Handicap Hub: To the Nines | Oregon Golf Association

Handicap Hub: To the Nines

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Dir., Handicapping & Course Rating
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To the Nines

Back when I was growing up in a household enamored with golf (and really any sport involving spherical objects), my sweet but stubborn Scottish father was often heard repeating “Nine holes does not a golf round make.” Yes, he said it just like that, and with conviction. He was prompted to not just because that’s what he truly believed, but also because he needed to influence his favorite playing partners – my brothers, who, even though infatuated with golf, sometimes just wanted to get off the course and play baseball.

Quit after nine? Are we not Scots? We must soldier on, and slog through all 18.

Luckily the modern mindset is to accept – yes, sometimes even prefer – playing a nine-hole round of golf. It’s really okay! We find that the Golf Gods will not portion out punishment specifically for spending a shorter amount of time on the course (pretty sure their M.O. is to humble golfers no matter how many holes are played).

Nine-hole league players have always been in on the secret: nine-hole rounds – even competitive ones – can be pleasantly knocked out after work. Something born out of having a serious lack of time has turned into serious fun. And, appealing to the inner wino in us, the advent of “Nine & Wine” events marries wine tasting and golf. What a great pairing.

Nine-holes refreshingly frees up the rest of the day to actually accomplish other things. Yardwork, attending the kids’ soccer games, indulging in sports other than golf (fishing, for example – which appropriately isn’t called “catching”) and, especially this time of year – watching way too much football – can all be achieved after a quick nine.

Note: It occurs to me that “watching way too much football” might not be possible. But it’s a good goal to have.

But back to nine-hole golf. And where handicapping fits into all of this.

For many years, the USGA Handicap System didn’t accommodate nine-hole play all that well, even though we had many members who specifically maintained nine-hole Handicap Indexes. Over time, such rules and provisions have been much better woven into the system. Since I field questions surrounding these issues on a daily basis, I thought I’d share a few tidbits and technicalities on all things 9.

Posting Scores:

  • Nine-hole scores must not be designated as tournament (T) scores.
  • There is no restriction on the number of nine-hole scores posted to a player’s scoring record. Even if a golfer plays a majority of (or only) nine-hole rounds, an 18-hole Handicap Index will accommodate them nicely.
  • When you play at least seven holes, you are required to post a nine-hole score. To you this might not even seem like a true round (Dad would have called seven holes a warm-up) but to the Handicap System, it represents real data that must be recorded. For the holes you didn’t play, post par plus any handicap strokes you were allowed.
  • A common error that can have a distressing result is when a player posts a nine-hole score to an 18-hole Course Rating, and no one notices the dubious round of 60 among the others over 100. The player passes a revision, and suddenly their Index plummets to a plus handicap! While some golfers truly want a lower Index and to see improvement, nobody really wants to achieve it that way. This is a tricky error to unravel so if this happens to you please contact me right away. You shouldn’t have to live with a handicap that would belong to a touring Pro if they indeed had a handicap. 

    Note: When Tiger Woods was at his best, his Index was speculated at a +10!


Using Handicap Indexes:

  • A player with an 18-hole Index playing only nine must halve the Handicap Index and round the decimal upward to the nearest tenth, then convert it to a Course Handicap using the nine-hole Slope Rating from the tees played. The mistake I see in this scenario is that the player takes their 18-hole Course Handicap, then cuts it in half for nine-hole play. This will not give you the proper strokes you need for your nine-hole side. To use a handicap correctly for play, you must first start with your Index.
  • Within the OGA currently, only 178 members carry Nine-hole Handicap Indexes (these are differentiated from 18s by an ‘N’ next to them). When the World Handicap System is launched next January, these Indexes will all be converted to 18-hole Indexes. The system will combine the nine-hole scores, starting with the oldest score in the record, into 18s, and provide new calculations for those members.
  • To use a Nine-Hole Handicap Index for 18-hole play, the Index is simply doubled, then converted to the Slope Rating of the tee played. It’s worth pointing out that the Nine-hole Index is not as accurate as an 18-hole Index as it is based on half as many hole scores, and the player will generally receive one or two fewer strokes than they would with an 18-hole Index. Given this information, it’s good that Nine- hole Indexes will cease being used in 2020.


Nine-Hole Course Ratings:

  • The OGA always rates golf courses nine by nine. We publish official Course Ratings and Slope Ratings per set of tees as front nine, back nine, and overall 18. You can’t just take an 18-hole rating and assume you can cut it in half if you’re playing only nine (unless it’s a nine-hole course).
  • Information from a facility scorecard may or may not include nine-hole Course Ratings, and even if it does, it may not be up-to-date. Always use the Course Rating database in the GHIN system for current and accurate Course Rating data when posting your score.


World Handicap System Tidbit:  The minimum number of scores to establish a Handicap Index will be three 18-hole rounds made up of any combination of 9 or 18-hole scores. So for those golfers new to handicapping, a handicap will be calculated after only 54 holes, instead of 90! Click here for more information on the new system.

Questions? Contact Kelly or Gretchen in the OGA Handicapping & Course Rating Department at (503) 981-4653 x226 or Click Here to Email Your Question

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