If you've ever wondered what the Stroke Index system is all about, what it's for and how Stroke Indexes are allocated - here's the lowdown.

What is Stroke Index In Golf?

Every golf scorecard has a column headed, ‘Stroke Index.’

Each hole has a number allocated to it between 1 and 18.

Clearly the number doesn’t signify a recommended number of shots, or a minimum age requirement for attempting the tee shot, so what’s it for?

Here we explain the purpose of stroke indexes and how they are distributed.

Why do we need stroke indexes?

If you’re playing in a handicap matchplay competition, the chances are you’ll be either giving or receiving shots.

Where those shots come into play is determined by the stroke indexes allocated to the holes.

If you’re giving away 3 shots, your opponent will receive them on the holes with stroke indexes 1 to 3.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be giving away 20 shots then your opponent will receive a shot on every hole, and two shots on the holes with stroke indexes 1 and 2.

Remember, if the match goes into extra holes, stroke index applies by the card again.

They’re just for matchplay then?

No. Stroke indexes are also important in Stableford competitions.

If you play to a handicap of 10 you’ll receive shots at holes with stroke indexes from 1 to 10.

If you make a bogey at stroke index 5, you’ll receive a shot and will actually make a nett par: two points.

Stroke indexes are used in the same way for calculating scores in par and bogey competitions.

In addition, clause 19 of CONGU’s Unified Handicapping System relies on stroke indexes.

This clause states that, for handicap purposes, you can’t score worse than a nett double bogey at any one hole.

If you play off 6 and make a triple bogey at the hole with stroke index 15, clause 19 will reduce your score to a double bogey (for handicap purposes).

However, if you had made a triple bogey at the hole with stroke index 1, you would have received a shot: the triple would have already been reduced to a double bogey so a clause 19 alteration wouldn’t have been required.

Continues below

OK, so how are Stroke Indexes allocated?

It’s complicated.

A common misconception is that stroke index simply gives an indication of a hole’s difficulty, i.e. the hardest hole on the course is stroke index 1, second hardest is 2 and so on.

In fact, difficulty is just one of the many criteria considered when distributing stroke indexes.

And those criteria are?

Firstly, an even spread needs to be achieved.

Many clubs do this by numbering the holes on one nine with odd stroke indexes and the other nine with even.

Stroke indexes 1 and 2 tend to be allocated somewhere in the centre of each nine.

This is because in many matches, where the handicap difference is minimal, the placing of the lower indexed holes is of vital importance.

An effort is generally made to ensure the first 6 should not be allocated to adjacent holes, and the first and last holes are often not given a stroke index below 9.

Then length should be considered.

Indexes should be allocated to holes of varying lengths. Stroke 1 might be a long par four, 2 might then be a shorter, more-strategically difficult par four, 3 might be a par five and so on.

What about difficulty though?

It should generally follow that the harder holes on the course have low stroke indexes.

But, difficulty in relation to par is not the overriding consideration when selecting indexes.

This is because a long par four may be a very difficult par for a low handicapper but a fairly straightforward bogey for a player of a slightly higher handicap.

In recent years, some clubs have opted to use dual Stroke Indices – One for Matchplay where indices are allocated using the CONGU guidelines as outlined above.

Another for use in Stableford and other relevant competitions, based solely on the difficulty of the hole in relation to par: A great idea, but it does make for rather a complicated scorecard!

Don’t forget to follow Golf Monthly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

  • Fergus Bisset

    This is very well put. I agree that individual clubs should be left to make their own minds up. Also agree that a more universal system should be possible now almost all clubs are on computer systems.

    But, I still like the idea of two sets of indices. I know at my club, as an example, the 2nd is statistically the hardest hole on the course – a par 3 of 225 yards (bogey is acceptable there even for the very best players.) But it’s stroke index 10 and that, of course, is for matchplay purposes. But so many blobs there by single figure guys who make 5s. Also I’d like to say that at my club, Banchory in Aberdeenshire by the way has (I’ve just on howdidido) 124 players with single figure handicaps. Every club is different I guess and that supports your point that each should be able to take decisions on SI independently.

  • LCVreg

    Ha, if it were all that easy! – Golf Unions and Congu put their spoke in a few years ago and virtually insisited to all clubs to use their convaluted method that did not take into account hole length and difficulty at all, and trying to standardising all holes. Thankfully, and after much expense to many clubs for printing new cards, many thence rebelled and this whole scheme has been quietly dropped. Clubs should be left to work out their own stroke indexes.
    Too much emphasis is given both to matchplay and low handicappers in the golf heirarchy, whilst I suspect that 90% of all golf played is certainly not matchplay, and also whilst the emphasis should be on the 98% of golfers who are not single handicap, – this is one of the problems of this lovely game, too much emphasis on the minute minority, and not the majority of us, that being 10 hcap upwards. Forget looking after the low handicappers, for if they are good enough, they can cope with a hole whatever the stroke index, whereas a 20 handicapper can get an 8 on a 250 yard par 4 just as easily as a 465 par 4!
    And whilst I am on, when on earth can we have the Slope system as used everywhere else other than UK……..it is complicated yes, but so much fairer and with all clubs now having to be computer based for handicapping, is now within the realms of all to do….it has got to come!