Are 9-Hole Golf Scores or Incomplete Rounds OK for Handicap Scores?

Woman marking notes on score card in golf cart, Saipan
Golfers often play only nine holes, or are unable complete a full 18. How do you handle such rounds for handicap reporting?. DAJ/Getty Images

Suppose you carry a USGA Handicap Index, which means that after each round you post your score for handicap purposes. But today you only have time for nine holes. Or maybe you already played, say, 15 holes, and then bad weather prevented you from going farther. Can you still post such scores for handicap purposes?

Yes, you can post 9-hole scores and even uncompleted 18-hole scores under certain conditions. Both scenarios are covered in the USGA Handicap Manual.

Posting 9-Hole Scores

Nine-hole rounds should be recorded as such when you post your scores. They may not immediately have any impact on your handicap index. However, if there is another 9-hole round in the system for you, the two will be paired together as if they comprised the two halves of an 18-hole round. That "18-hole" round will then be figured into your handicap index.

Nine-hole scores are addressed in Section 5-2(c) of the USGA Handicap Manual, which states:

To be acceptable for handicap purposes, nine-hole scores must meet the following conditions:
(i) The course must have a nine-hole USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating;
(ii) At least seven holes must be played.

There is no restriction on the number of nine-hole scores posted to a player's scoring record. Even if a player plays a majority of nine-hole rounds, that player can still utilize a Handicap Index ...

You should also consult the USGA's faq entitled, "Only Time for 9? You Can Still Post Your Score" for more in-depth discussion.

Posting Incomplete Rounds

Thirteen holes must be played in order to post an 18-hole score. So what happens to the five holes you didn't play? On your scorecard, you write down the score you would likely have gotten had you played those holes.

No, that doesn't mean you get to put down birdies for those holes, or triple-bogies if you want to sandbag! Nice try, though. On the holes you failed to play, you would take par plus the strokes allowed by your course handicap. If your course handicap is 18 (meaning you get one stroke per hole), that means putting down bogeys (par plus one) for those five holes.

Section 5-2(b) of the Handicap Manual provides this example:

If 13 or more holes are played, the player must post an 18-hole score. If 7 to 12 holes are played, the player must post a nine-hole score. In either case, scores for unplayed holes must be recorded as par plus any handicap strokes that the player is entitled to receive on the unplayed holes. (See Section 4-2 and 5-1a .)
Example: A player with a Course Handicap of 30 stops playing after 16 holes because of darkness. Hole 17 is a par 3 and is the number 18 handicap-stroke hole. The player will record 3 (par) plus 1 handicap stroke for an X-4 on hole 17. Hole 18 is a par 4 and is the number 12 handicap-stroke hole. The player will record 4 (par) plus 2 handicap strokes for an X-6 on hole 18.

Consult the USGA Handicap System Manual for more details about both these scenarios. (And obviously, if you are in a country that does not use the USGA handicap system, you'll need to consult your loval governing body for instructions.)