I moved to the United States in high school, down to South Carolina, so that’s where I played most of my golf growing up. The idea of a golf “offseason” was wholly foreign to me. It got colder in the winter, sure, but never so much that it would keep you off the golf course. More often than not the weather was pleasant — perhaps even more pleasant than the roasting temperatures of summers in the Deep South.
And then I moved up to New York, where I was introduced to a true golf offseason, good and hard. And along with it, I became familiar with the golf’s offseason handicap rules.
In case you’re unfamiliar: The handicap system in each state is run by that state’s golf association (some of the larger and/or more populous states have multiple golf associations, but let’s get into that another time), and each state has slightly different rules.
Which brings us to the offseason handicap rules.
Around the time when temperatures begin to drop, the states in various northern climates move into an official offseason. Why? Because as the USGA explains, the effects of weather fluctuations on course-conditions have the potential to skew players’ handicaps. If you’re playing a course in near-freezing temperatures, for instance, or with frozen greens, and you shoot a higher-than-average score, is that really a fair reflection of your ability? Probably not, which opens the door for potential sand-bagging.
Hence the offseason. Offseason start dates vary by state; some come in mid-November, some in late November. All of the state associations that implement offseasons will have done so by the end of November.
The states in blue on the map below are the offseason states; the states in green allow you to post scores year-round. You can check out a full list right here.
States with offseason handicap rules
If you live in an offseason state, you can (obviously) still play golf in these areas, it just means that you can’t register a score that counts towards your handicap. If you play golf in a non-offseason state, you’re still allowed to post that score towards your handicap.