Four-Ball Stroke Play: Why the additional 10 percent reduction in certain scenarios?

Four-Ball Stroke Play: Why the additional 10 percent reduction in certain scenarios?

The USGAs recommendations for handicap allowances in different formats of competition are amongst the most heated topics of the USGA Handicap System. Research has shown that for certain multi-ball and team competitions, less than full Course Handicap is necessary to create equity throughout the playing field.

One recommendation that is often overlooked is a special allowance in four-ball stroke play events. It’s referenced in the note of this format. In four-ball stroke play, two competitors play as partners, each playing their own ball. The lower of the partners net scores is the score for that hole. In order to create equity between the field, the USGA recommends that men receive 90% and women receive 95% of Course Handicap. Extensive research conducted by the USGA Handicap Research Team has shown that a team with a large difference in Course Handicap has an advantage over a team with a small difference. In fact, each stroke of spread carries an approximate advantage of one tenth (1/10) of a stroke. In other words, a team comprised of a scratch player and a 10 Course Handicap will have a full stroke advantage over a team of two 5 Course Handicap golfers. To compensate for this advantage the USGA recommends, after the initial handicap allowance is applied, that the difference in Course Handicap between two partners does not exceed eight strokes. If the difference of more than eight strokes cannot be avoided, the USGA recommends that an additional 10% reduction be applied to the Course Handicap of each partner of that side.

For example, Robert (Course Handicap of 24) plays with John (Course Handicap of 11) in a four-ball stroke play competition. After the 90% allowance is applied, Robert is adjusted to a Course Handicap of 22 and John a 10. Since the difference in Course Handicap is greater than eight strokes (22 10 = 12), we recommend reducing each players Course Handicap by an additional 10%. Robert would be reduced to a Course Handicap of 20 (22 x .9) and John to a 9 (10 x .9). Even though their difference in Course Handicap still exceeds eight (20 9 = 11), we recommend to stop after the additional 10% reduction in Course Handicap, as referenced in the note of four-ball stroke play, “Section 9-4b(ii).”

“The USGA Handicap System” manual is available online to view via:

In addition, an article explaining the multi-ball allowances can be found here: