Understanding Your Golf Handicap And How To Calculate It

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A golf handicap is a mathematical calculation pretty famous in golf. If you’re a newbie, looking to learn about golf handicaps, here’s the answer.

A golf handicap is used to measure a golfer’s ability calculated by considering certain numerical values. The logic behind a golf handicap is to figure out how good a player is, allowing golfers of varying abilities to play and compete.

Lower the handicap score, better the player, and vice versa. Golf handicap, also called handicap, has different rules in different parts of the world, and due to these differences, the concept of “World Handicap System” (WHS) came up. The globally accepted WHS help translate different handicap rules, facilitating fair competition between international players.

This article revolves around understanding golf handicaps and methods to calculate them. Keep reading until the end for lots of valuable information.

Golf Handicap- General Explanation

Official handicap is available to the eligible amateur golfer members of the golf clubs upon paying an annual fee. However, ineligible golfers can get other handicap systems for free. A player is called a “scratch golfer” if their handicap is zero, whereas a player with a handicap of eighteen is marked as a “bogey golfer.” The handicap values are explained later in the article.

A golf handicap is determined by considering several mathematical and statistical numbers of a golfer in the game, helping conclude their playing ability. It determines the playing efficiency of a given golfer. Handicap facilitates fair competition between players of different gender, age, and experience.

More than 90% of players don’t have a handicap. Moreover, the handicapping system has several features discussed below.

Handicap Features

  1. Score

There are two types of scores in golf- i) gross score and ii) net score. 

  1. Gross Score

Before calculating the handicap, the number of shots taken by a golfer to get the ball in the hole will be their gross score for that particular round.

  1. Net Score

The net score is calculated after deducting the allowed handicap from the gross score.

Stroke play competitions use a handicap where the handicap numerical value is subtracted from the total shots taken for putting the ball in the hole. The final results are then calculated. 

So how is handicap helpful? Suppose a poor performer took several shots before getting the ball in the hole; the handicap value will reduce the total shots, helping them produce a better net score. Hence the name “Golf Handicap.”

  1. Course Rating

It helps determine the excellent score of a scratch golfer for a given set of tees. For example, the course rating of a course with par 72 is between 67 and 77. This course rating value is calculated by considering several factors, including the golf course length and the obstacles on the course. 

A few handicapping systems suggest taking factors such as the altitude, fairways (weather wide or narrow), and the size of the greens.

  1. Slope Rating

You can compare the relative difficulty of a course for a bogey player against a scratch golfer through this. These ratings range between 55- 155. Increased value denotes increased relative difficulty between the two players.

  1. Course Handicap

Handicap systems using slope rating require players to calculate the course handicap through either of the following formulae:

Course handicap = (handicap index of the player * slope rating) / 113


Course handicap = ((handicap index of the player * slope rating) / 113) + (course rating – par)

Why dividing with 113? The standard relative difficulty is 113. 

The “handicap index of the player” will be the handicap value possessed by the golfer in the above formula. The slope rating will be the value ranging between 55- 155 (different for each course), the course rating is the course-specific par, and the par will be the predetermined number of strokes to complete the round.

  1. Other Features

Apart from those discussed above, other handicap features include stroke index, maximum hole score, handicap differential, and peer review.

Handicap Systems

As mentioned earlier, below are some handicapping systems practiced worldwide.

  1. World Handicapping System

It’s a universal system designed to bring players worldwide on a single handicapping system when competing internationally. It helps calculate the handicap index for a player, helping determine the number of strokes it can play below and above par. The judgment is made by analyzing the eight best scores from the previous twenty holes.

  1. USGA Handicap System

The system is derived from the British “Three Score Average,” The handicap for a golfer is calculated by averaging the best three scores to complete around in the last year. Therefore, the handicap of a player can change every year if deriving from the USGA handicap system.

  1. Other Systems

Similarly, there exist more handicap systems throughout the world, namely CONGU unified, EGA, Golf Australia, South African, and Argentinian handicap system.

Quick Golf Handicap Guide

Now that you’ve learned the basics of golf handicap go through this golf handicap guide section containing a deeper insight into golf handicap.

Standard Scratch Score (SSS)

The SSS denotes the expected shots taken by a scratch golfer for any given golf course to complete 18 holes. The SSS value will be different from the par value of that golf course. Please remember that a scratch golfer is a player with zero handicap value.

