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CONGU Handicapping Questions

This section is designed to help answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the CONGU Unified Handicapping System as used in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.


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Who are CONGU?

The British Golf Unions Joint Advisory Committee, later The Council Of National Golf Unions (CONGU), came into existence at a conference held in York on 14 February 1924.

The conference was convened by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews as a means of enabling the representatives of the Golf Unions of Great Britain and Ireland to formulate a definitive system of calculating Scratch Scores and to arrive at a uniform system of handicapping based on Scratch Scores.

The Consultative Committee was appointed to receive and consider schemes for calculating and allocating the Scratch Scores and adjustments to handicaps throughout Great Britain and Ireland. The Standard Scratch Score and Handicapping Scheme was prepared by the Council in 1925 and has been in operation throughout Great Britain and Ireland since the 1st March 1926.

On the 21st March 1960 the name was changed to the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) comprising representatives of The English Golf Union, The Golfing Union of Ireland, The Scottish Golf Union, The Welsh Golf Union and The The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.  The Council now includes the ladies associations as well, including the Ladies Golf Union, The English Women’s Golf Association, The Scottish Ladies’ Golf Association, The Irish Ladies’ Golf Union and the Welsh Ladies, now represented by the merged Golfing Union of Wales.

How do I get an Offical CONGU handicap?

An official CONGU handicap can only be allotted to members of Affiliated Golf Clubs.  Only the Club can award that handicap.  YOU CAN NOT GET AN OFFICAL UK or IRISH HANDICAP ONLINE.  Websites that offer 'OFFICIAL HANDICAPS' are misleading. They may offer to calculate what your handicap might be if you were to apply for an Official CONGU one, but they cannot award you one.  Only CONGU handicaps are 'official' and 'universally recognised'.  Some online 'certificates' or 'handicap cards' will be accepted by some golf clubs, but you should check first, particularly if you are prepaying for a green fee and the club requires an official handicap.

CONGU dictate that your club can choose how many cards they require, but it must me a minimum of three, played in the last six months.  They must be marked and signed by a person acceptable to the committee and played over 18 holes (preferably a measured course).

After all cards are adjusted (reducing down scores of over 2 over par (for men, 3 over for ladies) the best card is taken.  Your handicap (exact and playing) is then calculated as the number that score differs from the Standard Scratch Score (NOT PAR).

Please note the Committee DO have discretion "in exceptional circumstances".

What is the Unified Handicapping System (UHS)?

On February 1 2004 the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) introduced the Unified Handicapping System (UHS). From that date, and for the first time, the same set of rules for calculating and regulating handicaps applied to golfers, male and female, who are members of clubs affiliated to one of the eight Unions/ Associations. These Unions/Associations are responsible for administering amateur golf, including handicaps, for club golfers in G.B. & I. This important step is intended to help and promote a greater mixed participation in the game of golf and to increase the enjoyment of the game at club level and beyond.

How does the system work?

A "Scratch Score" system is used in the UK & Ireland in order to rate courses and be fair to golfers of varying ability, and to make allowances that courses may play "easier" or "harder" than par, overall, to the amateur field. For this reason, a Standard Scratch Score (SSS) is used as a baseline for how the course plays in practice (e.g. an SSS lower than par indicates a course which golfers find slightly easier, and vice versa).

Akin to the SSS is the Competition Scratch Score (CSS). Only scores gained in qualifying competitions or through the allowance of Supplementary Scores, are applicable the system (although general play, does allow corrections). The principle is the same, only the CSS describes how easy or difficult the course played during a given competition. It is against this CSS score that a player's handicap is adjusted by the club. Golfers with a handicap of 5 or lower are said to be Category 1 players. Higher handicap players are categorised as Category 2, 3, or 4 (ladies have a further category of 5).  For every stroke the Category 1 golfer's net score is below the CSS, their handicap is reduced by 0.1. For Category 2 golfers, this figure is 0.2, for Category 3 golfers it is a 0.3 reduction, 0.4 for Category 4 golfers, and 0.5 for ladies between 29 and 36.

Similarly, amateur golfers are allowed a buffer zone to protect their handicap on "off-days". For Cat 1 this is 1 stroke, for Cat 2 this is 2 strokes, etc. This means that if a Category 1 golfer's net score is one stroke higher than the CSS, their handicap will not increase. If a golfer's net score is higher than the CSS plus buffer zone combined, their handicap will increase by 0.1. This 0.1 increase covers all golfers and does not vary by category.

How is the CSS Calculated?

The CSS is a calculation based on the number of players in a competition.  Those players differing abilities are given a differing ‘weight’ dependant on their playing category.  Players who’s handicaps fall in to the higher group (4 for men and 5 for ladies) are disregarded for this calculation.

Firstly the number of golfers taking part on the day is divided in to home and visitor players.  If there are over 20 players in both groups, then two separate CSSs are computed.

Then the players are divided into categories, and the higher ones disregarded.  These numbers are then converted into percentages of the field and rounded to the nearest 10%.  Then we count up the players that have score 2 over or better than the SSS of the course.   This again is converted to a percentage.  These figures are then compared to a CONGU table, this table gives us the number that the CSS will move.  The CSS can only move one shot below the SSS but up to three above.  The calculation cannot be worse than three shots, if it would have done, then the CSS for handicap down adjustments is set at SSS +3, but handicap increases are not allowed.  This is called a Reductions Only Competition.
An example will be posted here soon.

The CONGU Unified Handicapping System is the Copyright of the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU).