Golf's handicap allowances in match play

With the summer knockout season in full swing, it's important to know golf's handicap allowances in match play whatever format you're playing...

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Make sure you know how many shots you'll be giving or receiving in your next match
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With the summer knockout season in full swing, it's important to know golf's handicap allowances in match play whatever format you're playing...

You’ve entered the summer handicap knockouts in whatever format they take at your club and want to work out how many shots you’re going to either be giving or receiving in your next match. It’s all relatively simple really (other than perhaps for the fairly rare greensomes – see below).

However, one key thing to remember is that from the 2016 CONGU revisions, the allowance in fourball betterball has been increased from three-quarters of the handicap difference between the low man or woman and the others up to 90%.

That may sound a little more complicated, but mathematically we are working in tenths here, so it will usually be fairly straightforward to work out.

Of course, with normal rounding rules still applying (half and above is rounded up; less than half rounded down) it does mean that a few more people will now end up effectively receiving full allowance in fourball betterball – all those for whom the difference is five shots or less rather than two or less as it was under the three-quarter system.

Other than that, everything remains as it was, with the switch from three-quarters to full in singles having arrived in an earlier CONGU revision.

There are of course, key differences between the allowances for fourball, foursomes, singles and greensomes, and the quick reminder below of how many strokes should be given in golf’s main formats has been summarised from Appendix F of the current CONGU manual, which states that “CONGU-affiliated Clubs must use the following handicap allowances in the following forms of match play competition…”

Singles Full difference between the handicaps of the players.

Fourball betterball Lowest handicapper to concede strokes to the other three players based on 90% of the difference between their full handicaps.

Foursomes Half the difference between combined handicaps of each side.

Greensomes Full difference between greensomes handicaps. To calculate an exact greensomes handicap you add 0.6 of the lower player’s handicap to 0.4 of the higher player’s – the difference between the two teams’ exact greensomes handicaps is then rounded up or down as normal (rounding occurs only once at the very end)

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

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Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response