The purpose of the New Zealand Golf Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling golfers of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis. The System provides fair Course Handicaps for players regardless of ability, and adjusts a player's Handicap Index up or down as the player’s game changes. At the same time, it disregards high scores that bear little relation to the player's potential scoring ability and promotes continuity by making handicaps continuous from one playing season or year to the next. A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is useful for all forms of play and is issued only to individuals who are members of golf clubs.

A basic premise underlies the New Zealand Golf Handicap System, namely that every player will try to make the best score they can at each hole in every round they play, regardless of where the round is played, and that they will post every acceptable round, in stroke and match play, for peer review. The player and the player’s handicap committee have joint responsibility for adhering to these premises.


A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index:

Issued by New Zealand Golf, indicates a golfer's skill and comes in the form of a number taken to one decimal place, e.g. 9.2. A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is issued only to individuals who are members of a golf club.

A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index compares a player's scoring ability to the scoring ability of a scratch golfer on a course of standard difficulty. A player posts scores along with the appropriate NZG Ratings to make up the scoring record. A Handicap Index is computed from no more than 20 scores in the scoring record. It reflects the player's potential because it is based upon the best scores posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.

A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is portable from course to course, as well as from one set of tees to other sets of tees on the same course. A player converts a Handicap Index to a Course Handicap based on the Slope Number of the tees being played.


A New Zealand Golf Course Rating:

Is New Zealand Golf's mark that indicates the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers under normal conditions based on yardage and other obstacles that affect scoring ability.


A New Zealand Golf Slope Number:

Is an evaluation of how much more difficult the course plays for individuals who are not scratch golfers. Each course is rated from each set of tees for both the scratch golfer and the adjusted gross scores. The Course Rating reflects the difficulty of the course for the scratch golfer. The Course Rating and Slope Number together reflect the difficulty of the course for players who are not scratch golfers. The greater the difference between the scores of the scratch and bogey golfer on a certain course, the higher the New Zealand Golf Slope Number will be and the more strokes golfers will receive. Conversely, the less the difference, the lower the New Zealand Golf Slope Number will be and the fewer strokes golfers will receive.

A player locates the New Zealand Golf Handicap Index on the appropriate Course Handicap Table and finds the corresponding Course Handicap. Course Handicap Tables are posted in the clubhouse or near the first tee. There will be a Course Handicap Table for each set of tees used by men and by women. Course Handicap is the number of strokes a player receives based upon the relative difficulty (Slope Number) of the course.



A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is New Zealand Golf's mark, which is used to indicate a measurement of a player's potential scoring ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It is the result of a mathematical calculation based on scores returned. A Handicap Index is converted to a Course Handicap for competition on a particular course.


Obtaining a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index: 

In order to obtain a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index, golfers must join a golf club and post adjusted gross scores. These scores are subject to peer review. After at least five scores have been posted, the club will issue a Handicap Index to the golfer in accordance with the New Zealand Golf Handicap System.

If 5 scores have been returned before the rollover date and the new Handicap Index is known a handicap committee can allow the player to compete in a handicap competition.


Using a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index: 

A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is a number issued by a golf club that represents the potential scoring ability of a player on a course of standard difficulty (Slope Number 113). The New Zealand Golf Handicap Index is expressed as a number taken to one decimal place that is updated and re-issued every two weeks. A player is responsible for knowing the New Zealand Golf Handicap Index issued at the most recent revision. A player must convert a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index to a Course Handicap. For example, a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index of 16.2 would be converted to a Course Handicap of 20 at a course with a Slope Number of 140, using the Course Handicap Table in Section 3-3. Players can receive their Handicap Index by text message. Text your 7 digit ID number to 3673 (fore) and within 10 seconds you will receive a reply. (Note: 99c charge will apply)


The Handicap Index formula: 

The New Zealand Golf Handicap Index Formula is based on the best Handicap Differentialsin a player's scoring record. If a player'sscoring record contains 20 or more scores, then the best 10 Handicap Differentials of the most recent 20 scores are used to calculate the New Zealand Golf Handicap Index. The percentage of scores used in a scoring record decreases from the maximum of the best 50% as the number of scores in the scoring record decreases. If thescoring record contains 9 or 10 scores, then only the best three scores (30 to 33%) in the scoring record will be used. Thus, the accuracy of a player's Handicap Index is directly proportional to the number of acceptable scores they have posted. A New Zealand Golf Handicap Index must not be issued to a player who has returned fewer than five acceptable scores.

