Professional golfers don’t need to concern themselves with stroke indexes, however for the ordinary club golfer playing a stableford competition or competing in a club match play event a hole’s stroke index may mean the difference between victory and defeat. 

If you’re like me (a not-very-good golfer) and find that your opponent has to “give” you shots, you’ve probably heard comments like, “I don’t see why you get a shot here!”, or, “This isn’t fair, me having to give you a shot at the hardest hole on the course”.  Basically, no one likes having to give their opponent shots, and that’s understandable, however club golfers have handicaps and that’s what makes the sport unique. Every golf scorecard has a column headed “Stroke Index” or “SI” and each hole has a number allocated to it between 1 and 18.  Why is this important?  Well, if you’re playing in a match play competition and your handicap is 16 and your opponent’s is 12, he/she will have to “give” you four shots: that means you will receive one shot at the holes with stroke indexes 1 – 4.  If you’re playing in a Stableford competition you will receive shots at holes with stroke indexes from 1 – 16, so if you make a bogey at stroke index 5, you’ll receive a shot and will actually make a nett par: two points. I thought I’d do some research into stroke indexes… or is it indices?  My first port of call was the Oxford English Dictionary, since my gut reaction was to call them indices but that usually got me strange looks.        

 index    noun       in·​dex | \ ˈin-ˌdeks  \           plural indexes or indices\ ˈin-​də-​ˌsēz  \ So, I reassured myself that both words are acceptable plurals, with the latter being used more commonly in technical circles.

Getting that out of the way I headed to the CONGU Manual 2019 for those of you who are interested and have nothing better to do with your time…

CONGU is the Council of National Golf Unions Limited and comprises of golf handicapping experts from all the Golf Unions that administer golf in Great Britain and Ireland.  I searched through Appendix G which deals with stroke indexes and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, the stroke index is not simply determined on hole difficulty.  In fact, “Of paramount importance … is the even spread of the strokes to be received at all handicap differences over the 18 holes.

How are stroke indexes allocated? 

Strokes must be evenly spread at all handicap differences over the 18 holes. It is recommended that the odd-numbered holes are assigned to the more difficult of the two nines (usually the longer nine). Stroke index one and two are typically placed close to the centre of each nine, with none of the first eight strokes allocated to the first or last hole (or the 9th or 10th at clubs where competitive matches may start and finish). This avoids a player receiving an undue advantage on the 19th hole should a match continue to sudden death. As a general rule, stroke indexes 9, 10, 11 and 12 should be assigned to holes 1, 9, 10 and 18.

Ok, so what about the difficulty of the holes? 

Subject to the above, the stroke index is sequenced to reflect holes of varying playing difficulty rather than hole length or the difficulty to obtain par. For example, index one could be a par 5, index two a dog-leg par 4, index three a long par 3 and so on. There is no recommended order for this selection; the objective is simply to provide equal opportunities for all handicaps. A long par 4 may be considered a difficult par for a single-figure golfer, but a relatively easy bogey for a high handicapper.

Anything else I should know? 

In the interests of fairness, the first six strokes are not allocated to adjacent holes. Stroke index 7 to 10 are also assigned so that a player receiving 10 strokes does not receive shots on three consecutive holes. Hopefully this has helped you understand the mystery of “stroke indexes/indices”.