A golf handicap is not just a quick way to identify if someone is a great golfer; golf handicaps allow players of all levels to compete with each other. One of the greatest things about the game of golf is the ability for a 25 handicap to have a fair match with a 9 handicap.

Understanding how golf handicaps work will help you see why the United States Golf Association takes this process seriously.If you are new to the game or have been playing for twenty years, you must have some idea of the golf handicap system and how it works.

How does the golf handicap system work?

Golf handicaps will take your average score over your last twenty rounds and develop an index that describes your abilities as a golfer. The golf handicap index will give an indication of approximately how many strokes over par you typically shoot.

The actual formula for determining a golf handicap for a player is a bit more complicated than just the number of strokes over par. The process takes into consideration the courses you play in addition to the scores that you shoot.

Whats a handicap in golf?

A handicap is a numerical value based upon the potential of a golfer when playing a specific golf course.  The Handicap system allows players of all different skill levels to compete on a fair playing field. 

A 10 handicap golfer playing against a 5 handicapper will receive an “extra stroke” on the 5 hardest holes on the golf course based upon the courses rating system.  The 10 handicap would need to make a bogey on “stroke hole” to tie the 5 handicapper’s par on the hole for it to be considered a tie. 

How to get a handicap in golf?

Beginners will have to put in quite a bit of time on the course before they have a handicap. Instead of giving a golfer a handicap, to begin with, and adjusting later, beginners will have no handicap until they play 54 holes of golf.

Players or a member of a Country Club that enjoy tournament golf or a friendly competition will need to know their handicap index and course handicap. Although the USGA will do handicap calculations for you, all golfers should understand how to calculate your handicap.

If you are a beginner worried about not having a golf handicap, give it some time, and your handicap will develop naturally.

How to calculate your handicap

If you want to calculate your golf handicap, this step by step guide will give you the necessary procedures.

Step 1: Play golf!

In order to start your golf handicap, you have to have some rounds (54 holes) of golf under your belt. Ultimately when you get twenty rounds in, the top eight will be used to figure out your golf handicap index. Golfers should know that both nine and eighteen hole rounds count towards your index and will be included in the 20 scores.

Step 2: Adjusted score

As we have mentioned, it is imperative to be honest when you are calculating your scores. If you are not honest, your handicap will never be as accurate as it should be. However, even though you will keep your total score for a hole, there are maximums that you will use when calculating your handicap.

For instance, if you score a 15 on a hole, that does not get calculated as part of your handicap. Here are the different adjusted scores you will need to know to record accurate golf rounds.

If you want to record your total score just so you have an idea of what you shot, that is completely fine; however, use these adjusted numbers when calculating your handicap.

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Step 3: Score differential

The score differential is the calculation you will need to make for each golf course that you play. The interesting thing about this differential is that they take into account the slope rating and the course rating.

Playing a golf course with a high slope and course rating will likely result in a higher score, but it could still be a lower score differential. The difficulty of the golf course needs to be taken into consideration to make this system fairer.

There is a formula that you must follow for your score differential. Regardless of the golf course you are playing; this is the Handicap formula . . .

(113 / Slope Rating) x (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – PCC adjustment)

The slope rating, course rating, and playing condition adjustment are all incorporated into this formula. The 113 remains a constant in all calculations as this is the average slope rating for a golf course. Slope ratings are typically between 55 and 155.

Step 4: Math

If you are a golfer trying to calculate your golf handicap on your own, you won’t be able to come up with the PCC adjustment. The USGA determines this figure based on other scores submitted that day from the same golf course. The PCC stands for Playing Condition Calculation.

The PCC is a new feature that has only been part of the system for about a year. Even without the PCC adjustment, you can get a good idea of your score differential from the course you played that day. The Slope Rating and Course Rating will be on your scorecard.

When you have your scoring differentials, you can then average the top 8 out of twenty to develop a very accurate golf handicap index. There are two exceptions to the top 8 out of twenty scores.

If you have an exceptional score that is seven shots better than your index, it won’t be counted. The same goes if your 8 out of 20 calculation is more than 3 strokes above your low index from the previous year.

Essentially these are safeguards in place to prevent large drops or increases in a golf handicap. It takes time for players to improve their golf game. Even if you are getting better (or worse), you should have had a three or four-shot increase or decrease from one weekend to another.

Step 5: Course handicap

There is only one more step that you need before you head out to the first tee. You will need to take your handicap differential and calculate your course handicaps. This process is usually done at the golf club using their GHIN handicap system.

