What is Stroke Index?

Stroke Index

Stroke Indexes are designed to allow for handicap Match Play games. In Strokeplay between players of unequal handicaps, it is simple to determine a winner – 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.

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 Index Allocation

The recommended procedure for the allocation of stroke index values in the Rules of Handicapping under the World Handicap System (WHS) has changed from the recommendations found in the previous USGA and CONGU Handicap Systems.

For the WHS a simple, consistent and data-based approach is used that can be applied to any course in the world, regardless of the number or type of players at the course.

Because stroke allocation is used in match play, but also in certain forms of stroke play such as four-ball stroke play and Stableford. It was not preferred to maintain a separate stroke index table for both Match Play and Stroke Play for a number of reasons, keeping things simple was the primary factor.

The conclusion was to base the stroke index table on overall hole difficulty relative to par as a starting point, then use the procedures that work well to provide equity in match play, including placing odds and evens on different sides, avoiding consecutive low stroke index holes, and avoiding low stroke index holes at the beginning or end of a nine. It was also a recommendation to have separate stroke index tables for women and men, but not have multiple stroke index tables per gender as that can lead to players selecting tees in order to gain an advantage, especially if trying to maximize strokes between partners in team events.  

From worldwide research, in match play, the stroke index order is not really important in producing equitable results as long as the strokes are spread out, consecutive low strokes are avoided, and low strokes at the beginning or end of each nine are avoided. So, applying the triad concept of using three-hole clusters (with the lowest stroke hole on each nine in the middle of the nine), spreading out low stroke holes, and avoiding consecutive low stroke holes produces a simple but effective method for allocation.

As stroke index values are also used in stroke play or Stableford play, it was important to generate an allocation based on overall difficulty, which is where the Course Rating data is used. Using Course Rating data, which factors in both effective playing length and obstacle ratings, provides a consistent method regardless of the makeup of players at the course. While the stroke index values are ultimately adjusted to accommodate the recommended procedures for match play, they are generally consistent with the order of difficulty as ranked using Course Rating data. 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.

Since the maximum hole score allowed for handicap purposes is based on a net double bogey, which is tied to the stroke index value, it is important to have the holes ranked in a general order of difficulty. 

As with the previous Handicap Systems, stroke index allocation is a recommendation and courses are free to use whichever method they choose. There is no recommendation for a course to run a new allocation solely due to the move to the WHS. However, for courses that are looking to run a new allocation, the new WHS method produces consistent and acceptable values without the need to find specific players and collect hundreds of scores from a common tee.  

For more information on Stroke Index Allocation under the World Handicap System Click Here.

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