What is Stroke Index In Golf?

Stroke Index is an often misunderstood concept. So we explain how it works and how it is allocated

Close up of a golf scorecard and pencil and stroke index
What is Stroke Index and how is it allocated?
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The Rules of Golf state that "The Committee is responsible for publishing on the scorecard or somewhere else that is visible (for example, near the first tee) the order of holes at which handicap strokes are to be given or received." This Rule - 5I (4) - requires that a club decides upon and allocates "Stroke Index."

How does Stroke Index Work In Golf?

A close-up of Rory McIlroy marking his scorecard

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How stroke index works is easier to explain than how stroke indices are allocated. So here comes the easy bit first. Each hole gets a unique stroke index number between 1 and 18. These are listed for each hole on the scorecard  or somehwere visible, sometimes as handicap or hcp rather than stroke index or SI.

These strokes indexes are designed to allow for handicap match play games. A strokeplay match between players of unequal handicaps is simple to determine – deduct each player’s Playing Handicap from the gross score and you get the net score and lowest net score wins.

But in match play when the competition is to win individual holes, on which holes should the handicap be applied? This is where we need stroke index. Andy has to give Bill 4 shots during the round – but on which holes? The answer is on the stroke index 1, 2, 3 and 4 holes.

Stroke index is also used in other competitions, prime among them Stableford competitions. Here points are earned on each hole in relation to each golfer’s net par for the hole. To work out the net par for each hole you need the stroke index. If Chris get 10 shots, he will get one extra shot on the holes with stroke index 1 to 10 inclusive. Dave gets 19 shots so he gets two extra shots on SI 1 and one extra shot on each of the other 17.

What Does Index Mean On A Golf Scorecard?

Stroke Index

The match is over...

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So that is how stroke index is used. How the stroke index for a hole is calculated is more complicated. It is often believed that stroke index is a simple ranking of difficulty, thus SI 1 is the hardest hole, SI 18 the easiest. Well, up to a point.

Stroke index was designed for match play and so it is rare that first hole has a low stroke index, in case the match is tied after 18 holes and goes to sudden death. The same applies for the 10th hole at clubs where matches can sometimes start on the that hole.

The final hole – and this can apply to the 9th as well as the 18th – is often rarely of low index, for two main reasons. One is that golfers object to giving a shot in what may be a crucial hole. The other is that many matches do not get to go down 18 and so the person receiving shots may not get to use the full allocation.

In Stableford, par and bogey competitions. In these forms of stroke play competition the need to have a uniform and balanced distribution of strokes is less compelling. In such competitions it's more appropriate for stroke index to be aligned to the ranking of holes in terms of playing difficulty, irrespective of hole number.

Allocation must then take both match play and stroke play into account.

How is Stroke Index Decided?

Score card

Where am I getting those shots?

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Appendix E in The Rules of Golf covers stroke index Allocation. It suggests that the allocation of stroke index is, overall based on difficulty relative to par but with certain caveats.

The recommendation is that the course is split into six triads (groups of three) with each hole ranked on its playing difficulty relative to par. This can be determined from data used for the course rating Procedure.

The Rules recommend the following methodology for stroke index allocation within the six-triad structure, in order to work for both match play and stroke play:

·       Apply odd stroke index allocations over the front nine and even stroke index allocations over the back nine. If, however, the back nine is significantly more difficult than the front nine, as determined by the Course Rating, the even stroke index allocations can be switched to the front nine and the odd stroke index allocations to the back nine.

·       Spread stroke index allocations evenly over the 18 holes so that players receiving strokes will have the opportunity to use a high proportion of these strokes before a match result has been decided.

·       Apply the lowest stroke index hole (1 or 2) on each nine in the middle triad.If no hole within the middle triad is ranked within the lowest 6 holes relative to par, then it can be moved into an adjacent hole at the end of the first triad or the beginning of the third triad on each nine.

·       Apply the second lowest stroke index hole (3 or 4) on each nine in either the first or third triad, unless the lowest stroke index hole has been allocated in that same triad.

·       If possible, avoid low stroke indexes (6 or less) on consecutive holes.

·       When a player receives more than 18 strokes, the same allocation order is used with stroke index 1 repeating as stroke index 19, 37 and 55, with all additional strokes going up sequentially.

Stroke Index for nine holes

If playing a nine-hole competition on an 18 hole course, there are two options for the committee. Either strokes should be taken/given in ascending order from the published stroke index for 18 holes. For example - If a player would receive 10 shots for 18 holes, they receive shots on holes ranked 1-10 on that nine.

Or, a committee can amend the stroke index allocation on that nine from 1 to 9, relative to the ascending order of the published stroke index allocation for 18 holes.

Who Decides on the Stroke Index of a golf course?

It's up to the committee to decide upon the stroke index allocation of a golf course. They should do so based on the recommendations outlined above.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.

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