How Do Golf Handicaps Work/Calculate A Golf Handicap?

Golf is a game loved by many, but very few can get the nitty-gritty details of each aspect of golf. One such aspect is the golf handicap, which helps you to play against golfers of all skill levels.

You might be wondering: how do golf handicaps work? Don’t worry you’re not alone, and we are here to tell you all about it. At the end of this article, we can guarantee that you will know what golf handicaps are, how they are calculated, and where they can be used.

how do golf handicaps work?

Golf handicaps are a good way to keep track of your scores to improve your golf performance. Moreover, golf handicaps prove useful when playing against competitors, as the handicap levels the playing field for both the players.

That being said, you can now compete against your role models with higher skill levels without slowing them down. Keep on reading to find out more about golf handicaps.

When did golf handicaps make an entrance?

Handicaps in golf aren’t an invention of the present, in fact, they have been around for as long as golf itself. The 1800s was the period when golf became very popular, and around that time handicaps also existed.

However, the initial system for golf handicaps wasn’t as refined as it is today. In the previous decades, handicaps were used to give an even playing field to the golfers by matching a golfer with a lower skill level to the one with a more competitive level.

In the beginning, handicaps were simply calculated as an average of the three best scores of the golfer over a year, and then the par was subtracted from the average.

However, this system of calculating handicaps didn’t last long due to the bias towards skilled players. The system favored golfers with a higher skill level, thus making it difficult for golfers with a few good rounds to have a chance at the game.

Nevertheless, the system kept evolving with time as new technology and methods started incorporating into the game of golf. Whereas the biggest change to the golf handicaps system occurred in 1979 when Dean Knuth also included the difficulty of each course as a factor in calculating handicaps.

The formula that Dean created was used to predict the shots of bogey golfers on a course based on a specific set of tees. The formula became so popular that it came to be known as the foremost authority on course ratings and golf handicaps.

How Do Golf Handicaps Work?

That being said, the two terms that we described in the first section aren’t only used to calculate handicaps, but they are also useful for adjusting a golfer’s handicap when they travel.

We won’t go into the details of the formula right now, but we can tell you that for a harder course the golfer gets more strokes than their handicap at that course. Whereas for an easier course, the strokes that the golfer gets become fewer.

That concludes the history of handicaps, so let us now look at the way handicaps are calculated.

Handicap Terms

If you need to calculate the golf handicap of a player for a particular round, then you should know two of the most important terms on the scorecard. Those two terms are:

  • The slope of the course
  • The course rating

Both of these ratings relate to a particular level of golf skill the player offers. That being said, the expected score for a scratch golfer playing on a course is called the course rating. Whereas the expected score for a bogey golfer is called the slope rating. It is also important to note that the standard slope rating stands at 113.

Types of Handicaps

There are two types of handicap indexes that the USGA offers:

  • 18-hole index
  • 9-hole index

You can double a nine-hole handicap index for 18-hole matches. Whereas you can halve the 18-hole index for nine-hole matches.

Handicap Holes

Handicap holes range in difficulty level, such as No.1 handicap hole is the most difficult, No.2 handicap hole is the second most difficult, and so on till 18. That being said, during a match, the player with a higher handicap gets strokes that are equal to the difference between his handicap and the golfer with a lower handicap.

The handicap system that we have described above works for both the front and back nines. That is why, a golfer getting a shot on the first handicap hole can get the front nine, whereas the second hole can fall on the back nine, and so forth.

How to calculate a golf handicap?

You need to follow a methodical approach to calculate your handicap, and we are here to tell you how you can do that in these simple steps.

How to Calculate a Golf Handicap

Keep track of your scores

The first step in calculating your golf handicap is to go play some golf. Also, don’t forget to keep track of your scores accurately without fudging around with the rules.

Moreover, it is beneficial to take another technical player along with you to the course so that you can maintain transparency with your scores.

Other than that, you should make sure that you play around 12 and 20 rounds to get accurate results for your handicap. In general, most courses allow you to sign up after you have completed at least 10 rounds.

Get your adjusted score

After you have kept track of your scores on the course, the next thing you need to do is adjust your scores. You can adjust your score using the USGA basic handicapping scores. The USGA numbers represent the cap for the highest you can score on any one-hole shots during the round.

If you are new to this handicap business, then the number you should aim for is a sweet 10. Now whenever you take a shot above ten, you will have to subtract from your final score.

