What Are Handicap Allowances In Singles Golf?

How many shots will you give or receive in singles/individual golf events under the World Handicap System?

Sam Burns and Rory McIlroy pose before their 2023 Ryder Cup singles match
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Although there are enjoyable pairs and team formats in golf, the sport is inherently a solitary one. It’s you with sticks and a ball versus the golf course or an opponent on the golf course.

Whether competing in stroke play or match play competition, the World Handicap System, and the handicap allowances within it have been designed to create a level playing field for all amateur golfers.

Whatever competitive event you tee up in, the handicap allowances should mean you have the same chance of prevailing as the other entrants.

Handicap allowances will be applied to your Course Handicap to give you a Playing Handicap for the event you’re taking part in.

Handicap allowances vary depending on the type of event you’re playing. They are set by national golfing associations, or those national associations can delegate the responsibility for setting them to regional associations or the clubs.

The R&A has recommendations for handicap allowances, but they are not set in The Rules of Golf. For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider their recommendations.

What then are the handicap allowances in singles golf?

Singles Stroke Play handicaps explained

A golfer celebrates holing a long putt

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

For individual singles stroke play events the recommended handicap allowance is 95% or Course Handicap. The recommendation is 95% for any form of individual stroke play competition, Individual Stableford, Individual Par/Bogey and Individual Maximum Score – all are 95%

In case you were wondering, Maximum Score is a form of stroke play where a player’s score for a hole is capped at a maximum number of strokes set by the committee.

The reason for the 95% recommendation is to give lower handicap players more chance of winning. The reasoning is that, in fields involving a large number of players, there will generally be more higher handicappers participating.

If the 95% is not applied, there will be greater chance of a higher handicapper winning as. In field sizes of 30 or less, The R&A recommends that 100% of Course Handicap is used.

Singles Match Play handicap allowances

Two golfers shake hands

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In individual match play competition, the recommendation is for an allowance of 100% of Course Handicap.

So someone with a Course Handicap of scratch would give 10 shots to someone with a Course Handicap of 10. Those 10 shots would be given and taken on the holes with Indexes of 1-10.

The handicap allowances for singles golf are pretty straightforward then – either 95% or 100% of Course Handicap in Individual stroke play and 100% of Course Handicap in individual match play.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?