Exact Handicap and Playing Handicap

Handicap values can be in decimal points. The exact handicap value of a player is measured up to a single decimal place concluded from the previous competition scores. The playing handicap value is the same handicap value rounded off to the nearest whole number. For example, if a player has the exact handicap value of 19.4, its equivalent playing handicap value will be 19.

Handicap Categories

A total of five handicap categories exist in golf that is discussed below:

  1. Category 1: Handicap values are five or less (0.1)
  2. Category 2: Handicap values range from 5.5- 12.4 (0.2)
  3. Category 3: Handicap values are 12.5- 20.4 (0.3)
  4. Category 4: Handicap values stretch out between 20.5- 28 (0.4)
  5. Category 5: The handicap values are applicable for women only, ranging from 28.1- 36 (0.5)

Change in Handicap Values

Please remember that handicap values are subject to change over time. The change occurs due to a change in the golfer’s ability. When the player’s game performance improves, they will obtain a cut in their handicap values. It means that playing future matches will get challenging for them. For any player who betters their handicap by two shots, the value will reduce by two times the current handicap category value, which is the decimal value in the brackets for each category discussed above.

Getting A Golf Handicap

If you’re wondering where to get a golf handicap, you can contact any Golf Union that’s affiliated golf club. Merely spending money isn’t enough. You’ll have to play at least three eighteen-hole rounds and submit your scores to calculate your handicap score. Moreover, you’ll be playing with a partner who already has a handicap.

Common Terminologies in USGA

Some standard terms in the United States Golf Association are discussed below:

  1. Adjusted Gross Score

The score is adjusted, including penalty strokes (if any), occurring only when a player surpasses their maximum hole score, or if a round isn’t played or a player started a round, but the player failed to hole out.

  1. Bogey Player

A male bogey player has a handicap index of 20.0, and a female bogey player has a handicap index of 24.0.

  1. Cap

Cap defines a limit after which a player’s handicap index increase rate reduces. There are two types of caps:

  1. Soft Cap: the limit after which the player’s handicap index increase rate diminishes.
  2. Hard Cap: player’s handicap index cannot rise after the hard cap limit.
  3. Score Certification

A player’s score is certified through a physical signature, electronic certificate, or peer review.

  1. Handicap Allowance

The maximum handicap value (in percentage) allowed in a given play format creates equity for all the participants.

  1. Handicap Index

The measurement of a golfer’s ability against the slope rating of a given golf course. Another version of the handicap index exists, which is called the “low handicap index.” It’s the lowest handicap index obtained by a golfer in the last 365 days, starting from the day when their last score was recorded.

  1. Net Double Bogey

It’s the par score + two strokes that are adjusted for handicap strokes for any given round. Net double bogey indicates the maximum possible hole score of a golfer for handicap purposes. 

A pretty similar version called “net par” exists, which is the par score for a given hole adjusted for handicap purposes. 

Net par is different from “par,” which is the score expected by a scratch player for a given hole under normal weather conditions and ordinary course.

  1. Playing Handicap

Every handicap player gets the actual number of strokes for a given hole called “playing handicap.”

  1. Scoring Record

All the golfers have a scoring record that contains the history of their acceptable scores and their current handicap index, low handicap index, and other essential details, including the date of round, played, and an exceptional score (if any).

  1. Stroke Index

Every hole on a golf course is assigned a stroke index value that is adjusted with the handicap value of the golfers. For example, if a stroke index is between one to fourteen and the handicap value of a player is fourteen, they should subtract one shot from their gross scores.

Should I Aim To Decrease My Handicap?

Since handicap holds so many benefits while competing against top-notch players, you must be thinking if it’s a good idea to hold a high handicap score on purpose to avail benefits during the game.

Ideally, holding a high handicap score is inadvisable. Every golfer aims to reduce their handicap value as soon as possible since the values reflect their playing ability. It would help if you used handicap while the player is improving. It creates a conservative environment for the golfers to improve their playing ability over time.

Let’s see why you should aim to get rid of high handicap scores quickly.

Not only handicap reflects the playing ability, but it can also be frustrating for good players to play with a high handicap player. For example, if a golfer has a handicap value of ten, a scratch golfer (with zero handicap value) may not find the game so enjoyable. Why? Because the scratch golfer shoots a 70 and the handicap competitor shoots 80, the game will be a tie since 80-10=70. The game will be fun for the handicapped player, but the scratch golfer will have to work harder to tie the game, which can become frustrating for them over time.

How Is Golf Handicap Calculated?

After getting the basic idea of what a golf handicap is, the next step will be calculating it discussed in this section.