After you have established your handicap, you can adjust your scores based on the USGA guidelines below:

  • A 40 or above handicap means the maximum score is 10
  • A 30-39 handicap means the maximum score is 9
  • A 20-29 handicap means the maximum score is 8
  • A 10-19 handicap means the maximum score is 7
  • A 0-9 handicap means the maximum score of double-bogey

Get the slope from your Scorecard

As described in the first section, the slope of the course and course rating help you determine how difficult the course is for golfers. The course rating exclusively tells you how difficult the course is for a scratch golfer (zero handicaps), whereas the slope is particularly for golfers who play bogey golf (around 18 handicaps).

That being said, you can find the slope information on the scorecard. However, if you are unable to find the slope information, you can contact a professional to make sure your handicap information is accurate.

Get ready to calculate your handicap

The next step is to whip out your calculator and crunch your scores in to get your handicap. You can put all your numbers in the formula by the USGA for individual handicaps. Here are a few simple steps you can follow to calculate your own handicap.

  • Take your adjusted score from the section above, and subtract the course rating.
  • After subtracting, you need to multiply the answer you get by 113 (the number used to indicate a slope rating of average difficulty).
  • The final step is to divide the number by the actual slope rating from the above section.

There you have it – your golf handicap!

Golf handicap formula

Here’s the compact formula to calculate your handicap:

Handicap = Adjusted course – Course rating x 113 / Slope rating

Golf handicap for a made-up player

We want to make your golf handicap calculation as easy as possible, and that is why we present to you an example calculation of a made-up player named Bob.

Let’s say that Bob went out for a game of golf with his friends, and wanted to calculate his handicap. Here’s how he did it.

  • Firstly, Bob calculated his adjusted score, which was 95.
  • After that, Bob found the course rating, which was 71.4.
  • Then, he found the course slope rating, which was 120.
  • After that, Bob inserted all the numbers into the USGA formula: 95 – 71.4 x 113 / 120
  • After going through the calculation, Bob found that his handicap was 22.2, meaning he would shoot 22 strokes over par, on average.

That being said, the handicap score is not stationary and may increase or decrease as the golfer continues playing golf. As a rule of thumb, higher scores will raise your handicap and vice versa.

Who can use the handicap system?

Several golf clubs use the USGA handicap system, thanks to over 100 authorized golf associations throughout the United States. It is essential for each golf club that wants to use the handicap system to have a handicap committee for accurate scoring of the players.

Moreover, the course and slope ratings for golf handicaps must also come from well-known golf associations. That being said, the golf handicap scores can be used by golfers from one course or set of tees to another course or set of tees.

How to use handicap in match play?

If you want to ensure a level playing field for all the players, then the particular handicaps are not as important as the difference between the handicaps.

Let’s consider a golfer that has a handicap of 5 is playing with a golfer that has a handicap of 13. In that case, the player with a handicap of 5 will have to give his friend eight strokes for a fair game.

That being said, there are different rules for stroke play and match play. In stroke play, you can subtract four strokes from the weaker golfer’s score on each nine.

Whereas in match play, the golfers have to consider the stroke index, where the weaker golfer will have to minus a stroke from their score on each hole ranked 1 to 8.

What your handicap means

In the game of golf, the lower your handicap score is, the better the player you are. With that said, if you are on the golf course competing against your friend, and have a lower handicap, then you are a better player than your friend.

Sounds good, right? Let’s take a look at an example scenario to determine which one of the two players is good at golf.

Let’s start with two friends named Bob and Marley, who decide to go to the golf club and decide which one is the better player. After playing a few rounds, both of the friends check their handicaps to find out the result. The results show that Bob has a handicap of 6, whereas Marley has a handicap of 10.

Here’s the fun part: Marley got excited that he has the higher handicap, thus he must be the better golfer out of both of them.

However, little did Marley know that in golf handicaps the ranking is reversed, meaning that actually, Bob was the better player with a lower handicap. That, my friends, is how you compare the handicaps of different golfers.

To sum up the meaning of handicap, your handicap represents the number of strokes over par you need to take when playing an 18-hole course.

How to Calculate A Golf Handicap: FAQs

Are you still confused about how do golf handicaps work? Don’t worry, we have answered some of the most commonly asked questions regarding golf handicaps to help clear out your confusion. Read these questions and if you still have some more questions, feel free to dig deep.

What makes a good handicap score?

A good handicap is not set in stone and can vary depending on the goal you are trying to achieve. For example, if you are trying to break 100, then a good golf handicap would be a 20. While if you are trying to be a scratch golfer, then a handicap of 20 is quite far from zero.

