Equitable Stroke Control: Truths and Myths

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the system put in place by the USGA to eliminate the effect of "distaster holes." It was also meant as a way to combat those sandbaggers who intentionally blow up on a hole in order to raise their handicaps. Equitable Stroke Control is a procedure defined by the USGA to ensure that a handicap index is representative of a golfer's true potential.

The Equitable Stroke Control System puts a limit on the number of strokes you can write down for any one hole, based on your course handicap. Remember, the handicap index is not meant to reflect your average score, it's meant to reflect your best potential.

For Handicap purposes , you are required to adjust your hole scores downward (actual or probable). There is no limit to the number of holes on which you can adjust your score.

    Course Handicap........Maximum Number On Any Hole
  • 9 or less...................Double Bogey
  • 10 through 19...............7
  • 20 through 29...............8
  • 30 through 39...............9
  • 40 or more..................10

Now, sandbaggers will make the system work toward their benefit by taking their max on any hole and more often than they should. It is up to you to know the difference and point out the error of their ways. Then there are those who don't really know any better.

The following article should help clear up the myths surrounding the Equitable Stroke Control System:

The "X" Factor

By Kevin O'Connor

"Douglas spent the winter dreaming of that special day when his course would open with its ice-breaker tournament. The harsh memory of mornings spent shoveling the overnight snowfall would melt with that first drive of the new season.

This year, though, thanks to months of anticipation, Douglas played far worse than the 18.8 Handicap Index with which he'd finished last season. He picked up on seven holes when his better-ball partner, Roger, played like a champ. On top of that, the group only finished 16 holes before dark. Although the day was not a total loss - Douglas and Roger placed third - a scorecard with seven X's left Douglas despondent that he not only held the team back, but could not post the round as the committee expected.

Fortunately, Roger knew better and informed Douglas that the USGA Handicap System's provisions allow any player the opportunity to post a score almost any time he tees it up. That's especially useful to a player who is out of a hole and picks up to speed up play.

Section 4-1 of the USGA Handicap System states, "If a player starts but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke, he shall record for handicap purposes the score he most likely would have made. The most likely score consists of the number of strokes already taken plus, in his best judgment, the number of strokes that the player would need to complete the hole from that position more than half the time. The most likely score should be preceded by an 'X.' "

Section 4 deals with three types of postings:

  • Incomplete holes. Douglas was 15 feet from the hole in two at the par-3 fourth when Roger holed out from a bunker for birdie. As he pocketed his ball, Douglas determined that he probably would have two-putted at least half of the time, so he replaced that X with an X-4.
  • Shortened rounds. According to Section 4-2, "If a player does not play a hole or plays it other than under the principles of the Rules of Golf (except for preferred lies), his score for that hole for handicap purposes shall be par plus any handicap strokes he is entitled to receive on the hole." Using the allocation of handicap strokes from the scorecard, his Course Handicap of 21 and each hole's par meant Douglas replaced those last X's with an X-6 and X-5.

Big numbers. Douglas picked up at the 14th instead of playing his eighth shot from a bunker. Figuring he most likely would have made a 10, his Course Handicap of 21 meant he had an Equitable Stroke Control limit of 8. Douglas erased the X and put down X-8.

  • Although not happy with a 113, Douglas could post it in the computer. He realized the two-step process was simple - determine his most likely score on a hole, then see if it exceeded his Equitable Stroke Control maximum. If there was a lesson, it was that going into his pocket didn't necessarily mean posting a big number.

Roger pointed out a nearby bulletin board with a USGA Handigram, a poster of frequently asked questions to assist those uncertain of how to apply the procedures. Douglas left the course proud of the few holes where he had contributed to the team, and vowing that the next time his play proved less than satisfactory he would still post a proper score."



Incomplete Holes and Conceded Putts

In stroke play, a player is required under Rule 3-2 to hole out at every hole. However, in some special forms of stroke play (see Rules 31-32) there are instances where holing out is not a requirement. When a player fails to hole out, in either stroke play or match play, the Handicap System requires data that is reflective of what transpired that will help in predicting potential ability. Section 4-1 of the USGA Handicap System Manual states: "If a player starts but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke, he shall record for handicap purposes the score he most likely would have made. The most likely score consists of the number of strokes already taken, plus, in his best judgment, the number of strokes that the player would need to complete the hole from that position more than half the time." (Florida State Golf Association)

Mulligans

"Mulligans" are a relatively frequent occurrence on the golf course. But they are not recognized under the Rules of Golf.

The USGA Handicap System doesn’t want to eliminate a round that has seventeen holes of valid scores if a "mulligan" was played on a single hole. So, for handicap purposes, the hole score made with the mulligan is tossed out and replaced with a hole score that is not considered out of the ordinary for the player, based on his Course Handicap. The player’s score becomes par, plus any handicap strokes the player should receive, on the hole(s) in question. A player with a Course Handicap of eighteen receives a stroke on every hole, so that particular player’s hole score would be par plus the one stroke, or a bogey. (Florida State Golf Association)


If you pick up on a hole, write down the score you MOST likely would have made



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