Miami Valley Golf
Rule 3-5 Players Competing from Different Tees
We get a lot of questions pertaining to Section 3-5 of the USGA Handicap System.  And they usually start out the same way …“I can’t hit the ball that far. I play the forward tee at my club, and my club professional told me that now I’m losing another shot from my handicap every time I play that tee. How is that fair? I’m not as good as these guys who play the middle or back tees, yet they don’t have to give up any shots.”Playing from a different tee in a competition means that the player is playing a different golf course. If you played NCR South one day and Meadowbrook the next, you wouldn’t necessarily have the same course handicap on those courses, right? That same idea applies to competing from different tees at the same course. Let’s take a look at an example and how Section 3-5 could be applied.
Player 1: Jim is a 3.4 handicap index and is playing from the back tees, which are rated 73.4 with a slope of 141. Before any adjustment, Jim’s course handicap is 4.
Player 2: Dave is a 16.1 handicap index and is playing from the forward tees, which are rated 69.2 with a slope of 133. Before any adjustment, Dave’s course handicap is 19.
Before the adjustments from Section 3-5, the difference between Dave and Jim’s handicaps is 15 (19-4).
Jim is clearly the more accomplished player, right? But then why does Dave lose some of his shots to Jim under Section 3-5. 
The first step is to calculate the difference in the course rating of the tees played, with any difference of .5 or more rounded upward. That means that the difference of 73.4 (back tee) – 69.2 (forward tee) equals 4.2, which is rounded to 4. That number must then either be added to Jim’s course handicap (moving him from 4 to 8 ) or subtracted from Dave’s course handicap (moving him from 19 to 15). Either way, after the adjustment, the difference between the two course handicaps is 11 shots, because the course that Jim is playing (back tees) is four shots tougher. Is that fair? Well let’s look at the following chart for an explanation: 

TeeBack Tees Forward Tees 
Handicap Index3.4 *16.1 *
Slope Rating141 133
Course Handicap19 
USGA Course Rating73.4 69.2 
Target Score77 88 
Minus Course Handicap (Adjusted for Section 3.5819
= The Same Net Score 69 69
 * The Handicap Index is Based on the Differential which uses the course rating and slope from the tee you play to set the same base line for all golf scores
So even though Jim is a better player, since he’s playing a tougher golf course based on the difference in course rating, he gets four additional shots.   
As the chart above shows, that makes the competition between the two players equitable. 
Section 3-5 is sometimes difficult for clubs to comprehend. But what I see happen in that case, far too often, is that the club chooses not to follow Section 3-5 for fear of the backlash from whatever percentage of the field that sees its advantage cut down in a club event. Is that allowed? 
Well, according to Decision 3-5/2 of the USGA Handicap Manual, it is not. As stated in the manual: “No. Not applying Section 3-5 of The USGA Handicap System when players are competing from different tees would be waiving a Rule of Golf, and the committee in charge of a competition does not have the authority to waive a Rule of Golf.” 
So there you have it – use Section 3-5 properly, and the competitions will be more fair. Choose not to use Section 3-5, and you technically don’t have a competition at all.  
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