Generally, if you can break a 90, then it is a good standard of golf and you can play with any golfer without slowing them down. Moreover, if you are up against a scratch golfer, then it should take you only one extra stroke per hole, which shouldn’t slow the other golfer down.

That being said, you should set golf goals for yourself to improve your game and achieve a good handicap. Don’t forget to practice your game to achieve your goals.

Is a golf handicap necessary for playing golf?

A golf handicap is not necessary to play golf, but it can prove to be helpful for a few reasons.

  • Firstly, the golf handicap helps to level the playing field when you’re competing against golfers with different skill levels. It does so by helping the golfers to determine who gets strokes on which holes and who doesn’t.
  • Secondly, the golf handicap helps in monitoring your progress over the rounds. As you record your scores into the system, you can notice trends and improve your game.

What is the maximum golf handicap?

The USGA handicap system has a maximum golf handicap for both male and female golfers.

  • For a male golfer, the maximum handicap is 36.4
  • Whereas for a female golfer, the maximum handicap is 40.4

That being said, you can check the highest score that you can enter for your golf handicap based on these guidelines:

  • A handicap of 40 or above means the maximum score of 10
  • A handicap of 30-39 means the maximum score of 9
  • A handicap of 20-29 means the maximum score of 8
  • A handicap of 10-19 means the maximum score of 7
  • A handicap of 0-9 means the maximum score of double-bogey

How can I get a better handicap?

Every golfer who plays handicapped rounds wants to lower their handicap. No wonder there are tons of methods on the internet that tell you how to do just that. Here are a few methods that may work for you and help you improve your handicap.

  • Use positive and self-motivating phrases during the play
  • Have a good pre-shot routine
  • Practice your short game slightly more than the long game
  • Make a video of your play to track your swings and improve your performance
  • Practice, practice, and practice – but with purpose
  • Don’t keep your focus on the score

Are tournaments weighted differently than other plays?

Tournaments weigh more than normal rounds, so if you are playing in a tournament, then it will make a big impact on your total handicap. Therefore, don’t forget to check the tournament box when entering your scores, or else you will miss out on the opportunity to improve your total handicap.

Can a few bad rounds change the handicap index?

You will be thrilled to know that the handicap index doesn’t take into consideration your worst differentials. The index only takes into account your 8 best differentials, whereas the other 12 worst differentials are overlooked.

That is why, even if you play a few bad rounds, you will not see a negative change in your handicap index.

What is a scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer is the one with a handicap score of approximately zero. The score of zero is decent to be played on pro tours like the eGolf Professional Tour, which requires golfers with no worse than a handicap of 2.

That being said, a scratch golfer when competes against a typical golfer in a handicapped match, the scratch golfer has to give handicap strokes to the opponent. Whereas, if a scratch golfer is up against a bogey golfer, the bogey player will get around 1 handicap stroke for each hole.

 What is a bogey golfer?

The USGA manual offers definitions for both the male and female bogey golfers. Where the male bogey golfer is the one who fits the following:

  • has a handicap of 20 on a course of standard difficulty
  • whose tee shots can reach a distance of 200 yards
  • who can reach on the greens of a 370-yard hole with two strokes

Whereas the female bogey golfer is the one who fits the following description:

  • has a handicap of 24
  • whose tee shots are of 150 yards
  • who can reach the green of a 280-yard hole with two strokes

Do I have to enter the score for every round?

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to entering the score of every round. However, here are some situations where you may not enter your scores.

  • The round that you played uses a few mulligans
  • More than one ball was used for the game
  • The course where the game is played is not officially rated
  • The number of clubs or their types was limited
  • There was no other technical golfer around to witness the scores
  • The golfer used artificial equipment to fake the scores

Do the scores need to be entered during a particular time?

The time limit for the scores to be entered is 24 hours after the round is completed. The 24 hours start from 23h00 on the day the game is played to 23h00 the next day. With that said, if a player fails to submit their scores during this time limit, then they will face a penalty score.

Therefore, the golfer must ensure that the scores are submitted on time and that the scores are showing up on their Handicap Record Sheet. If the scores are showing, it is well and good, but if not then the player must resubmit the scores.


Golf handicaps are useful in leveling the playing field for golfers to give a fair game. However, many golfers have this question that how do golf handicaps work?

Hopefully, our informative article must have cleared out all your confusion and answered all your questions. That being said, you can now calculate your handicap and play with your favorite golfers without slowing them down.

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