Missouri Golf Post

Dear Dr. Divot,

Some of the guys I play with will “take an X” on one or more holes when they have hit into a hazard, fluffed a shot in a bunker or knocked one out-of-bounds. This seems like a way to keep their scores down and their tempers in remission after a disaster.
Can they do that? Do their scores count? Is there a way to keep these scofflaws honest and give them a score they can turn in for handicap purposes?

Just Wanna’ Know


Dear JWK,

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand I applaud your buddies for the consideration they show by picking up and keeping the pace of play moving. On the other hand, I suspect, as apparently you do, that this is more of an ego thing than etiquette.

By picking up they avoid the dreaded “big number” and can maintain their mental equilibrium for the rest of the round. Not necessarily a bad thing. But it strikes the ol’ Doc that once you have picked your ball up, it makes it easier to pick up the next time things don’t go your way. Pretty soon the notion of a “score” becomes pretty meaningless.

The USGA does have a solution to this situation, JWK. It’s called Equitable Stroke Control or ESC. It keeps two situations from getting out of hand: 1) the case you are concerned about where, out of frustration or to speed play, a player packs it in on a hole when his score won’t affect the outcome of the match; and 2) and when a really unscrupulous player “hockey sticks” his ball around to create a high score in hopes of boosting his handicap.

ESC prevents an exceptionally bad hole from influencing a player’s handicap. It sets a limit on how many strokes a player can take on a hole based on his course handicap. Before you post your score, you are required to make an adjustment when the score you make (or would have made) on a hole is higher than what is allowed under the following table:


  Course  handicap

Maximum    score

         Under 9      Double bogey
         10 – 19               7
         20 – 30               8
         30 – 39               9
         Over 40              10


Say you pick up on a hole or are conceded a stroke, you record the score you most likely would have made. This includes the strokes you have taken, plus the number of strokes (including penalty strokes) that you would most likely take to complete the hole from that point. On the scorecard an “X” should precede the score (i.e. X-7).

If the result is higher than what is allowed under ESC you adjust the score downward. There is no limit to the number of holes on which you can apply ESC. And, yes, these scores do count.

The other time you are required to record a score for an incomplete hole or round is when play has been stopped for some reason like darkness or weather. You record par- plus any strokes you are entitled to under the course handicap.

Let’s say you’re a ten handicap and lightning ends your round after the 15th hole. If the last three holes happen to be the number 8, 12 and 4 handicap holes your par-plus score on these three holes would be bogey, par, bogey since your ten handicap would have gotten a stroke on 16 and 18, but no stroke on the 17th hole.

So, JWK, there is nothing sinister about what your golf buddies are doing as long as they follow the rules and apply ESC before they turn in their score.

The Doc visited a course recently where signs were prominently posted around the locker room alerting players that:


You shot even par today unless you report your actual score to the pro shop within three days.

It was nice to see a club where posting and peer review are taken seriously.


Dr. C.B. Divot


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