Your index is typically represented as a decimal number that will work from one golf course to the next. Your course handicap takes into account the course rating at the club you are playing. A course handicap is a rounded number. Typically the course handicap is very close to the index.

If you are a 5.2 handicap playing a difficult course, your course handicap for the day may be a 7. If you are playing a very easy golf course, the handicap may be a 3. Take advantage of the computer systems at the golf courses you go to; they will have access to the handicap number you need to play that day.

Why do i need a golf handicap?

A golf handicap will keep matches between players fair. Handicaps also help players go to different courses and still accurately calculate how good of a golfer they are. If you are playing in a match with friends, chances are you will be asked what your golf handicap is. In order to play a fair match, this number is needed.

In addition, if you decide that you want to start playing in golf tournaments, you will absolutely need a golf handicap. Tournament requires the handicap so that the playing field is fair.

Handicap frequently asked questions

Now that you have a better idea of how to calculate your golf handicap, let’s look at a few of the questions that players often ask about golf handicaps and the issues that come up with them.

Is my golf dandicap high or low

You have probably heard the term single-digit handicap get tossed around quite a bit. Golfers with single-digit handicaps are generally considered to be low handicap players.

What is a Scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer is a player who has a zero handicap. The way the handicap system works, you can also have a positive handicap. Essentially this means that you are regularly shooting under par. A player that regularly shoots around 70 will likely be a +2 or +3 handicap.

If you are a scratch golfer, you will play another scratch golfer with no strokes being given. This is where the term scratch comes into play.

What is considered a low handicap

Low handicaps are those that have an index from 1 to around 10. These golfers may have one of two bad holes in a round, but they typically keep their score close to par. A low handicapper player will rarely have a maximum score of 80 or higher.

What is considered a mid handicapper?

Mid handicaps make up a large sector of the golfing population. Mid handicaps range from around 11 up to 20. The skill level of the mid-handicap golfer will be pretty good, with a double bogey or two per round and most rounds being in the 80 to 85 ranges.

What is a high handicapper?

A high handicap player will have a handicap index greater than 20. Some local rules will set a maximum of a 36 index for tournament play. When golfers play using the handicap system, they will have to use an adjusted gross score.

For high handicaps, this is likely going to be somewhere around par plus three or four. For instance, if a high handicapper makes a 12 on a hole, that will not be counted towards the handicap index; instead, the gross score is adjusted.

How often are golf dandicaps updated?

Golf handicaps are adjusted on the first and the fifteenth of every month. If you are signed up with the handicap system, you can get updates each time your golf handicap index changes. For some golfers, an index change can be a positive, and for others, it will likely cost them a few dollars in their next match.

Why does course slope and rating matter?

Course slope and rating are often overlooked in the game of golf, yet they shouldn’t be. Courses are designed with a specific set of tees for each handicap differential.

Shooting an 80 at a course with a rating of 130 compared to a course with a rating of 90 are two totally different rounds of golf. If you shoot 80 at a course with a rating of 130, that is a very good round of golf. That same round at a course with a lower slope rating could be a 73 or a 74.

If you are getting frustrated with your abilities as a golfer, take a look at the difficulty of the courses that you are playing.
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How much does a golf handicap cost?

A golf handicap is not an expensive thing to get. For most golfers that are a member of a private club, the golf handicap will be included at no charge. If you are purchasing the golf handicap for yourself online, you will pay around $30 per year.

Is there a maximum golf handicap?

The USGA puts a maximum golf handicap in place. This is why it is essential that you are sure that you are entering an accurate adjusted score when you put your golf handicap in. The maximum index for a male golfer is 36.4, and for women, it is 40.1.

This will translate to about a 40 and a 44-course handicap. If you are new to the game and your handicaps are still very high, keep playing, and eventually, you will be able to lower it.

The importance of keeping an honest golf handicap

The USGA handicap system allows a bogey golfer to play with a scratch golfer and still have a fair match and level the playing field. The problem with the handicapping system is when people are not using the system correctly. If you have a great 18 hole round, enter it. If you have a horrible 18 hole round, enter it.

An accurate handicap is vital for the integrity of the game. During a Stroke play or match play event at a golf club, handicap strokes will be given to the higher handicap player to keep the match fair. The higher handicap player will receive strokes on a set number of holes.

The average of all of your rounds is the only way to set your handicap index accurately. If you try and control these things yourself by only submitting certain rounds, you will not be fair to yourself and other golfers. We are lucky to have a golf handicap system; it makes this a sport that lasts a lifetime.