Millions of golfers carry a handicap index, which is helpful in allowing golfers of varying skill levels to compete against each other on a more equal footing. A golfer's handicap index varies from round to round based on their best recent performances.
Part of keeping a handicap index, however, is keeping score properly for handicap purposes. As it turns out, there is a maximum score a golfer can take on any hole for their handicap.
What is the highest score a golfer can have on a single hole for their handicap?
With the creation of the World Handicap System, every golfer has the same maximum score they can have on any one hole as it counts to their handicap. The highest score a golfer can have on a single hole for their handicap is net double bogey.
What that means is that a golfer's maximum score for a hole cannot be higher than a double bogey when taking their score and subtracting any handicap strokes they are getting on that hole.
For example, if a golfer is getting a stroke on a par 4, the highest score they can take on that hole for handicap purposes is a 7 -- because they will subtract 1 from that score and get a net double bogey (7-1=6). If a golfer would be getting two strokes on that same hole, the highest score they could take for their handicap is 8 (8-2=6). If a golfer is getting zero strokes on that same hole, the highest score they could take is 6 (6-0=6). And, for the very rare golfer who actually would have to add a stroke on that same hole, their highest score would be 5 (5+1=6).
Of course, just because a golfer hits their maximum score for handicap purposes on a hole, that doesn't mean they have to stop playing the hole once they reach that handicap maximum. This is particularly true in tournament golf, where a player has to complete every hole, no matter how many strokes it takes.
Why is there a maximum score for handicap purposes?
The reason for a maximum score to count toward your handicap is to prevent handicap manipulation by tanking. A sandbagger could conceivably give up on certain holes and make bad scores to pad their handicap index and let it increase artifically compared to their talent. By setting a maximum score, it's more difficult for a player's handicap index to make radical swings with either a bad round or intentional tanking.