The following procedure illustrates how a player's Handicap Index is calculated if the number of acceptable scores in the player's record is fewer than 20. 

(i)    Use the following table to determine the number of Handicap Differentials to use:

  Number of Acceptable Scores Differentials to be used
  5 or 6 Lowest to 1

 7 or 8 Lowest to 2
  9 or 10 Lowest to 3
  11 or 12 Lowest to 4
  13 or 14 Lowest to 5
  15 or 16 Lowest to 6
  17 Lowest to 7
  18 Lowest to 8
  19 Lowest to 9
  20 Lowest to 10

       (ii)  Determine Handicap Differentials;

       (iii) Average the Handicap Differentials being used;

       (iv) Multiply the average by .96; *

       (v)  Delete all numbers after the tenth digit. Do not round off to the nearest tenth.

 Example 1:   11 scores available.
 Total of lowest 4 Handicap Differentials103.5
 Average (103.5 divided by 4):25.875
 Multiply average by .96:24.84
 Delete digits after tenths:24.8
 New Zealand Golf Handicap Index:24.8

Bonus for Excellence is the incentive that is built into the New Zealand Golf Handicap System, for
players to improve their golf games. It is the term used to describe the small percentage below perfect equity that is used to calculate Handicap Indices (96%). As a Handicap Index improves
(gets lower), the player has a slightly better chance of placing high or winning a handicap event.

Course Handicap: 

A Course Handicap is the number of handicap strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees at the course being played.

To convert a New Zealand Golf Handicap Index to a Course Handicap, a player locates the New Zealand Golf Handicap Index on a Course Handicap Table to find the corresponding Course Handicap. Each set of rated tees will have a different Course Handicap Table for men and women based on their respective New Zealand Golf Slope Numbers for those tees. It is the player's responsibility to determine the correct Course Handicap, and to know the holes at which handicap strokes are to be given or received (Rules of Golf, 6-2)

A player's Course Handicap is determined by multiplying a Handicap Index by the Slope Number of the course played and then dividing by 113. (See Section 10-3.) The resulting figure is rounded off to the nearest whole number (.5 or more is rounded upward).


Equitable Stroke Control (ESC): 

ESC is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential scoring ability. ESC sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap. ESC is used only when a player’s actual score exceeds a maximum number based on the table below. 

(a)   A score for any hole is reduced to a specified number of strokes over par (the equivalent of scoring 0 stableford points) for handicap purposes only, as follows:

 Course Handicap StrokeLimitation on Hole Score
 +1 handicap stroke on hole
Limit of 1 stroke over par
 No handicap stroke on hole 
Limit of 2 stroke over par
 1 handicap stroke on holeLimit of 3 stroke over par
 2 handicap strokes on holeLimit of 4 stroke over par
 3 handicap strokes on hole (women only)
Limit of 5 stroke over par
 4 handicap strokes on hole (women's local handicap)Limit of 6 stroke over par



The New Zealand Golf Course Rating system was introduced on 1 September 2000, following numerous trials, and the inadequacies of the previous system. We are indebted to the course raters, of which there are nearly 200, for their voluntary work and dedication to this important aspect of the game.

New Zealand Golf has a license agreement with the USGA to use both the Course Rating and Handicap System, and believes this to be the most advanced and fairest system available today.

It is the objective of New Zealand Golf to provide a uniform handicapping system, and the consistency and accuracy of Course Ratings, bogey ratings and the associated Slope Numbers is vital to achieving this.