Ideally, the golf handicap calculation is carried out in 7 steps, including adjusting the gross score, handicap differential calculation, choosing lowest and average handicap differentials, and making necessary calculations.

Please note that to make a successful handicap calculation, you must be aware of the following terms- adjusted gross score, course rating, slope rating, handicap index, and course index discussed above. 

  1. Generating Adjusted Gross Score

The Adjusted Gross Score is derived from the golfer’s gross score using USGA’s ESC, which is short for Equitable Stroke Control. Under this scheme, the individual hole scores are adjusted downwards to find out the player’s handicap.

Through ESC, you can impose the maximum strokes for a given hole. The maximum stroke is determined through a players’ course handicap. Below is the table for that.

Course HandicapMaximum Score
Less than or equal to 9Double Bogey
10- 197
20- 298
30- 399

Consider an example for better understanding. Suppose a player has a course handicap of 18 who scored nine on a hole; this nine will be adjusted downwards to become seven. Why? Because he falls in the range of 10-19 and players of that range are allowed a maximum of seven in a given hole. After this adjustment, the sum of all eighteen holes will become the adjusted gross score since the gross score was adjusted for every hole in the beginning.

  1. Calculating Handicap Differential

In order to find out your handicap index, the next step will be to calculate the handicap differential, whose formula is covered below.

Handicap Differential = ((adjusted gross score – course rating) * 113) / slope rating

The course rating is the expected score on the course made by a scratch golfer under a typical scenario. 113 is the standard difficulty.

Once the handicap differential is calculated, round it off to the nearest tens. For example, 17.25 will become 17.3, 11.34 will be 11.3, and so on.

  1. Selecting Lowest Handicap Differential

Once you’ve got a list of handicap differentials, select the lowest score. If you got 20+ scores, keep the ten best scores and discard the rest before selecting the lowest score. Similarly, based on the number of handicap differentials generated, please use the differentials according to the table below.

Total Handicap Differentials AvailableNumber of Differentials to Keep
5-6Lowest 1
7-8Lowest 2
9-10Lowest 3
11-12Lowest 4
13-14Lowest 5
15-16Lowest 6
17Lowest 7
18Lowest 8
19Lowest 9
20Lowest 10

According to USGA rules, players should not calculate their handicap before recording at least five scores.

  1. Averaging Lowest Handicap Differential

The average of the handicap is calculated based on the following conditions:

  1. If you have ten differential scores, find out the average of best or lowest 3.
  2. For 15 differential scores obtained, always find the average of best or lowest 6.
  3. Similarly, for 20 handicap differentials, find the average of best or lowest 10.
  4. Product of Average Handicap Differential and 96%

By now, you should have one average value. Multiply this figure 0.96 or 96%.

  1. Finding Handicap Index

You will modify the product obtained in the previous step by removing the numbers after tenths place. For instance, if the achieved product was 13.1904, remove the values after tenths, making it 13.1 (number with a single decimal value).

  1. Calculating Course Handicap

Find the course handicap index with the following formula:

Course handicap = handicap index * (slope rating / 113)

How Do You Calculate Your Handicap Index?

The summarized procedure of calculating your handicap index is discussed below:

  • Find the course handicap for each course played. Use 36 by default if no handicap index is present.
  • Clean the obtained scores using ESC.
  • Calculate the handicap differentials and find the average of best 10 (in case of differential score 20).
  • Multiply the number by 0.96 or 96%.

Maximum Hole Score

The maximum score can never exceed net double bogey; that’s the sum of hole’s par, two strokes (otherwise called double bogey), and handicap strokes (that the golfer is entitled to receive).

For example, a golfer has a course handicap of 12. It’ll be entitled to one extra stroke on any hole with a stroke index of 1. So, for a par four hole with a stroke index of 10, the maximum applicable score will be par + double bogey + stroke received = 4+2+1=7.

Using Golf Handicap System

Once you get your handicap, you’ll notice a rapid drop in it. Don’t panic, as most golfers progress the same way. Your handicap scores will fall and rise several times, but eventually, you’ll grow slowly with time. When you get your handicap, make sure you take your scorecards with you whenever going out to play. Most golf clubs and public facilities have computers to enter your game’s score to get your updated handicap.

Handicap Numbers On A Scorecard

Suppose your average score for ten holes is 100 and the par value for the 18 holes on the course is 72; your average score will be 28 over par. Figure 28 will be your handicap value at the end of the game, and You will determine the next handicap value from this score onwards.

Where To Get A Golf Handicap?

