What is a Golf Handicap: An Ultimate Guide

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Are you also a golf mystery solver looking to find the solution to what is a golf handicap? For beginner golfers, golf handicap has always been an enigma. A golf handicap is the average score or number of strokes a golfer shoots over par. Golf handicaps offer a level playing field to all golfers.

In golf, fair play is the prime objective of the golf game. If you are an absolute newbie who wants to play with a scratch golfer, YOU CAN. You might even beat him in the net score. Thanks to the golf handicap system, it lays a fair playing field. A golf handicap has further metrics like course handicap, handicap index, course rating, slope rating, bogey rating, and handicap differential.

What is a Golf Handicap
Image Courtesy: The Grint

Intrigued? Let’s learn all the principal concepts about golf handicaps. We will cover all golf handicap-associated terminologies that a new golfer comes across. United States Golf Association (USGA) updated the unified handicapping system also known as the new World Handicap System (WHS) in 2020.

Official Definition of the Golf Handicap Index

Before we move on, it is pertinent to state the official definition of the golf handicap based on authoritative golf sources.

USGAThe measure of a player’s demonstrated ability is calculated against the Slope Rating of a golf course of standard playing difficulty (that is, a course with a Slope Rating of 113).
WikipediaA golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s ability or potential ability, that is used to enable players of different abilities to compete against one another. Better players are those with the lowest handicaps
United States Golf Teachers FederationGolf Handicapping, as in horse racing, allows players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis with each other. Each player is assigned a handicap index that results from the scores recorded for that player, is revised over time, and moves up or down as the player submits scores and his game changes.
Definition of Golf Handicap

Brief Historical Timeline of the Golf Handicap

Throughout its history, the golf handicap has evolved from informal arrangements to sophisticated, standardized systems that enhance the inclusivity and fairness of the game on a global scale.

Late 19th CenturyThe concept of a golf handicap began to emerge in the late 19th century. Golf clubs and societies started to use informal systems to allow players of varying skill levels to compete more evenly.
1911The USGA introduced the first official handicap system in the United States as the USGA Handicap System. This system aimed to standardize and formalize the way golfers’ abilities were assessed.
1920s-1930sThe concept of a handicap spread internationally, with golf associations in various countries adopting similar systems.
1987The USGA introduced the Slope Rating system, designed to account for the relative difficulty of different golf courses. This system helped to standardize handicaps across courses with varying levels of difficulty.
1980s-1990sHandicap systems became more computerized, allowing for more efficient and accurate calculations.
2000sDigital technologies, including online platforms and mobile apps, made it easier for golfers to track and manage their handicaps.
2020The World Handicap System (WHS) was developed as a collaboration between the USGA and the R&A (Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews), unifying handicap systems worldwide. This system takes into account factors like course rating, slope, and playing conditions to calculate a golfer’s Handicap Index.
PresentGolf handicaps continue to be a fundamental part of the sport, allowing players of different skill levels to compete on an equitable basis. Ongoing advancements in technology contribute to the accessibility and accuracy of handicap calculations.
Historical Timeline of the Golf Handicap

How Does Golf Handicap Work?

Before we move on to how to calculate your handicap, let’s dig into an example that will show you how a golf handicap works. This will be significant in grasping the subject matter.

Suppose we have 4 golfers named A, B, C, and D. They all have different handicaps ranging from low handicaps to high handicaps.

Gross Score79948389
Net Score73746974
Hypothetical Table

If you analyze this table, golfer B shot the most strokes over par, and golfer A shot the least strokes. However, Golfer A became second after calculating the net score, and Golfer C became first even after scoring 11 over par.

The overall average score in terms of gross score is 86.25. Whereas the overall average net score is 72.50. This shows that a golf handicap index is a fair equalizer in the game.

In the chart below, you can see the latest golf handicap index distribution of men and women. It will give you a clear idea of what is the most common handicap among registered golfers in the United States.

Average Handicap of Men
Image Courtesy: USGA

This graph depicts that almost 180,000 male golfers have a handicap index of 12-14. This is the average handicap of male golfers.

Average Handicap of Women
Image Courtesy: USGA

This graph depicts that almost 18,000 female golfers have a handicap index of 27-28. This is the average handicap of women golfers.

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap Index

We have a detailed step-by-step article on how to calculate your golf handicap including factors like course handicap, course rating, slope rating, bogey rating, and handicap differential. Nevertheless, there are three ways you calculate handicaps.

  • Let your local golf association or golf club calculate it for you from your last 3 scorecards.
  • Get it calculated from any digital golf app. Visit this if you want to know the best golf apps for iPhone and Android.
  • Calculate it yourself.

But how to calculate it yourself? Below we will share different formulas for handicap calculation and explain them briefly.

Calculate Handicap Differential

The handicap differential is a specific calculation for an individual round of golf on a particular course. The differential reflects the player’s performance concerning the difficulty of the course played on that specific day.


Adjusted Score: The adjusted score (net score) is the adjusted gross score (total strokes after applying for any handicap allowances).

Course Rating: Course rating is the difficulty rating of the course.

Slope Rating: Slope rating accounts for the relative difficulty of the course for bogey golfers.

