Dispelling Myths – Stroke Index Allocation

Dispelling Myths – Stroke Index Allocation

A conversation in my clubhouse recently, encouraged me to write this post.

How many times have you approached a tee, only to hear your playing partner say “this is Stroke Index 1, it is the most difficult hole on the course” or “I don’t know why this is Stroke Index 1, it is not the most difficult hole”?

I expect quite a few times. Well, though it may apply to one or two courses, it does not apply to the majority and I think it is something that has developed from more and more golfers watching professional tournaments where players play against the par of the course or the Stroke Index Allocation for the competition will have been made on the basis of the difficulty of play of a hole for that particular course or competition, by the competition committee.

In my experience, before competitions are held, National or County, there is an assessment of the course that a competition will be held on and the playing conditions it will present on the competition day.

If the competition committee feels that some aspects of the course need changing, better demarcation or even Stroke Index Allocation for a hole or holes changing, then this is done by producing local rules for the competition.

Any member of a Golf Club that is hosting a competition may take a look at the scorecard and local rules produced for that competition and not recognize it as being played on his home course.

In England the following method of Stroke Index Allocation is adopted by most courses:



Rules of Golf 33-4 requires Committees to ’publish a table indicating the order of holes at which handicap strokes are to be given or received’. To provide consistency at Affiliated Clubs it is recommended that the allocation is made based on the following principles.

1. Of paramount importance for match play competition is the even spread of the strokes to be received at all handicap differences over the 18 holes.

2. This is best achieved by allocating the odd numbered strokes to the more difficult of the two nines, usually the longer nine, and the even numbers to the other nine.

3. The first and second stroke index holes should be placed close to the centre of each nine and the first six strokes should not be allocated to adjacent holes. The 7th to the 10th indices should be allocated so that a player receiving 10 strokes does not receive strokes on three consecutive holes.

4. None of the first eight strokes should be allocated to the first or the last hole, and at clubs where competitive matches may be started at the 10th hole, at the 9th or 10th holes. This avoids a player receiving an undue advantage on the 19th hole should a match continue to sudden death. Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, stroke indices 9, 10, 11 and 12 should be allocated to holes 1, 9, 10 and 18 in such order as shall be considered appropriate.

5. Subject to the foregoing recommendations, when selecting each stroke index in turn holes of varying length should be selected. Index 1 could be a par 5, index 2 a long par 4, index 3 a shorter par 4 and index 4 a par 3. There is no recommended order for this selection, the objective being to select in index sequence holes of varying playing difficulty. Such a selection provides more equal opportunity for all handicaps in match play and Stableford and Par competitions than an order based upon hole length or difficulty to obtain par.

Note 1: Par is not an indicator of hole difficulty. Long par 3 and 4 holes are often selected for low index allocation in preference to par 5 holes on the basis that it is easier to score par on a par 5 hole than 4 on a long par 4. Long par 3 and 4 holes are difficult pars for low handicap players but often relatively easy bogeys for the player with a slightly higher handicap. Difficulty in relation to par is only one of several factors to be taken into account when selecting stroke indices.

Note 2: When allocating a stroke index it should be noted that in the majority of social matches there are small handicap differences thereby making the even distribution of the lower indices of great importance.

The above recommendations for the ‘Handicap Stroke Index’ provision are principally directed at match play and have proved to be suitable for that purpose. The ‘Handicap Stroke Index’, however, is also used widely for Stableford, par and bogey competitions. In these forms of stroke play competition the need to have a uniform and balanced distribution of strokes is less compelling. There is a cogent case for the Index in such competitions to be aligned to the ranking of holes in terms of playing difficulty irrespective of hole number. Such a ranking facility is available through many of the licensed handicap software programs currently used by Affiliated Clubs.
Clubs that conduct a significant number of Stableford, par and bogey competitions may wish to provide separate stroke indices for match play and the listed forms of stroke play. To avoid confusion this would be best done on separate scorecards.
These recommendations supplement those made by the R&A Rules Ltd contained in ’Guidance on Running a Competition- which may be downloaded from the R&A website www.randa.org.