It should be noted that although rating teams work from January to December, they are assessing the playability of the course when most rounds are played. Here in New Zealand that is autumn, March-May, and spring, September-November.


A simple explanation of the Course Rating System: 

The system follows a series of assessments and course raters complete a thorough process which takes approximately 3-4 hours per set of tees. There are established standards relative to how far a player hits the ball, and it is from these positions that obstacles are assessed.

A close scrutiny of the system confirms that the biggest contributor to the difficulty of the course is the overall length, and this is evident in the formula used to calculate the final rating.

The main formula component is the effective playing length of the course, which is derived from the course’s measured length. There are then five factors that are considered, giving a more accurate number that reflects the true playing length of the course. These are:

  • Role
  • Changes in elevation
  • Wind
  • Forced lay up areas
  • Altitude

The measured length and the effective playing length adjustments are used to determine a Yardage Rating for two categories of player, the scratch golfer and the ‘bogey’ golfer.  The Scratch Yardage Rating and the Bogey Yardage Rating are the base numbers used in the calculation of the Scratch Course Rating and Slope Number.

It is very important that each hole has a block indicating where the hole has been measured from. The blocks should be in realistic places so that tee placement can be both in front of and behind the block. If there are three sets of tees (blue, white and yellow) then there should be three separate blocks indicating where these measurements commence from.

A further analysis of the course looks at each hole and the obstacles that affect playing difficulty. There are 10 obstacles being:

 1.  Topography:The impact of terrain on play
 2.  Fairway Width:
The difficulty of keeping the ball on the fairway
 3.  Green Target:
Size of the difficulty of hitting that green
 Rough and Recovery:

Covers the difficulty of a shot when the fairway or green has been missed
 5.  Bunkers:How the come into play and the difficulty of recovery
 OB & Extreme Rough:The proximity of these areas and how the come into play
 Water Hazards:The proximity of these areas and how the come into play
 Trees:Based on density, proximity, and the difficulty of recovery
 Green Surface:

Assesses the difficulty of a green from a putting perspective, and include the speed and contouring or tilt of each green

Based on the accomulative effect ratings of the other nice obstacles, there may be a value added in this category

The values allocated to the above obstacles are multiplied by various factors giving a final number, which may be a small incremental addition or reduction to the scratch yardage rating.The result is the Course Rating.

The final summary will provide three results.

 1.The scratch or Course Rating is the mark that indicates the playing difficulty of the course for a scratch golfer.

The Bogey Rating is the mark that indicates the difficulty for the 20 handicap male payer and 24 handicap female player, and is expressed in a number that reflects these players expected  score. 

The Slope Number is the mark that indicates the relative difficulty of the course for the bogey  player, relative to the scratch player. 113 is the average Slope Number. Anything above this and  the bogey player will require a little more help relative to the scratch player, and a number less  than 113 will mean that the bogey golfer requires less assistance. 

Understanding the Slope Number:

The Slope Number is a figure derived from the ratings that indicate the difficulty of the course for the two types of player, the scratch and bogey golfer. The difference of the two ratings is multiplied by 5.381 (men) and 4.24 (women) to give the Slope Number.

It is only relative to the set of tees rated, and cannot be compared with the slope number of other courses.
Example 1:Hamilton Golf Club -  blue tees, 6,684 yards  

Course Rating  

Bogey Rating

Slope Number
96.0 - 72.1= 23.9 x 5.381= 129   
 Example 2:Hamilton Golf Club - white tees, 6,345 yards 
 Course rating70.2 
 Bogey rating94.3
 Slope Number 
94.3 – 70.2 = 24.1 x 5.381 = 130

The white tees are over 500 yards shorter than the blue, which is reflected in the Course Rating. However for the Slope Number to be higher on the shorter course, the obstacles must be more severe from those tees for the bogey golfer, in comparison to how they rate from the blue tees.


What is the slope number used for?

The Slope Number provides a player with a course handicap after multiplying a Handicap Index by the Slope Number, then dividing by 113.

