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What is a Handicap in Golf and how to Calculate it?

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what is a handicap in golf

Do you know what your golf handicap is? If not, don’t worry – many golfers don’t actually know how to calculate it. If you’re like most golfers, you want to shave strokes off your game any way you can. One way to do that is to calculate your golf handicap and use it as a tool to measure your progress. In this blog post, we’ll teach you how to do just that. By understanding your golf handicap, you can better understand your strengths and weaknesses on the course, and work to improve your game.

What is a handicap in golf?

A golf handicap can be defined as the average of how many shots over par you shoot per round as an average of your best rounds. It is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential ability. It is used to level the playing field in golf competitions, particularly when players of different abilities are competing against each other. The higher a player’s handicap, the better their potential ability. 

Players with higher handicaps are typically given more strokes per hole, which gives them a better chance of winning the competition. In addition to helping level the playing field, handicaps can also be used to measure a player’s improvement over time. By tracking their handicaps, golfers can see how their skills progress and identify areas that need improvement. 

Your handicap will be a number between 0 and 36. Anyone with a 0 handicap is referred to as a scratch golfer. Anyone with a handicap in the 20s/30s is referred to as a high handicapper.

Playing golf with the handicap system involves the lower handicapper giving the higher handicapper extra shots. For example, let’s say your handicap is 20 and you play with someone who has a handicap of 10. You should get 10 extra shots per round of golf. So, if you’re playing a match play event, you would get an extra shot on the 10 hardest holes.

The World handicap system is the official system and is used by both the USGA and R&A.

Why the golf handicap system was introduced?

We’ve all played a round of golf with someone who drives the ball a mile. Hits their approach shots with a missile-like accuracy. Can get up and down from a short side bunker in two. And has no problem putting out those 6 footers which fill us mere mortals with dread. It’s hard to compete with these God-like golfers. With that in mind, the golf handicap system was introduced in order to level the playing field and make the game fairer. In the past, golfers of different skill levels would often compete against each other, which would often lead to frustration on the part of the less skilled player. The handicap system allows players of all skill levels to compete against each other on a more even playing field. Handicaps are based on a golfer’s average score over a period of time, and they are used to adjust the scoring of a game so that players of different skill levels can compete against each other. The handicap system has been refined over time and is now an essential part of competitive golf.

what is a handicap in golf

Golf handicap system history

The origin of the golf handicap system or “Hands-on-cap” can be traced back to 18th-century Scotland, where it was first used as a way to encourage more people to play the game. At that time, golf was a very exclusive sport, reserved for those with the time and money to invest in it. In order to make it more accessible, clubs began offering reduced rates for those who could prove their handicap. The system quickly caught on, and by the early 1900s, it was being used by golfers around the world. Today, thanks to the handicap system, anyone can enjoy a round of golf, regardless of their skill level.

How to calculate your golf handicap

You can estimate your handicap easily enough. But if you want an official handicap, you’ll need to get registered. This can be done either at your local golf course or, alternatively, you can register at GHIN. There is a small annual fee, about $30. You’ll be given your own GHIN number. GHIN simply stands for Golf Handicap Information Network.

In order to get an official handicap, you must submit scores from 54 holes. This can be done either by 3 rounds of 18 holes or you can play consecutive 9 holes. There are a couple of rules when submitting your scores:

  • Your round must be witnessed by another player. This is to stop cheating ie players claiming they shot more shots than they actually did shoot.
  • Each scorecard must be signed by both you and the witnessing player.

How many rounds of golf do you need to play in order to obtain a golf handicap?

Your golf handicap is calculated from the average number of strokes you are expected to make over 18 holes. In order to get an official handicap, you must submit scores from 54 holes. This can be done by a combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds. Your handicap index will be revised at the beginning and midpoint of every month – 1st and 15th. The revision to your handicap will be done daily as long as you update your third 18-hole score before midnight.

How to get an official golf handicap

Register with an official golf handicap network

If you want an official handicap, you’ll need to get registered. This can be done either at your local golf course or, alternatively, you can register at GHIN. There is a small annual fee, about $30. You’ll be given your own GHIN number. GHIN simply stands for Golf Handicap Information Network.

What are the rules when submitting scores for a golf handicap

There are a couple of rules when submitting your scores:

  • Your round must be witnessed by another player. This is to stop cheating ie players claiming they shot more shots than they actually did shoot.
  • Each scorecard must be signed by both you and the witnessing player.

Adjust your scores

As long as you follow the rules, the USGA can be your best-golfing friend. They are very aware that most golfers will have the odd blow-up hole. You shouldn’t be left with a dreadful (or favorable) handicap that doesn’t correctly reflect how you typically play because of a nightmare on one hole.

