what is a handicap in golf

What is a Golf Handicap? (2022 Update)

As someone who’s just started taking their golfing rounds seriously, you’ll often hear people talk about golf handicap and its relevance. A golf handicap is so crucial in golfing competitions that it determines how and where you play competitive golf. 

So what is a golf handicap? A golf handicap is a numerical value representing a golfer’s ability to compete against other golfers. It measures a player’s current ability over an entire round of golf represented by numbers. This value typically determines what category a golfer can compete in.

Read on to find out everything you should know about a golf handicap, including how it works and how you can calculate your golf handicap using simple math formulas.

How Does a Golf Handicap Work?

how a golf handicap works

While every golfer is expected to have a handicap, it’s also important to note that the rules relating to handicaps vary from country to country. Therefore, golfers have always been tasked to understand how golf handicap works in their various locations.

However, in a quest to eradicate the incompatibility and difficulties of translating between systems, the USGA worked together with the R&A and other handicapping authorities to develop a new World Handicap System (WHS) that took effect in 2020. It is based on this new handicap system that this article developed.

Why Should You Get a Handicap? (6 Reasons)

With the recent move from the USGA Handicap System to the World Handicap System, there’s no better time for any player to get a handicap than now. However, if you’re still stuck between making the decision, here are a few reasons why you should get a handicap. 

1. It Allows You to Compete Fairly in Different Competition Formats

This is perhaps the most significant benefit of getting a golf handicap. You probably already know that golf is a game of ability, and it’s only fair to compete with people of the same ability. However, if you’ve decided to start going to golf competitions, you’ll meet golfers with different playing abilities. Handicap helps ensure that you’ll be playing on an equitable basis irrespective of your ability or theirs. Therefore, whether you are playing stroke play or match play, Four-Ball or Stableford, handicap helps to put you in a place of equal opportunity with your opponents. 

2. Helps You to Track Your Progress and Know Your Potential

Handicap also helps in the aspect of tracking your progress. You’ve probably heard experienced golfers talk about handicaps helping track your progress and index reflecting your potential. This is true for every golfer, irrespective of playing level. Remember that each time you play and post a score, you typically receive a handicap index revision the next day. The USGA also provides a mobile app that helps you keep your hole-by-hole stats since this data is important for calculating your handicap and determining your progress.

3. You’ll Have an Answer To Every Golfer’s Question

Whether you are new to the world of golf or not, one question you’ll always get when you meet someone new in the golf course is: “what is your handicap?” 

While this can seem like an easy question, it’ll be pretty embarrassing not to know what or how to answer. People often consider golf handicaps the easiest and most honest way to compare their golf game with yours. Therefore, they’ll ask you. So, you’ll be doing yourself a lot of good by knowing your golf handicap, either for competitive or judgment purposes. 

4. It Makes Setting of Goals Easier 

Whether you are a golfer or in any other walk of life, setting goals is something that comes naturally to everyone. Sometimes, it’s something as easy as attaining the next level in your field. Other times, it isn’t very easy. 

When it comes to golf, setting goals would help you improve your game. Most golfers won’t take meaningful steps forward without goals. Handicaps generally make it easier to set goals. Let’s say you started the season with a 24 handicap; it’ll be easy to set a goal to beat 20 handicaps by the end of the season. Irrespective of your present handicap, your motivation to lower the handicap would help you push harder. 

5. You’ll Need A Handicap to Compete in Most Tournaments 

Part of the fun aspects of playing golf is the ability to compete in different events and tournaments. It offers you the opportunity to up your game while learning about your competitive ability. A major requirement for participating in most tournaments, leagues, and top events is a knowledge of your USGA handicap. This means you’ll not be allowed to participate in these events if you do not know your handicap. The bodies in charge of these competitions believe that handicap offers every player/team a fair chance of competing with other participants.

6. It Makes Recording and Keeping Track of Scores Easier 

Tracking and keeping a record of your scores can be difficult if you don’t know how to go about it. However, with a golf handicap, you would be able to maintain a good record of your scores. One of the easiest ways to keep track of your scores is through a free GHIN Mobile app on your phone. The app allows you to post scores and see your stats as the games progress. 

Many event planners also have computers where you can plug your scores in. Remember that having a handicap allows you to build a database of your scores successfully. So, if you intend to see how you performed in previous months, you can always go on the app to see your scores from the months.

How To Calculate Your Golf Handicap

It is crucial that we mention that you do not have any existing golf handicap if you’ve never played golf. However, once you start enjoying golf, you can create your handicap. Start by tracking your 9- and 18-hole scores. You’d need a scorecard to record the scores. At least two people must sign the scorecard: you and the partner accompanying you to the golf game. The main reason for the signatures is to minimize corruption while recording the scores.

Number of Scores You’ll Need to Obtain Handicap Index. 

 Since January 2020, the rules changed, so you’d need to submit 18-holes scores to maintain a handicap index. This score can be obtained by combining the scores from 9-hole and 18-hole rounds. The handicap index is typically revised at the start and middle of every month. During the bi-monthly change, you’ll be required to submit three 18-hole scores.

Calculating Your Course Handicap – The Formula 

As explained earlier, several apps and online programs exist to help you calculate your handicap. You can just sign up on these apps to compute your handicap. However, if you choose to do things the old-fashioned way, here’s a detailed breakdown of how you can calculate your course handicap by yourself. 

To calculate a course handicap, you’ll need to acquaint yourself with several elements, including slope rating, adjusted gross scores, and the course handicap. Other handicaps that you may also need to consider include the handicap index of the game, course rating, and the game’s handicap index. 

Step 1: Start by changing the gross scores to adjusted scores 

An easy way to get the adjusted gross scores is by using the USGA’s recommended equitable stroke control. The ESC restricts you to a maximum number of strokes that you can enter into a given hole. 

Step 2: Calculate The Handicap Differential Per Score 

The handicap differential can be calculated using the following formula

Adjusted gross score rating of the course × 113/course slope ratings = Handicap differential.

In case you are wondering, a course rating represents the scores a new golfer can accumulate while playing under normal conditions. On the other hand, slope rating means the rating of a course based on its difficulty level. 

Step 3

Choose the lowest handicap differential

Step 4

Calculate the average value of the lowest values from the handicap differentials.

Step 5

Multiply the average value of the handicap differentials by 96%. 

Step 6: truncate and delete the numbers to the value of the right of the tenth

The USGA standard rule signifies 40.4 as the default maximum number for any handicap index for women’s golf matches and 36.4 for men when using an 18-hole course. 

Step 7: Calculating the course handicap

Now that we know what all these values represent, you can calculate your course handicap, which is the number of strokes a player receives on a course, using the following formula.

Handicap index × slope rating/113 + (Course rating per) = course handicap.

Recap: What is a Handicap in Golf?

Irrespective of your golfing level, you’ll hear the words golf handicap thrown around on a daily basis. It is not enough to just understand what it means. You must also know why you need to know it and how to calculate your golf handicap.

Fortunately, we’ve gone past the days when you’ll stress your brain to do the calculation regarding golf handicap. Today, there are apps and computer programs that can do the job for you.

Bear in mind that you can also work towards improving your golf handicap. It just involves pushing yourself to break your records and do better every time.