Bandon Trails Hole 17

Why You Should Always Keep a Handicap (Even if You Think You Don’t Need One)

I’ve never played competitive golf. Ever.

Handicap? Nope never had one of those either. I mean why would I? Golf has always been a game against myself, and I haven’t really gotten into the sport until the last 8 months.

To be honest, up until recently, just about everything related to the idea of a handicap was foreign to me.  When people asked I usually told them I was an 18.  The average of my last 20 or so rounds was about a 94, so I figured I was being generous giving myself an 18.

Course and slope ratings? Yeah no clue about those.

I know what you’re thinking: “You’re a golf blogger! How can you not know these things?”

Well I didn’t know about them because up until recently, they didn’t matter to me.

And that’s where our story begins.

A couple weeks ago I found myself the beneficiary in a fortunate series of events and was invited on a trip down to Bandon Dunes with a small group of guys from one of the most prestigious golf clubs in my area.

Being a young guy without a lot of local golf connections, it seemed like a great situation! I’d get to knock off 4 more courses on my Top 100 Quest, and hopefully meet some cool people along the way.

Beforehand they asked my handicap, as there would be a bit of a competition on the trip.

I said I was a 16, wanting to be sure I wasn’t the guy who was sandbagging.  However, I still wasn’t really sure how any of this would come into play.

Fast forward a couple days and I’m sitting on the first tee of Pacific Dunes – “so you’re a 21?” The head pro asked me.

I’d told another organizer of the trip 16. He’d played with me before, they mentioned something about course ratings being more difficult, yada yada..”sure, 21.” Not thinking much about it at the time, as I was solely focused on not making a fool of myself off the tee.

Now, at any given time I can make pars and the occasional birdie – but I’m a terrible putter. I had more 3 putts on my golf road trip than I thought possible, so for all the pars, I’d have equal triples, quads and worse – which is one reason why I thought my handicap was so poor.

I knew nothing about equitable scoring – which basically means if my handicap is between a 10-19, the highest score I can take on any given hole is a 7…that would have probably changed some things.

I played my round and shot a very unimpressive 96. I saved my partner (who was a +1, and club champion) on a couple of occasions, but also had the obligatory blow up holes.

“Handicap check! Might need to adjust this after the round.”

Sure I made a few pars, but did you see that 5 over I just shot two holes ago??

Update: February 18, 2016

I’ve found the easiest way to keep your handicap and get a GHIN number if you don’t have one is to use Golfshot GPS. I usually use Arccos now, but I think Golfshot is the best GPS app out there, and they recently released a featured that lets you update your official handicap directly through the app. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this for years, so was stoked to see this happen.

Pacific Dunes Hole #4

World famous Par 4, 4th hole. Pacific Dunes. This was one of the triples+s.

So I didn’t think much of it. I played worse than my theoretical handicap, so it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Until the next round.

I shot an 88. Every time the other team got close to scoring a point on me I’d take a bogey net par to tie it. Or I’d win with a par net birdie.

There was no way they could win when I’m getting 21 strokes per round.

At this point I wasn’t sure how to feel.

I for one, was stoked to be playing some of the best golf I’d played in awhile, but two, really didn’t want to be the guy that became known as the sandbagger and pissed off all the guys I was trying to make friends with.

I shot a 93 on our afternoon round to finish out the first 2 days, and found myself with a perfect score of 9-0.

I offered to give some strokes back, or have the handicap adjusted, but no one really listened to that.

The last day was the nail in the coffin. I would forever be known as the sandbagger amongst the 16 people on that trip.

We were playing singles matches on the Bandon Dunes course, most of the guys in my group were 12-16 handicaps. They were better than me, but not necessarily by a whole lot.

The guy I was up against I’d already played the day before, and I knew he wasn’t happy about it.

He wins the first hole on my double.

Bandon Dunes Hole 1

Par 4, Hole 1. Bandon Dunes. A great drive ruined.

I don’t think he won many after that.

Dropped it to 2 feet on the par 3 6th for a birdie.

If you look closely you can see my ball. Par 3, 6th hole at Bandon Dunes

13? Wind at my back, driver, 3 wood to 15 feet away. Steve birdied. I birdie net eagled.

Bandon Dunes Hole 13

Par 5, 13th at Bandon Dunes

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so guilty in my life about making a birdie.

2 holes later? 200 yard par 3 into the wind. Hybrid to 4 feet. I’d miss my birdie putt, but the damage was done.

Bandon Dunes Hole 15

Par 3, 15th hole at Bandon Dunes

I shot an 87 which was my best score in months, and gross? I beat everyone in my group.

That sucks.

I could tell everyone was pissed, even though they were friendly and joking about the whole thing to my face – I’m competitive, I get it. I’d be pissed too.

I never thought I needed a handicap. I didn’t think I needed to understand how it all worked.

Until I did.

Starting with my next full round I’ll be posting my scores. The last thing I wanted I wanted was to get on the bad side of all the guys I’d hoped to get to know and make friends with.

But until then, to everyone who was on that trip, take this as my apology.  And as for that hundred bucks I won? Well, drinks are on me.

If you haven’t been able to tell, I now think even the most casual golfer should carry a handicap. I’ve always been a big fan of Golfshot GPS, but the fact you can now upload to your GHIN account directly from the app is a feature I’ve been waiting to see for a score tracking company for a long time. 

Don’t have a GHIN number? They can hook you up with that too.

