What is a Handicap in Golf?(Complete Guide)

A handicap in golf is a special number that helps level the playing field among golfers of different skill levels. Think of it as a way to make the game fair for everyone, whether you are a beginner or an expert. This number shows how many extra strokes a player usually takes compared to a very skilled golfer.

So, if a player has a higher handicap, they can get some extra strokes to use during a game. This means that in a match everyone has a fair chance to win, no matter how good they are. Handicaps make it possible for friends to enjoy playing together even if they play at different levels.

A handicap in golf is a number that shows how many extra strokes a player might need to complete a course compared to an expert golfer. This number helps make games fair by allowing players of different skill levels to compete equally.

What is a golf handicap for a beginner?

A golf handicap is like a special score that helps beginners and other players have fair games against more experienced golfers. It’s a number that tells us how many extra shots you might need to play a golf course as well as someone who plays very well.

what is a handicap in golf
handicap in golf

Why It Matters

For beginners, having a handicap is great because it levels the playing field. This means you can play with anyone, even very good golfers and still have a fair and fun game. It also helps you track how you’re improving over time.

How It’s Calculated

When you start playing golf, your handicap might seem a bit confusing but it’s just a way to measure your average performance. The more you play, the more accurate it becomes. It takes into account the difficulty of the courses you play and how you perform on them.

By understanding your handicap you can have more enjoyable games and see how you’re getting better as you keep playing.

Related reading: Why Do I Shank My Irons?

What is a good handicap in golf?

A “good” handicap in golf varies based on the level of play and goals of each golfer but generally, a handicap of around 10 or lower is considered good for amateur players. This means the player typically shoots around 10 strokes over par on average.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Low Handicap: A low handicap is anything from 1 to 10. Players with a low handicap are often very skilled and can usually shoot close to or under par on a good day.
  • Mid Handicap: A mid handicap ranges from about 11 to 20. Golfers with a mid handicap are fairly consistent and can manage most golf courses reasonably well.
  • High Handicap: High handicaps are considered to be over 20. These are typical for beginners and casual players who don’t play as frequently or are just starting out.

A handicap of 10 or below is quite respectable for most club players, reflecting a good level of skill and consistency on the golf course.

How to get a golf handicap?

Getting a golf handicap involves a few straightforward steps. Here’s how you can obtain one:

1. Join a Golf Club or an Authorized Golf Association

To get an official handicap, you need to join a golf club or an association that is licensed to provide them. This could be a traditional golf club or an online golf community that is recognized by a national golf authority like the USGA (United States Golf Association) or other national bodies depending on your location.

2. Submit Your Scores

Once you’re a member, start submitting your scores. You need to submit scores from rounds played over at least three 18-hole courses, or their equivalent (e.g., six 9-hole rounds). The courses should be rated with both a course rating and a slope rating, which are required for the handicap calculation.

3. Ensure Scores Are Attested

Your scores must be attested by someone who has witnessed your round to ensure they are accurate. This is usually a playing partner.

4. Enter Scores into the Handicap System

Input your scores into the handicap system provided by your golf club or association. Most clubs and associations use a digital system where you can enter scores online or via a mobile app.

5. Wait for Your Handicap Index

Once you have submitted enough scores (the specific number can vary, but typically at least three 18-hole rounds), your golf club or association will calculate your handicap index. The calculation involves taking an average of the lowest differentials between your scores and the course/slope ratings, adjusted for course difficulty.

6. Maintain Your Handicap

To keep your handicap index current continue to submit scores every time you play. Handicaps are dynamically adjusted based on the most recent scores, so regular updates are crucial to maintain its accuracy.

Optional: Use an Online Service

If you prefer, you can also use an online service to calculate your handicap. These services are particularly useful if you don’t belong to a traditional golf club. However, make sure the service is recognized by a legitimate golfing authority to ensure that your handicap is officially recognized.

By following these steps, you can obtain a golf handicap that will allow you to compete in tournaments and compare your playing level with other golfers in a standardized way

How to calculate handicap in golf?

Calculating a golf handicap can seem a bit complex but it’s designed to give a fair measure of a player’s ability.

Here’s a simplified explanation of how to calculate your golf handicap:

Step 1: Adjust Your Scores

First, adjust your scores for each round played making sure to cap any very high hole scores to keep your handicap index realistic. This adjustment is called “Equitable Stroke Control (ESC),” and it limits the maximum number of strokes recorded on any hole based on your current handicap.

Step 2: Calculate Differential for Each Round

For each round, calculate the handicap differential using the formula: Differential=(Score−Course RatingSlope Rating)×113 where:

  • Score is your adjusted gross score.
  • Course Rating tells you the average score a scratch golfer (zero handicap) might be expected to make on the course.
  • Slope Rating indicates the difficulty of a course for a bogey golfer (about a 20 handicap for men, and 24 for women) compared to a scratch golfer. The number 113 is the average slope rating.

Step 3: Average the Best Differentials

Once you have at least 20 rounds, pick out the lowest 10 differentials. Average these numbers to calculate a rough estimate of your handicap index.

Step 4: Multiply by a Constant

Multiply the average differential by 0.96 (this is a constant used in the formula). The result is your handicap index.

Step 5: Apply Adjustments

The official rules may include additional adjustments or considerations based on the specific rules of the golf association under which you are playing.

Step 6: Update Regularly

Your handicap should be updated regularly as you enter new scores. Most official handicaps are calculated through software provided by a golf association, which will handle all the complex aspects of the calculations.

If you’re just starting or if this seems too complicated, consider using a golf app or a website that calculates your handicap for you. These tools follow official guidelines and make it easier to track your progress without manually doing all the math.


A golf handicap is a numerical score that levels the playing field among golfers of different skill levels. It is calculated based on a player’s past scores and the difficulty of the courses played. By obtaining a handicap from a recognized golf club or association and regularly updating it with new scores, golfers can fairly compete against others, track their progress, and enjoy the game with peers of all abilities. This system not only enhances competitiveness but also promotes inclusivity and improvement in the sport.

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