Rules and Rants

Taking flight

(Kim Stallknecht/ Golf Canada)

The idea of setting up events using grouped handicap ranges has been around for a long time. As you have likely experienced, flights range from club to club or event to event and most of them are determined by local flavour. It’s a question most provincial associations and Golf Canada receive regularly from tournament organizers and clubs: What flight cut-offs should we use?

There is only one reason to do this and that’s to have those with similar handicaps competing against one another (Net or Gross). This is prevalent in most club championships or major events (some city, regional and invitational championships as well). For the first time in history, the Golf Canada Handicap Manual now addresses the use of flights, one of the many changes to the 2016-17 Rules and Handicap Cycle.

There is no single method, as it really depends on the makeup of your field. A few tips are offered to help committees organize their flights, such as the following for an individual stroke play competition:

A 9 or less
B 10 through 19
C 20 through 29
D 30 and up

A second option is to wait until all entries are complete and then create flights with the players divided evenly by handicap or along natural breaks in handicaps from participants. For example, if you had 99 players, you might prefer to have three flights of 33 players. Alternatively, you could look for natural handicap gaps to assist with establishing ranges. Let’s say you had 40 players who were handicaps of 12 and under, 29 players who had handicaps between 14 and 24, and then 35 players in the handicap range of 28 and above, you could use natural breaks in your playing field at 13 and 25-27 to establish flights.

A 12 or less 40
B 14 through 24 29
C 28 and up 35

It is up to the committee to decide whether the Course Handicap or Handicap Factor will be used in establishing flights/range, in addition to the number of flights that might be ideal or required, which generally depends on your field. Although not in the handicap manual, it is best to avoid disclosing your flight cut-offs to participants in advance of your entry deadline. You might just find some suspect golfers trying to work their way into a particular flight if you do. The majority of golfers subscribe to and uphold the high integrity of this game, but some unfortunately don’t. Easy steps such as this should be taken to eliminate the temptation to be less than honest. We know that if someone really wants to cheat, they’ll probably find a way. In this case, there’s no reason to provide them a way on a silver platter. Keep flights internal until the draw can be made well after the entry deadline, as this will help eliminate some golfers from “manipulating” their handicap.

It also would behoove the committee to have a list of the Conditions of Competition set out well in advance of the event. These outline all details of the event/competition and, ideally, must be agreed to by all participants who register.

The importance of these Conditions cannot be overstated. We have numerous conversations each year surrounding issues that come up as a result of Conditions not being implemented, poorly worded, or others that were not adhered to by the tournament organizers themselves. It leads to an uncertain path and exploring reactive conflict resolution. After all, there is only so much the Rules of Golf can cover and Conditions tighten up some of those potential issues.

We highly recommend in those Conditions, specifically as it relates to handicapping, having a blanket clause, such as, “The Committee reserves the right to alter any of the conditions and schedules herein, including the course handicap of any competitor for any reason. The Committee reserves the right to reject the entry of any applicant, at any time, for any reason. Any decision by the Committee, in any matter, shall be final.” Although this looks severe, we can assure you that this becomes a need later if any unforeseen issues pop up. In fact, one of the most important pieces to running any tournament is setting up clear and concise Conditions of Competition, which would also include an excerpt explaining how flights will be set up and when they will be announced.

Once a club has a set of Conditions for each of its events, it will serve as a template which can be used for years and only requiring small updates each season. Taking the time to set these up properly is well worth it. And if the above is subscribed to, the event will run smoothly with more fun and enjoyment had by all. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

LEARN MORE: To maintain an official Golf Canada Handicap Factor, post your scores by signing in after your round at


Taking flight

This article was originally published in the May 2016 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.