Following are the slope ratings of some of the most famous golf courses

Golf Course Slope Ratings

Calculate the Handicap Index

The handicap index is an average of the best differentials from recent rounds, adjusted for consistency and fairness. It is calculated by taking the average of the lowest differentials, multiplying by 0.96, and rounding to one decimal place. The handicap index represents a player’s potential ability and is used as a baseline for calculating the course handicap for specific courses.

Number of RoundsDifferentials to UseAdjustment to Average
3lowest 1-2.0
4lowest 1-1.0
5lowest 10
6lowest 2-1.0
7 or 8lowest 20
9 to 11lowest 30
12 to 14lowest 40
15 or 16lowest 50
17 or 18lowest 60
19lowest 70
Handicap Differential Adjustment

Here n is the number of differentials and adjustment is available in the table above.

Determine the Lowest Differentials

From the most recent 19 handicap differentials, select the 7 lowest handicap differential.

Average the Lowest Differentials

Average the lowest 7 differentials.

Apply Adjustment

You can apply the relevant adjustment from the table above or multiply the average by 0.96 to obtain the Handicap Index. The factor 0.96 is used to control the impact of exceptionally good rounds on the average. It is intended to provide a balance between responsiveness to good play and stability in the handicap index.

By applying this adjustment, golf associations aim to smooth out potential fluctuations caused by a single outstanding performance, promoting a more accurate representation of a golfer’s overall ability based on a reasonable sample of recent rounds.

Calculate Course Handicap


This gives the player’s handicap for a specific course.

Determine Stroke Index

To make it more even, you can determine the stroke index. Let’s consider a golf course with 18 holes, each assigned a stroke index from 1 to 9. The stroke index indicates the difficulty of each hole for the average golfer. Here’s an example:

HoleStroke Index
Stroke Index Data

In this example, Hole 9 has the highest stroke index of 18, indicating it is considered the most challenging hole. Golfers with a golf handicap would receive strokes on the holes with higher stroke indexes.

For instance, if a golfer has a golf handicap of 10, they would receive one stroke on Holes 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, as those are the holes with the ten highest stroke indexes. This stroke allocation helps to level the playing field, allowing golfers of different skill levels to compete more equitably on a given course.

Maximum Hole Score

For handicap purposes, a maximum score per hole is usually set (e.g., Net Double Bogey). The concept of a Maximum Hole Score is a provision in the handicap system designed to prevent exceptionally high scores on individual holes from disproportionately affecting a golfer’s handicap.

The usual standard is set at “Net Double Bogey,” which means the maximum number of strokes a golfer can record for handicap purposes on a specific hole is limited to a score that is two strokes over par, adjusted for their course handicap.

Following is the table as per USGA Equitable Stroke Control:

Course HandicapMaximum Score
Nine or lessDouble Bogey
40 and above10
Maximum Hole Score

Example Scenario

Consider a hole with a par of 4. Applying the Net Double Bogey adjustment principle, the maximum allowable score would be 6 strokes (4 for par plus 2). For instance, if Golfer John possesses a course handicap of 10 and encounters a hole with a par of 4, the maximum score considered for handicap purposes would be 6 strokes.

Golfer ParGross StrokesStrokes Over ParMaximum Hole ScoreAdjusted Score
John4846 (Net Double Bogey)4+6 (Par+Maximum Hole Score) = 6
Maximum Hole Score Example

This ensures that outlier scores do not unduly influence a golfer’s handicap, striking a balance between fairness and the evaluation of overall performance on each hole. This helps a lot if you are a bogey golfer.

By following these steps and using the provided formulas, golfers can accurately calculate their handicap, adjusting for the difficulty of the courses they play according to their skill levels.

Golf Scoring Range and Probabilities

Golf Scoring Range
Image Courtesy: The Grint

People Also Ask

What is a Golf Handicap in Simple Terms?

A golf handicap, in simple terms, is a numerical measure of a golfer’s playing ability. It allows players of different skill levels to compete on a more even basis.

How Do You Figure Out Your Handicap in Golf?

To figure out your golf handicap, submit scorecards to the handicap system or calculate your Handicap Index using the standard handicap calculation formulas.

Who is a Scratch Golfer?

If a golfer’s handicap index is zero, he is considered to be a scratch golfer. Professional golfers often have a negative handicap index.

What is My Handicap if I Shoot 100?

If you shoot 100 regularly in golf then your handicap will be 26-28. Your Handicap Index depends on the difficulty of the course. It is recommended to calculate your handicap for the exact number.

What is a Good Golf Handicap?

A golf handicap from 10-15 is considered a good handicap.

What is an Average Handicap?

16 and above is considered an average handicap in the golfing circuit.

What Does a 20-Handicap Mean in Golf?

A 20 handicap in golf suggests a high handicap. It means, on average, the golfer may shoot about 20 strokes over the course rating (92-95), allowing for fair competition with golfers of varying abilities.

Final Words

Calculated through a systematic process, a golf handicap reflects potential skill levels and accommodates diverse players. So the next time anyone asks you What is a Golf Handicap, show them this guide.

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Hasnain Ali Tarar is a passionate golfer with a journey in the sport that began in 2016. With a golf handicap of 15, he brings a unique perspective to the world of golf blogging. His deep love for the game has driven him to explore every facet of it, from perfecting his swing on the course to evaluating the latest golf products. As the Content Manager at CanYouGolf, Hasnain combines his writing skills with his golfing expertise to provide readers with valuable insights, tips, and reviews that enhance their golfing experience.

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