However, be mindful that allocating a Stroke Index, based on hole difficulty, can dramatically distort match play situations and produce an uneven spread of strokes given/received.

Clubs are therefore advised to follow the guidelines as set out above.

4 Replies to “Dispelling Myths – Stroke Index Allocation”

  1. Stroke index has no effect on scores. In stroke play your handicap comes off after the round. In stableford if you lose a shot on one hole you will get it on another, switching stroke 18 with stroke 1 would make no difference what so ever

    1. Strokes indexes are designed to allow for handicap match play games. In Stroke Play between players of unequal handicaps, as you say, it is simple to determine – deduct each player’s handicap from the gross score and you get the net score and lowest net score wins.
      But in match play when the competition is to win individual holes, on which holes should the handicap be applied? This is where we need stroke index, For example:
      With a difference in Playing Handicaps between Tony and John, Tony has to give John 4 shots during the round – but on which holes? The answer is on the stroke index 1, 2, 3 and 4 holes.
      Stroke index is also used in other competitions, prime among them Stableford competitions. Here points are earned on each hole in relation to each golfer’s net par for the hole. To work out the net par for each hole you need the stroke index. For example:
      If Sarah has a playing handicap of 10, she will get one extra shot on the holes with stroke index 1 to 10 inclusive. Ann, with a playing handicap of 19 will get two extra shots on SI 1 and one extra shot on each of the other 17.
      As you also mention, in Stableford it does not matter so much where the stroke indexes are allocated.
      Although The ‘Handicap Stroke Index’ was designed for Match Play, because it is also used widely for Stableford, par and bogey competitions in these forms of stroke play competition the need to have a uniform and balanced distribution of strokes is less compelling. There is therefore a strong case for the Index in such competitions to be aligned to the ranking of holes in terms of playing difficulty irrespective of hole number.
      For this reason, some clubs have two sets of stroke index, one for match play and one for Stableford. The Stableford ranking is more a straightforward ranking of the difficulty of each hole.
      Stroke Indexes also play a part in Handicap Index Calculation, because it is used to determine the maximum score that can be recorded for a player on each hole – Net Double Bogey.
      For more information on Stroke Index Allocation under the World Handicap System Click Here.

  2. Statistically, in Match play each hole is a single event. There can only be 3 results: A wins, B wins, or Half. The result of the hole has no significant bearing upon what is to follow. In essence strokes are given to enable the high handicap golfer to have an opportunity to “halve” that particular event. This can only happen if the SI is based on considering the average score recorded by all golfers over a long period and differing weather. With scores now recorded by computer this is easily identified.
    By not so doing BIAS is introduced and the suggestion for the distribution of SI as described leads to such bias. It does not matter where the SI numbers are placed and the idea that the low SI should not be in the first 3 holes ” because if the match goes to the 19th there will be an undue advantage” is at best unsound, and frankly cannot be justified when the nature of match play is considered in a sensible light.
    In theory, if SI for each hole is correctly set,and both A & B handicaps are correct, then the match will never have a final result. Further, the idea of all odds on one 9 and evens on the other, means that when it comes to countback, one 9 will be statistically much easier than the other.
    It’s a bit of a “box of frogs “really, and time for a rethink to fit the 21st century?

    1. The idea of allocating Stroke Indexes is to enable golfers to play with and compete against other golfers in a way that will provide at best a fair and equitable way to determine a winner.
      The allocation of Stroke Indexes is left to individual Golf Clubs.
      Golf is not a science and therefore there is no perfect solution to allocating Strokes to Holes
      CONGU the governing body for GB&I, recommended the guidelines that you can read by clicking here
      The R&A in their Guidance to Running a Golf Competition recommended the guidelines that you can read by clicking here
      Now, under the World Handicap System 2020 Rules of Handicapping, The R&A and USGA suggest the use of six triads when allocating Stroke Indexes, you can read their guidelines by clicking here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *