 65
4972 4862-5081 64
4752 4642-4861 63
4532 4422-4641 62
4312 4202-4421 61
4092 3982-4201 60

What will cause my Handicap to change?

Handicaps change for one of two reasons:
  • You will have returned a score in a ‘handicap qualifying’ competition. This is a competition which has been identified (in advance) where handicaps will be adjusted, or
  • The Handicap Committee of your club will apply a manual adjustment under 'General Play'.