Trust me, start doing this. You don’t want to be that guy.

There are 7 comments

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  1. Andrew

    What type of camera do you use for your pictures? Going to Phoenix in May if you looking for another trip I would love to get in a round with you

  2. Eric

    I did some digging and I didn’t find a “how to” on actually obtaining/posting a handicap. From what I have found, there are some quick/easy ways to get a handicap using apps like oobgolf and GolfShot GPS/TourCaddie, but to have an ‘official’ handicap with USGA, you are supposed to post scores at a club that is authorized to issue a USGA handicap. I also found the GHIN app /, but if you don’t have a club close who offers it, not really useful.

    I’m going to ask next time I’m at my home course to see what they offer for getting a real USGA handicap.

  3. Eric

    I decided to play 9 this afternoon and asked about it – here is what I found out about official USGA handicap:

    There are two main bodies that offer USGA Handicap Indexes – GHIN (I heard it pronounced gin) and GolfNet. Both are valid for USGA Handicap Indexes and can (should) be accepted at any tournament. GHIN has by far the largest number of members and clubs, however, GolfNet has better HBH (hole by hole) reporting for stats. Handicap is calculated based on your adjusted gross score (see Equitable Stroke Control) so either system should give you the same HI. Both systems allow you to post your scores online from home so you don’t have to be at your home course.

    I use GolfShot GPS so HBH stats and club averages are already figured while I’m on the course and would be duplicate effort for less information in either system.

    GolfNet/ appears to be the new kid in town and already has a much better web interface and online presence. My home course uses GHIN and I have GolfShot GPS so that is what I’m using, but if my home course didn’t offer anything, I’d go for GolfNet over GHIN. GHIN at this point is old and slow tech. I posted 3 scores tonight (1 from today, 2 from previous rounds) and none of them have ‘shown up’ in the ’rounds’ view. The entry was clunky, the website feels about 6 years old, and I could probably fill half a page with bug reports / UI problems. Posting a round to (they offer a free account), was easy and showed up immediately. They also have Facebook integration for login.

    GolfNet appears to blow GHIN out of the water technically and is cheaper, but both have to use the same USGA methods to establish a handicap.

    Hope that helps someone.

  4. Sam Mattson

    Great trip!!! Really enjoyed watching you steal the show at Bandon Dunes. It’s been my experience that establishing a handicap has made golf more fun. You’ll see why once you establish one(reasons too numerous to list here).

    Great getting to know you over the weekend and fun to see you play so well. Your “sweep” at Bandon Dunes was well deserved!! Great blog post, can’t wait for you to break 80!!!

  5. Jeff Wright


    It was a pleasure having you on the trip and financially beneficial to having you on my team. 🙂 We gave you an 18 index. This was inflated from the 16 that you had recommended but we had also added strokes to everyone’s index to help even the field out and make scoring easier. One thing to remember is that for all intensive purposes your handicap index is reflective of your potential, not your scoring average. I believe specifically it is an average of your best ten rounds out of your last 20…not including tournament rounds which are active for 12 months.

    Keeping this in mind I feel completely confident that your original 16 was was justified and truth be told may have been a little low. You happened to catch fire at the right time and luckily were rewarded. I can’t tell you how many times I have shot under my handicap and have still have to pay out at the end of the day.

    Great piece and I look forward to playing more golf with you!

  6. Mike

    I went through the GHIN/handicap debacle a few years ago – before the smartphone apps made the process more tolerable…

    First of all, it’s a racket. The USGA structures the handicap/GHIN process simply to siphon $$ from golfers, but they try to make it appear as if the system somehow benefits golf clubs/courses (by forcing ‘handicappers’ to join a club for the purpose of establishing a GHIN handicap). I’d argue that their idea of ‘incentives’ reflect a bygone era, and forcing today’s golfers to “join” something/anything these days is a major disincentive. I believe the well-documented economic decline of the golf industry supports my point here.

    Having endured the blackbox mysteries of ‘slope’, ratings, net scoring, etc., I began work on a free smartphone app that would provide a handicap w/o the cost & assorted strings attached by the USGA… but not long after that it became clear that others were well ahead of me in handicap app development. But frankly, none of the newly-developed tech-enabled apps/sites for maintaining a handicap met/meets my simple requirements, so my “hack” is as follows…

    I joined – a virtual golf club that organizes seasonal golf outings/tourneys in the Greater Portland area (but now branching-out to central OR & the PNW generally). Membership with NWGG is cheap relative to physical club membership, and it comes with FAR more perks than traditional club memberships… 2-for-1 deals at multiple courses, reduced fees for club outings… plus a OGA/USGA/GHIN number to build/maintain your handicap. I rarely play in the club outings, but the coupons/perks that come with the basic membership MORE than pay for the cost of annual membership, and includes multiple desirable golf courses in the region – membership doesn’t tie you down to ONE club, but rather incentivizes play at multiple/diverse golf clubs & courses… this is a scheme that will appeal to the younger golf generation, IMO.

    But the great news is that the OGA & USGA have FINALLY figured-out a decent tech solution for their GHIN system, and I now regularly (& easily) post my scores via my iPhone after each round in a matter of seconds. And thanks to NWGG’s innovative ‘virtual club’, I am not locked into one ‘club membership… but rather rewarded for playing as many different courses as possible.

    Wow, this turned into quite a screed… apologies.

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