Stroke Indexes: What are they?

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Stroke indexes; how are they allocated, the myth about difficulty of the holes and what else you should know

As part of our biggest questions answered series, we decided to find out - just what are stroke indexes and what should we know about them? 

Angry golfers take heed. The stroke index is not designed to penalise you, even though it may feel that way when you're giving away a shot on a 150-yard par 3 in matchplay.

Contrary to popular belief, the stroke index is not determined on hole difficulty, but on ensuring an equal distribution of strokes are given/ received in a match play competition.

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 longest).

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 indices 9, 10, 11 and 12 should be assigned to holes 1,9,10and18.

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

More in biggest questions answered series: 

Can golf really make you fitter? 
Should I chip with the pin in or out? 
How do you really compare to other golfers? 
Can you still play well hungover? 
Are trees really 90% air? 
How often should I play to my handicap?