Rules and Rants

Don’t have a stroke over your strokes

Ben Crane (Christian Petersen/ Getty Images)

This is so misunderstood in this great game, and periodically leads to a heated argument hopefully not leading to blows.  Maybe golf needs a Seinfeld themed day such as “Festivus” to air golf grievances like these?  We’ve all heard the debates on which is the No.1 stroke hole at your course; you may have taken part in them.  It usually goes something like this: “There’s no bloody way the 4th is our No.1 hole, it’s a simple 404-yard par 4.  The 7th is our hardest hole; it’s a monster 438 yard par 4, and I never par it.”


What is “Stroke Allocation”?  It’s that table you see on every scorecard, you may see it referenced by “HDCP” or “Handicap” showing each hole ranked 1 through 18. This is far too often thought of as ranking each hole by pure difficulty.  You might also think Golf Canada or your Provincial Golf Association assigns these for every course too.  In both cases, your assumptions are wrong.  Golf Canada does have guidelines and recommendations to setting your stroke hole table (in Section 17 of the Golf Canada Handicap Manual) but it is carried out by each course/club, preferably the Handicap Committee.  There are two main methods: The Comparison Method and The Regression Method (linear regression).


The Comparison Method is an allocation based on scores where the committee collects 200 hole-by-hole scores for lower handicap golfers (Course Handicaps of 8 or less) and 200 scorecards for higher handicap golfers (15 to 20 strokes higher than the average of the low handicap group).  The average score for each hole is calculated for both groups, and the holes are then ranked from one to 18 where one is the hole with the largest differential between the scores of the two groups and 18 is the lowest differential. There is another option comparing scores to par, but we’ll stick to the main method for simplicity.  There is some fine tuning, picking the hole to be ranked as No.1 so as to award a stroke most useful in matches with same/similar Course Handicaps, and also assigning odd numbered handicap holes to the front nine and even numbered handicap holes to the back nine.  For specifics please reference section 17-2a in the Golf Canada Handicap Manual.

While difficulty plays a part, the true purpose of allocating strokes is to give the higher handicap golfer strokes where they will most need them as an equalizer when playing a match against a low handicap golfer.  Difficulty in making par on a hole is not an effective indicator of the need for a stroke.  And the more you read about this you’re thinking this certainly makes sense.  We also recommend allocating low numbered strokes at the end of each nine because you want players who are to receive strokes to use them before a match is decided.  In the event of a hole-by-hole playoff, we should avoid placing lower numbered strokes on the first and second holes.


The Regression Method allows the collection and analysis of at least 400 gross scores from players of all handicap levels from the most frequently played tee.  Each hole uses the score and player’s Course Handicap to help determine the ranking. There is a complex mathematical function involved that you can review in Section 17-2b of the Handicap Manual.

When should a club/course review its table and consider modifying it? If your course hasn’t used one of the two methods described especially in the last 10 years, or if your course has been significantly renovated, we highly recommend going through the process. How can you do this?  Here’s where the Golf Canada Score Centre comes in handy.  Should your club want to evaluate this data, you can run a report that will automatically produce the results for you. There is one catch.  Your club will require hole-by-hole entry to calculate the results, but that can be collected over the summer from your members.  Contact Golf Canada or your Provincial Golf Association for spreadsheet templates that you can use to help in your analysis.

Don’t have a stroke over a stroke.  Sure, have the friendly “discussion.” But, now that you know the process, do so cordially.

Don’t have a stroke over your strokes

This article was originally published in the April 2015 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.