Handicaps and Headaches or Spreadsheets

I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s golf game: it’s called an eraser. ~Arnold Palmer


To keep our yearly event fair and competitive, we have long used a handicap system.  We adjust our handicaps every year for the 3 games we play.  Ideally, it should give either team an equal chance to win every year.  In theory, it should also prevent long winning streaks, but that is not always the case.

How We Handicap

Let’s say your handicap for the current year is  -2 for stroke.  Then,  you win by 2 strokes with your actual score.   How do we determine handicaps for next year?

Determine the differential

Think of the differential as what you won or lost by including handicap.  In this case, after applying handicap, we would have won by 4 strokes.  Differential is positive number if you win and  negative if you lose.


Handicap (-2) + Actual (-2) = 4 This the differential.  With handicap, we won by 4.

We could just take that number and apply that to our current handicap.  (-2 ) + 4 = 2.  This would mean the handicap would swing from getting 2 strokes to giving up 2 strokes the following year.
We decided this put too much weight on the current year.  To normalize things we divide the differential by 2.  In this case:


Modified Differential 4 divided by 2 = 2

Now to establish handicap for next year, we take last year’s handicap (-2) and add the modified differential (+2) since we won actual.


-2 + 2 = 0, The handicap for next year would be 0.  In other words, we would play straight up.


Hopefully that wasn’t as painful to read as it was to write.  Doing things this way is a good method, but it is confusing.  Year after year, it always took us time to figure things out.  After a few arguments, several math problems, and a little trash talking, we would eventually get back to this method.

Let’s do one more example:

Stroke handicap (-2)
Actual (+3) – we lost by 3 and so with handicap lost by 1.
Differential (-2) + (+3) = 1
Modified:  Differential divided by 2 = -.5 (negative because we lost)
Next year handicap:  (-2) + (-.5) = -2.5


For years, we talked about needing a spreadsheet with formulas to calculate handicaps for the following year.   Although it was fun to argue and get confused every year about what the following years handicaps should be, it was time for a change.  Finally, a couple of years ago Andy came through with a spreadsheet for us.  Since then, win or lose we have a simple way forward.

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