Mixed Golf – Competition Handicap Allowance/Equalising Strokes

I recently received a question by email from one of my readers in which she says:

‘Hi Tony. Hope you can help clear this up. Our club has recently introduced mixed golf comps. The men play of the back tees and ladies off red forward tees. The Ladies SSS 69 and Men’s 67.  Therefore under congu the ladies were given 2 shots off their scores. Recently this has changed, and the ladies are no longer being given shots back as the Pro says this is not a rule but just CONGU guidance, and that as the ladies were coming in with good scores they have decided to trial the comps without any extra shots being given. My argument here is that we are playing off the harder course. It has been allocated a higher SSS. The pro says as we are a short course that this shouldn’t make a difference. Who is right? Can a club ignore Congu…is it a rule or just guidance?’

My initial comment was, ‘The reader is in fact correct and the adjustment is taken as a rule’.

Handicap Allowances, Competition Handicap Allowances or Equalising Strokes are always a source of contention and misunderstanding. In the past there was always talk of ‘Courtesy Strokes’ for the Ladies. The present-day handicap allowance can be seen to be similar but the Strokes are not given as a courtesy but MUST be given as a right, and not just to the Ladies.

The Playing Handicap Allowance was introduced in 2008 to try to encourage clubs to play more Mixed Golf Competitions. In cases where different sets of tees have been allocated different SSSs there had to be a way to determine a winner of a competition and a way to adjust handicaps in a fair and equitable manner. This was not just Mixed gender competitions but competitions between all sections, Ages and Abilities.

In Mixed Competitions, in order to maintain equity, it was decided to adjust playing handicaps for some competitors to provide a A Competition Handicap Allowance for Competitions played from different tees , players playing from the tees with the higher SSS receiving Equalising Strokes as directed by CONGU. Because it is a directive, identified by the word MUST in the instructions, Clubs do not have any choice over this and failure to do so could be seen as going against the wishes of CONGU that all affiliated clubs agree to uphold, discriminatory or even allowing players, playing the lower rated course, to play off a higher handicap than that to which they are entitled.

The reader mentioned that 2 strokes used to be taken off her score. This was usual in the early days of applying the handicap adjustment, today the adjustment, Equalising Strokes, is added to the player’s handicap before play.

If the format of a competition requires a player to play off a percentage of her/his handicap the allowance is added to their handicap before the percentage is calculated.

One other point, you may hear some members say, ‘the ladies do not need extra strokes, their tees are farther forward than the men’s’ or ‘the ladies will receive equalising strokes because the competition is being played off the men’s card’. This is a myth; the allowance is purely a handicap issue and the adjustment must be made regardless of whichever card the competition is being played against.

As a simple example, as to why this should be, in Medal Stroke Play for the purposes of the competition each player playing the course with the higher SSS MUST be awarded a Competition Handicap Allowance equivalent to her/his playing handicap increased by the difference in the two SSSs. (Should your competition have a handicap limit, if by adding the appropriate number of equalising strokes a player’s Competition Handicap Allowance provides her/him with a handicap greater than the limit, that handicap stands, and they play off that higher handicap).

If a handicap adjustment is not made an unfair result could stand. See below

Using the SSSs supplied by the reader:

Ladies Forward Tee, SSS 69, Men’s Backward Tee, SSS 67,

(Men’s SSS – Ladies’ SSS = 2), Ladies MUST receive 2 Equalising Strokes added to their handicap. if the Ladies Handicap is not increased by 2 then:

Handicap Gross Score Returned SSS for course played Nett Score
Man 18 85 67 67
Lady 25 93 69 68


The Man would be declared winner, which would be wrong because the Lady has in fact played to one under her handicap.

A similar adjustment must be made to playing handicaps in Stableford competitions as well, in these competitions the relationship between SSS and Par is used, and the adjustment would be the difference between the scores required to play to par i.e. (Men’s Par – Men’s SSS) and (Ladies’ Par – Ladies’ SSS). For example, if the Men’s Par was 70 and the Ladies’ par was 70

Player S/ford Points


Par for Course SSS for course played Par – SSS S/ford Points

To Play to Par

Man 39 70 67 3 39
Lady 38 70 69 1 37

The Man would be declared winner, which would be wrong because, again, the Lady has in fact played to one under her handicap.

The Ladies MUST have a Handicap adjustment of 2 strokes being added to their handicap to provide a Competition Handicap Allowance

England Golf have produced a Mixed Tee Handicap Calculator which you can download from here –  Mixed-Tee-Handicap-Calculator.

The comment that it is not a CONGU rule is not quite correct, because it is in fact a CONGU Directive that all Clubs MUST ABIDE TO and is explained in Appendix O – Competitions played from different tees 2018 of the CONGU Unified Handicap System Handbook, a copy of which you can read or download here; the comments on the length of the course are also incorrect, firstly because the provision of a Competition Handicap Allowance is a Handicap issue and nothing to do directly with the geography or playing conditions of a course and secondly because the length of the course has already been taken into consideration by the County Course Rating team when they issue the Course Rating (SSS).

On a competition day, the playing conditions of the course, whether favourable or unfavourable, will also be taken into consideration and reflected in the CSS for that competition taken from the scores returned. Tell your members not to worry about the results returned in competitions using Competition Handicap Allowances, those handicaps are for competition purposes only.

Another point that many golfers fail to realise is that although they are playing physically on a course with all its topographical features and other variables, easy and difficult holes, they are actually scoring against the club scorecard as designed by the Golf Club Committee.

But how many times do you hear ‘I played to par today’ not understanding that ‘par’ would in fact be the SSS for the course they played, or ‘I don’t know why this hole is SI 1’ when a Club may have allocated its SIs to holes relevant to Match Play rather than difficulty of play of a hole as originally suggested by CONGU. (CONGU have now suggested that because Clubs are playing more Stableford competitions Stroke Indices may be allocated according to the difficulty of play of holes or Clubs could print separate Scorecards for Stableford Competitions).

If ‘good’ scores are being returned, handicaps will be adjusted where necessary and scoring will level out naturally. Your Club’s ISV Handicap software should take care of this and apply Exceptional Score adjustments if necessary. Also, if your Mixed Competitions are setup on a computer, your handicap software will automatically apply a Competition Handicap Allowance to the relevant players and this will be reflected in the competition results, Remember, that Competition Handicaps are only used for the competition results and do not count in the CSS calculation.

My own experience lately at my own course is that with the current weather conditions and dry, harder courses and occasionally strong winds, the conditions favour our Ladies and they are returning some exceptionally good scores compared to the Men.

To disallow a Competition Handicap allowance to which a player is entitled to is at best unfair and could be seen as making a player play of a handicap lower than that to which s/he is entitled or on the other side it can be seen as allowing a player, playing the course with the lower SSS, to play off a higher handicap than that to which s/he is entitled.