Your Golden Tee Handicap, Decoded

By • Category: Features, Statistics

For years, I hadn’t been entirely sure how Golden Tee calculates a player’s handicap that is shown in the upper right when starting a new game, and also in relation to your handicap score shown after each hole played.  Most theories pointed to some formula calculated by the average of your best 10 of your last 20 games, but I could never get that concept to work exactly right.  As it turns out, the only factors that play into your handicap adjustment after a game are your handicap entering the game, and the score you just recorded.

First of all, there are two places where you can see your handicap to two decimal places, and they are both on the website.  The first is in the “My Stats” tab under the “Totals” filter:



The next is in the “Stats Play” or LIVE Play” tab, if you expand the contest results by clicking ‘More’ in the “Details” column.  The handicap shown here is your new handicap as calculated after this round was played:


If you are brand new, you need to play 36 holes to establish a handicap.  This will be the additive inverse of the average of your two scores.  So if you shoot a -4 and a -6, your handicap will be a +5.  Almost.

There’s a twist, because in that scenario, your handicap would actually be 5.04.  Why?  It’s because IT actually calculates your handicap per hole, not per round, and then represents your 18-hole handicap by multiplying 18 by your per-hole handicap.

So my average is -5 after two games.  To get my per-hole average, I need to first divide by 18.  5/18 = 0.27777.  IT does not retain decimal places past the hundredth, so this rounds to 0.28.  Therefore, my per-hole handicap is now 0.28.  To translate this back to an 18-hole handicap which is what you normally see, take the 0.28 * 18 to get 5.04.

You may have noticed that your handicap seems to move up or down in increments of 0.18, and it’s because of the rounding to the nearest hundredth for your per-hole handicap.  If I had 0.29 per hole, for instance, my handicap would be the next-highest possible value of 5.22.

So that establishes your handicap and also helps explain why your handicap goes up or down by factors of 0.18.  But how do you know if it’s going to change after your round, or how much?

There’s a grid for that — check it out:

Final Score * -1 minus Entering HCP
Stroke difference from Entering HCP
6.5 7 7.49 1.26
5.5 6 6.49 1.08
4.5 5 5.49 0.9
3.5 4 4.49 0.72
2.5 3 3.49 0.54
1.5 2 2.49 0.36
0.5 1 1.49 0.18
-4.99 0.49 0
-14.99 -10 -5 -0.18
-24.99 -20 -15 -0.36

In simplest terms, if you shoot 1 stroke better than your handicap, it goes up 0.18.  If you shoot 2 strokes better, it goes up 0.36, and so on.  But it takes a really bad game to move it down.  You have to shoot at least 5 strokes worse than your handicap to go down just 0.18, and 15 strokes worse to move it down another factor.  And, it’s capped there…your handicap can never go down more than 0.36 after any single round.  However, there doesn’t seem to be a limit on how much it can improve after a single round.

For those of you looking for a formula, take the midpoint divided by 5.55555 to get the expected handicap adjustment moving up, and the midpoint divided by 55.55555 to get it moving down.  So now you can see how a really good game can cause your handicap to jump up quite a bit, while a really bad game doesn’t hurt you too much.  It’s weighted to deter sandbagging.

So, the entire range in the row comes into play.  To improve my handicap by at least the minimum 0.18, I need to shoot at least 0.5 strokes better than my handicap entering that game.  And if I end up shooting 1.49 strokes better, it still goes up by 0.18.  I’d need to hit the next plateau of 1.5 strokes better to see it go up 0.36 after the game instead.

What about 9-hole games?  To answer that question, I looked more specifically at what happens if you DNF a game.  Many times your HCP does not change after a DNF, but I also saw it go both down and, unexpectedly, up after a DNF as well.

So how does that happen?  IT basically applies your per-hole handicap to the unplayed holes to fill out a full game of 18.  So if I played 5 holes and quit, it would add my score after 5 holes to my projected score over the next 13 holes, based on my current handicap.  IT uses that as my final score and adjusts the handicap according to the grid.

Here are two examples of how I saw that work.  Entering one game, I had a 24.66, so that’s -1.37 per hole.  I shot an 8 on the first hole (+4), and then quit on hole 2.  So, take the -1.37 * 17, which equals -23.29.  Now add in the +4, and I’m -19.29 to complete the round.  That’s more than 5 full strokes worse than my entering handicap, so it goes down by 0.18, and that’s what happened.

Now I’m at a 24.48, which is -1.36 per hole. So I’m at -23.12 for 17 holes. Now I shoot an eagle on the first hole for -2, and quit on hole 2 again.  Add in my -2 on the first hole, and I’m -25.12. The grid says that’s good enough for my handicap to jump by 0.18 since it’s more than 0.5 strokes better than my entering handicap, and that’s what happened.

So, for a 9-hole contest, it should work the same way.  You don’t divide everything in the grid by 2 — you just fill in the 9 remaining holes with your per-hole handicap and add it to your score.  So if I’m back at a 24.66 handicap, -1.37 per hole, then that’s a score of -12.33 for 9 holes.  In order to see my handicap improve, my 18-game total has to be at least 0.5 strokes better than my entering handicap, so I’d need to shoot a -13 on the 9-hole contest for a total of -25.33.  If I only shot a -12, my handicap would stay the same per the grid.  I’d have to shoot a -7 for a total of -19.33 to see it actually go down by 0.18, since I’d then be at least 5 full strokes worse than my entering HCP.

So now you know what to expect regarding your handicap after each game, and hopefully that puts to rest the questions you may have had about how it adjusts.

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is a Golden Tee addict from Peoria, IL, thirsty for tips and tricks!
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7 Responses »

  1. BIG FAIL by IT for fucking up the original handicapping formula – handicap is on a per game basis, why did they switch it (fairly recently – within the last two years) to a per hole basis for calculating purposes? I have more on this, but I’ll save it.

    🙁 🙁 🙁

  2.  “This will be the inverse of the average of your two scores.”

    It’s not the inverse. the inverse of -5 is -1/5

    I’m not sure what you would call it.

  3. Well we are both right. You are referencing the multiplicative inverse; I the additive inverse. I will clarify :).

  4. can you tackle player ELO rating next? What’s the formula there?

  5. This is a fantastic write up! We have always wondered how this was calculated. Obviously, some courses are harder than others (like real golf) where the slope and rating of the courses make a difference in having a USGA handicap…wish GT put something like that in place in addition into knowing their 1-18 (hardest to easiest) of each hole. Again, more like real golf.

  6. Ah, ’twas decoded many a year ago. 😉 :p


    One Response »

    SkipperRipper on July 25th, 2008 at 10:44 pm:

    Handicap is NOT based on your last 25 games, but each game will affect it. A game “better” than your handicap will affect your handicap 10 times more than a game “worse”. If your shoot a game 5 strokes better than your handicap, it will go up just about 1 stroke (actually 0.9), conversely, 5 worse will only drop it about 0.1 (actually 0.09).

  7. This is a great article and excellent explanation of the concepts. I’ve distilled the chart into two formulas that may be useful to some as they’re pretty easy to remember:

    If you performed BETTER than current HCP:
    newHCP = oldHCP + Round(d) x 0.18

    If you performed WORSE than current HCP:
    newHCP = oldHCP – Round(d/10) x 0.18

    d = stroke difference (as absolute value)

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