Please follow the process discussed below for getting a golf handicap.

Handicap requires a player to generate an initial score. Based on the initial scores, they’re provided a handicap (as discussed above in brief). Get along with a golfer who would play a round of 18 holes with you.

That player needs to record your score and sign your card at the end of the round. A valid scorecard will have the golfer friend’s and your signatures on it to avoid corruption as much as possible. Then visit the golf club, and they’ll help you get your handicap.

Interesting Facts

  1. Men and women have an average handicap index of 14.2 and 27.5, respectively.
  2. Men with a handicap value of 13 are rarely found in the United States. Moreover, only 5.41% of golfers are between 12.0- 12.9 handicap ranges, and merely 5.37% of total golfers are between 14.0- 14.9.
  3. Women golfers with a handicap value between 27.0- 27.9 comprise just 4.07% or only 18,000 female golfers.
  4. Any male with a 13.9 or lower handicap index is better than over 50% of the total golfer population located in America. To be among the top 10% of golfers, all you need is a handicap value of 4.9 or lower. Only 170,000 players have a handicap of 5 or lower. For a woman to be among the top 10% of golfers, she needs to have a 14.9 or lower score.
  5. Only a total of 35,883 players are scratch golfers.

Golf Talk For Beginners

Being a beginner means you might be interested in the information below:

Hole Scoring

  1. A par score is the total number of strokes allocated to each hole.
  2. Birdie is a scoring occurring when a player completes the hole in one less than par value for that hole.
  3. Similarly, Eagle occurs when a player finishes the hole in two less than the par.
  4. Bogey occurs when the player completes the hole in one more than the par.

Different Types of Shots

  1. When you try hitting the ball but miss it, it’s called an air shot.
  2. When a right-handed player plays the shot curved gently from right to left, it’s called a draw shot. For the left-handed players, the curve is from left to right.
  3. The hook shot is the sharper version of the draw shot. The curve will be sharper.
  4. A fade shot is just the opposite of a draw shot. For right-handed players, the curve will be from left to right, and for left-handed players, the curve will be from right to left.
  5. Steeper curves in a fade shot make it a slice shot.

Various Areas on the Course

  1. A tee box is the starting point for a round.
  2. Properly mowed grass located between the tee box and green is called the fairway.
  3. Taller grass on the fairway is called rough.
  4. Green is the grass area surrounding the hole. It’s the putting surface.
  5. Any small water body located on the golf course is a water hazard. It can be a pond, lake, or dried-up water body.
  6. Players get a free drop on the casual water located on the course that resides there temporarily.
  7. When the ball surpasses the course boundary, it’s termed out of bounds.
  8. You can appoint a person to record the score, and it’ll be called the marker.

Other Terminologies

  1. Honour is the right to shoot first. A person with the lowest score in the previous round goes first. Or else honor is decided by flipping a coin like a toss in a cricket match.
  2. If the players fail to find their golf ball within five minutes, the ball is termed a lost ball.
  3. A provisional ball replaces the lost ball, assuming that it has gone out of bounds or lost.

Interesting Rules

Rules say that you should play the ball as you found it. No matter what’s the condition or how it is lying. Moreover, you should play in the course as it is. No changes should be made to the course for the sake of a better game.

Some etiquettes suggest not distracting the fellow players (even if they’re your opponents) by making a noise or moving around that could distract them. Manners and discipline are essential and considered professional during the game to enjoy it to the fullest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is my handicap if I shoot 85?

When playing on a par 72 course and shooting 85 will mean you’re a 13 handicap. Shooting differently on a 72 par will give you the handicap values as follows:

  • Shooting 100= Handicap 28
  • Shooting 95= Handicap 23
  • Shooting 90= Handicap 18
  • Shooting 80= Handicap 8 (also called single-digit handicap from this point forward)
  • Shooting 75= Handicap 3

What is a good handicap index?

In the United States, the standard golf handicap is considered sixteen. Moreover, an average American golfer will shoot from 86-92 on a regular course under normal circumstances. For females, the average golf handicap is 28.

What is a golf handicap for a beginner?

For a beginner golfer, it’s essential to understand the hole scoring, types of shots, areas on a course, etiquettes, and rules before getting started.


By the end of this article, you must have learned about handicap, what it is, and how it is calculated. We also covered a few FAQs and general golf talk that a beginner must find more information about. Handicap sure is a significant advantage for a beginner golfer, but it’s imperative to try your best to reduce the handicap score as quickly as possible.