June 2023 - Q & A on SIA

By Kelly Neely & Gretchen Yoder, Handicapping & Course Rating Department

If we were to compile a Top Ten List of Handicapping Head-Tilters (only ten?), SIA – the acronym for Stroke Index Allocation (aka, “Handicap Holes”) – would surely make the cut.

Barring a formal vote, however, it wouldn’t occupy the premier position. That distinction belongs to Course Rating, which, in the world of handicapping, is Kind of a Big Deal. We could give a Ted Talk about Course Rating for hours and still leave the crowd stunned into silence, save for the snoring. Stroke Index Allocation might also be a snooze fest – albeit more like a power nap – but if you title the talk something cute like “Where Do I Get My Pops?” it might make you want to sign up. If there’s free food.

Sadly, no snacks can be served here, but please take our advice and caffeinate yourself.

Q: Here a stroke, there a stroke: what does it mean and why does it matter? 

A: When looking at a scorecard, you’ll see a line of numbers typically labeled ‘HCP’ or ‘Handicap’. When posting hole-by-hole in GHIN, you’ll see those numbers called ‘Stroke Index’, which is newfangled WHS (World Handicap System) terminology. The purpose of SIA is to ensure that the player with the higher handicap receives strokes allocated on the holes where they need them the most when scoring on a hole-by-hole basis, such as match play, four-ball stroke play and skins.

But isn’t there more to it? Yep. The player also needs SIA information when figuring out their maximum hole score – called Net Double Bogey – for posting purposes when a blow-up hole happens (and it’s bound to, because this is, well, golf). Reminder: Net Double Bogey – aka, Double Bogey Plus – equals par plus 2, plus any handicap strokes allowed.

For example, if my Course Handicap is a 15 on a particular course / tee, that means I receive one stroke each on the holes ranked 1-15 on the SIA table. On those holes the par 3s give me a max of 6, the par 4s give me a 7, and the 5s give me an 8 (as an aside, the humorless handicapping gods don’t allow me to be greedy on the holes ranked 16-18, as without more strokes my max is simply double bogey).

Q: Why is hole #3 on my course designated as the hardest hole? My friends and I think it should be hole #7.

A:  Just for giggles, we googled “What’s a handicap hole on a golf course?” The top searches all quoted spin-offs of the following: “Handicap holes are ranked in order of difficulty, with No.1 being the hardest to 18 as the easiest.”

Let’s bust that myth to smithereens. It was never supposed to be the “hardest hole” that gets the No. 1 spot. Okay, we’ll give you a minute to take that in while we look away awkwardly.

The No. 1 handicap hole should be the hole where the higher handicap player is most likely to need a stroke as an equalizer, since the idea behind SIA is to provide an equal playing field for golfers of different handicap levels. If a low-handicap golfer is just as likely to make bogey as a high-handicapper on a particular hole, then it clearly wouldn’t rank No. 1 (but there’s nothing to say it can’t be called the Hole Where Pro V1s Go to Die or something catchy like that).

Q: Why doesn’t the scorecard from my course match the info in GHIN?

A: There are three pieces of (headache inducing) information that we must maintain in perfect working order in GHIN for each set of tees: course rating, par and SIA. If there is a mismatch between this info and a scorecard, it could be simply that we’ve rerated the course and your Pro is trying to get through their existing supply before ordering new ones. In this case, there should be a heads-up to the players that changes have been made.

Secondly, the course may have already updated their SIA, but we have not yet been informed. You may want to ask your Pro to contact the OGA regarding this issue. We only began tracking SIA when the WHS was born back on January 1, 2020. The last moving part involves the P-word – par – which also might have had tweaks here and there.

Free Tip: Always go by what is in GHIN, as it is more up to date than a scorecard. And please let your friends in on this secret to avoid a match play disaster that could cost you a well-earned beer (because we know you don’t play for money).

Q: Why does SIA have to be different for men and women?

A:  Just like the Course/Slope Ratings are different for men and women, even on the same tees, SIA must also be different. The need to equalize holes can vary widely for men and women. Typically, the majority of men are playing different tees than women and thus have different landing zones. Comparing the low to high handicapped players when they are on different tees wouldn’t be logical.

Q: Who is responsible for assigning the handicap holes?

A: We, the OGA, are responsible for populating SIA data into GHIN. The Powers-That-Be at the course, however, are responsible for figuring out which method they will use to come up with said data, and that the resulting ranking makes good sense. It goes without saying that this task is not without controversy, as with many handicapping subjects, SIA tends to fall under the category of You Can’t Make Everyone Happy.

They have three options:

1. Run a Hole-by-Hole Scores Report from Admin Portal and get up close and personal with Excel.

2. Run the cool feature in Golf Genius Tournament Management software (if the course uses it) called Course Handicap Analysis.

3. Use SIA information derived from the Course Rating Program (in consultation with our resident expert, Gretchen Yoder).

Note there is no fourth option that ranks the holes via two guys in a cart with a flask arguing over how they play.

Q: Why isn’t No. 18 the No. 1 ranked hole?

A: The lower handicap stroke holes should be avoided at the end of each of the nine holes simply because it would be unlikely that players would have the opportunity to use them (as in match play). Also, low handicap strokes should not be used on the first or second hole to avoid the effects they could have on a playoff.

The WHS suggests spreading out the allocation of stroke holes to avoid consecutive low strokes, as well as applying a triad concept where each nine is broken into 3-hole clusters. The No. 1 hole should land in the middle cluster (holes 4, 5, 6).

Q: Why do I often see odd numbered handicap holes on the front nine?

A:  The reason for this is that the WHS advises odd front nine, even back nine unless the back nine is decidedly more difficult or considerably longer. An example why this is a recommendation and not an absolute is Club Green Meadows. Using scads of scores posted through Golf Genius, the club was able to assess that the most ‘difficult holes’ for their players happened to be on the back nine. For CGM, it made sense to flip what is considered customary.

Q: How often does SIA have to change?

A: There is no specific deadline set by WHS. But there is a recommendation to update the SIA when major changes happen to the course: yardage, construction, addition or deletion of trees, bunkers, penalty areas and more. There could be repeated (unrelenting) comments from your regular golfers that maybe they should be getting their strokes on different holes. If no one can remember when it was last done, and you have had the same staff for over a decade, or the framed, signed and dated scorecard on the wall from the “lowest round ever” was back when Tiger Woods was still an amateur, those are great indicators that updating your SIA is probably overdue!