The Slope Number is also used when putting a player’s round in perspective in comparison to all other courses. Once a player has returned a score, the Course Rating is deducted from the adjusted gross, the difference is multiplied by 113 and then divided by the Slope Number.

When playing a course that has a high Slope Number, most golfers are going to require some assistance. Take Kauri Cliffs for example, where the Slope Number from the white tees is 138. The scratch player, or low handicap golfer, can carry the ball the distances required at this course, but it is a far greater challenge for the higher handicapper. At Pauanui Lakes where the Slope Number is 91, the bogey golfer is at a great advantage in comparison with the scratch golfer, as it is a short course with little trouble, and the Slope Number allows for the adjustment required.

 Examples: Player A has a Handicap Index of 2.0, Player B 21.0.

On a course with a Slope Number of 113, their course handicap will remain   the same as their Handicap Index.
At Kauri Cliffs (white tees, 138)
  Player A (after rounding) will remain on a course handicap of 2, (2.0 x 138/113 = 2.44)
  Player B’s course handicap (after rounding) will be 26, (21.0 x 138/113 = 25.64)
At Pauanui Lakes (blue tees 91)
  Player A will remain on a course handicap of 2, (2.0 x 91/113 = 1.61)
  Player B’s course handicap will be 17, (21.0 x 91/113 = 16.91)


How clubs can help in preparing their course for rating?

There will be some information that rating teams require before they commence their rating. This includes:


The measurement blocks on the tees easily identifiable and, where possible, a surveying certificate to confirm the measurement is accurate.
The normal green speed during spring and autumn.
The height of the rough.
The prevailing wind. 

It would also be helpful to have the fairway widths as they are normally, and the green sizes as they are during the main playing season.

It is important that a club member with local knowledge on wind, and how each hole can play, joins the rating team (the narrator) as from time to time there will be a query that will require an answer.

Frequently asked questions regarding Course Rating:

How often are courses to be re-rated?

It is important that Course Ratings are as reflective of the playing difficulty as possible, and there is a guideline for re-rating in the New Zealand Golf policy. A course where more than 10,000 handicap cards are submitted annually should be re-rated every three years, and for those returning less every four to five years.

Our course has a slope number of 115, yet a near course has a number of 125, but is shorter and not as difficult. How can this be possible?

You can only compare two different courses by referring to the Course Rating. From what you describe your Course Rating will certainly be higher, therefore confirming that your course is the more difficult. The Slope Number refers to the difference in difficulty for the bogey golfer in comparison to the scratch golfer on the set of tees being played.

 QWhy do we not have a summer and winter Course Rating? 

Courses are rated for peak season conditions, which here in New Zealand are spring and autumn. Our statistics show that 67% of handicap cards are entered at this time. The system we have adopted provides one rating, and it is accepted that at times playing conditions may differ in relation to the rating. If the conditions are such that the rating is severely affecting the accuracy of players’ handicap indices, then a closed season can be introduced.
 QIt is our Club’s belief that our ratings are not correct. What are our options? 

You should firstly have the results explained to you by the team leader of the rating team. If you are still not convinced, your final option is to request from New Zealand Golf a new assessment, which is completed by a new rating team as selected by New Zealand Golf. All costs involved are the responsibility of the golf club.
What does it mean by a closed season?

A good example would be if a long dry spell causes the ball to roll excessive distances resulting in scoring being much lower than in normal conditions. A club can then apply to their local District Association for a closed season, whereby score cards returned from that course are not entered for handicap purposes. The period of the season, and final approval, will be granted by New Zealand Golf.

Our greens are always very fast, making putting a real challenge. Is this considered when courses are rated?
 AYes. There is a value added to each green based on the speed and the undulation.

We want to build a new green, and therefore introduce a temporary green. Do we need to have the temporary hole rated, so handicap cards can still be returned?

No. Cards can still be entered against the course as rated, and on the hole in question players are assessed at par plus any handicap shots due on that hole.