What is the maximum score that can be recorded per hole for your handicap?

There is a limit on the maximum number of strokes you can record per hole. If you go over the permitted maximum for a hole, you just record the maximum permitted for that hole. This is calculated as the net double bogey plus course strokes received. For example, a golfer with a course handicap of 10 on a par 4 hole with a stroke index of 5. Net double bogey is 6. This golfer also gains an additional stroke as they are allowed 1 extra shot on the 10 hardest holes. So even if they take 14 strokes to get the ball in the hole. The maximum they would record for that hole would be 7.

What if I don’t have an official golf handicap?

If you don’t yet have a handicap, the maximum number of shots you can record is 5 shots over par. So a maximum of 8 shots on a par 3, 9 on a par 4, etc.

Course Handicap Calculation Formula

Calculating your course handicap can get a bit complicated, and will involve a bit of maths. The official formula to calculate your course handicap is:

Handicap index * (slope rating / 113) + (course rating – par)

So what does the above formula actually mean? Let’s look at each of the individual parts:

Handicap index

A handicap index is a number that indicates a player’s potential ability on the course. The higher the handicap index, the more strokes a player is likely to need over the course of a round. Handicap indexes are calculated using a formula that takes into account a player’s average score over a period of time, and the difficulty of the courses played. Handicap indexes can range from 0 (scratch) to 54 (beginner), and are typically adjusted upwards or downwards based on recent performance. It is a portable number so can be used anywhere in the world.

Slope rating

A course slope rating is a number that indicates the difficulty of the course for average golfers. The higher the number, the more difficult the course. The ratings are based on a number of factors, including the length of the course, the terrain, and the number of water hazards. Moderately skilled golfers. A course with a rating of 100 or more is considered to be very difficult, while a course with a rating of 70 or less is considered to be relatively easy. The ratings are intended to give golfers an idea of what to expect when they play a particular course. The slope index goes from 55 to 155, 155 being a very, very hard course to play.

Course rating

The course rating is used as a benchmark. It is used to determine how difficult it is to play for a scratch golfer. The rating is worked out by calculating the average number of strokes that a scratch golfer would be expected to take. For example, if a course was a par 72 and was easy to play on. It could have a course rating of 70. Meaning that scratch golfers will often shoot below par. If the course was hard to play on, the course rating might be 75. Meaning scratch golfers will more than likely shoot over par.

What about the 113?

Well to put it simply, it’s the average difficulty of the 55 to 155 slope rating. 

Par – you know what that is, don’t you?

Par is the number of shots it should take to complete the course

Show me an example

We’ll use The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass as an example. Par for this course is 72. The course rating at TPC is 76.4 and the slope rating is 155. So, pretty darn hard I would say!

Let’s say you have a handicap index of 6.3. Your course handicap would be:

6.3 * (155 / 113) + (76.4 – 72) which becomes: 

6.3 * 1.37 + 4.4 = 13

So your course handicap at TPC would be 13!

What if I played at an easier course?

Ok, here’s another example. Let’s use Painswick Golf Club in the UK. Par at this course is 67. The course rating is 64.8 and the slope rating is 110. A lot easier than The Players Stadium Course!

This time let’s use a golfer with a handicap index of 24.2. Their course handicap would be:

24.2 * (110 / 113) + (64.8 – 67) which becomes: 

24.2 * 0.97 – 2.2 = 21.3

So this golfers handicap at Painswick would be 21.3!

This handy video from the R&A will help explain things further

Do I need an official handicap to play on certain courses?

Yes! There are loads of prestigious golf courses around the world where you must have an official handicap. Some courses even insist that your handicap is no higher than a specific value. Sometimes this is because the course is deemed much too difficult for high handicappers. Other times it’s because the course owners don’t want high handicappers playing and hacking up their fairways! Though I would say most really high handicappers don’t use the fairway anyway.

The Cut line

As you can see, handicaps are not as simple as adding up a few numbers. And it is easy to see why they can be a nightmare for beginner golfers. However, if you follow the calculation above and input the correct numbers, the process becomes much simpler. Also, having a handicap can be a great motivator for improving your golf game. Who wouldn’t love to go from a 28 down to a 2.8?

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AUTHOR

Tommy is a confirmed golf fanatic. He's been playing golf for 20 years and just loves everything about the game. His dad used to play golf a lot and watch the PGA and European Tours, so Tommy started watching too. Now he knows a lot about golf and loves to coach people and help them play better.

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