How does a holes handicap correlate with the holes difficulty?

While it is widely believed that the hole handicap is a measure of a holes difficulty this is not strictly correct according to the USGA.

The USGA states “The stroke hole allocation (hole handicap) should not be based on the difficulty of a hole, but rather where players with higher handicaps need strokes in order to obtain a half in match play. ”

So even with this explanation from the USGA most players would agree that often the #1 handicap hole on a course is perceived to be one of the easiest holes and the #18 handicap hole is often times one of the easiest holes on the course to par.

In order to see just how right or wrong this belief that hole handicap = difficulty I have taken the scores from roughly 27,000 scores logged on and graphed the average (mean) score relative to par (e.g. birdie = -1, par = 0, etc.) against the hole handicap number.


Here is the table to support that graph:












As you can see in the table and graph the holes with the lowest 4 handicap numbers (#1 through #4) are significantly more difficult than the average hole. Also the holes with the highest 4 handicap numbers (#15 through #18) are significantly easier than the average hole. So just looking at these 8 holes it seems that the belief that the hole handicap number is a good measure of the hole difficulty holds up.

The middle 10 handicap holes do not really seem to be as closely mapped to their actual difficulty as they have some weird anomalies such as #11 being on average significantly more difficult than #12.

Golf Score Predictor

I have not added functionality in a long time but last week I decided now was the time! I added a feature to the stats menu called “Projected Scores”. Basically this takes your handicap and estimates what you will shoot based on the course and tee. It provides five estimates:

  • Real Bad (-20%)
  • Bad (-10%)
  • Expected
  • Good (+10%)
  • Real Good (+20%)

The expected number is based on your handicap. If you were to shoot your handicap then that would be the score that you should put up. The +/- numbers are a percentage above or below your handicap. The USGA has a cool little table that helps identify a sandbagger based on the odds of you shooting +/- your handicap. (

Using that table and using me as an example and Royal Ontario Blue Tees as the course/tee:

Handicap: 21
Good: 95 (-3 of my handicap)
Real Good: 92 (-5 of my handicap)

So the odds of me actually shooting these scores are as follow:

Good: 21 to 1
Real Good: 174 to 1

This really puts things into perspective in terms of how hard it is to improve drastically and how golf is a game of small gains.