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What is a Golf Handicap? Learn how to Calculate

Heorhii Rysak

Golf is a sport that has been enjoyed by millions of people for centuries.

What is a handicap in golf? Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, you may have heard the term “golf handicap” thrown around on the course or in conversations with other golfers. In this article, we’ll delve into the definition and importance of golf handicaps, providing answers to common questions. Gain a better understanding of how golf handicaps work and why they are essential for the game. Additionally, we will clarify the handicap golf meaning, enhancing your knowledge and appreciation of this integral aspect of the sport.

What is a Golf Handicap and How Does it Work?

A golf handicap is a way to measure a golfer’s skill level and ability, and to allow players of different skill levels to compete fairly against each other. It’s a numerical value that represents the number of strokes over par a player is expected to take during a round of golf. The higher the handicap, the more strokes a player is expected to take.

Golf handicaps work by allowing golfers of different skill levels to compete on an even playing field. For example, a golfer with a handicap of 20 would be expected to take 20 strokes more than a scratch golfer (a golfer with a handicap of 0) over the course of 18 holes. In a competition, the player’s net score (gross score minus handicap) would be used to determine their standing.

In essence, golf handicaps allow players of different skill levels to compete against each other in a fair and enjoyable way, making the game more accessible and inclusive for all.

Read also about What Percentage of Golfers Break 100

What is a Good Golf Handicap? Tips for Improving Your Game

A course handicap is a specific value calculated for a particular golf course, determining the number of strokes a golfer should receive during a round based on the course’s difficulty and the golfer’s handicap index. Conversely, a handicap index represents a golfer’s overall skill level, calculated from multiple rounds, and is used to compute the course handicap for any course played.

To calculate your course handicap, a formula incorporating the course rating, slope rating, and your handicap index is utilized. This formula, part of the golf handicap explained, allows for fair competition among golfers of varying abilities, irrespective of the course’s difficulty.

In essence, while your handicap index is a broad representation of your skill, your course handicap is a precise value adjusted for the specific course, ensuring equitable competition.

How does Handicap Work in Golf?

In golf, a handicap represents a player’s skill level, leveling the playing field between golfers of varying abilities. Calculated based on a player’s previous scores, it indicates the number of strokes a player receives above par. For instance, a 15-handicap player gets one stroke per hole for 15 holes and plays the other three at par. Golfers compare their net scores (gross score – handicap) to determine the winner in handicap-adjusted competitions. The World Handicap System, adopted globally, allows golfers to obtain and maintain a Handicap Index, ensuring fair and consistent handicapping worldwide. By adjusting for course difficulty, this system enables equitable competition, making golf more enjoyable and inclusive.

What is a High Handicap in Golf? Understanding the Numbers

In golf, a handicap is a numerical value that represents a player’s ability and skill level. A high handicap is a value that is considered above average or less skilled than the average golfer.

While the exact definition of a high handicap can vary depending on the source, generally a handicap of 18 or above is considered high. This means that a golfer with a handicap of 18 would be expected to take 18 strokes more than a scratch golfer over the course of 18 holes.

However, it’s important to note that a high handicap is not a bad thing. Golf is a game that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels, and having a high handicap simply means that a golfer is less skilled than some other players. Many golfers have high handicaps and still enjoy playing the game and competing against other players.

In fact, golf handicaps are designed to level the playing field, allowing players of different skill levels to compete against each other in a fair and enjoyable way. So, whether you have a high handicap or a low handicap, what matters most is that you’re out on the course enjoying the game.

How to Calculate Handicap in Golf: Step-by-Step

Calculating your golf handicap is an important step in playing and competing in the game of golf. It’s a numerical value that represents your skill level and allows you to compete fairly against other golfers with different skill levels.

To calculate your golf handicap, you’ll need to follow a few simple steps. First, you’ll need to gather scores from at least five rounds of golf. These scores should be from 18-hole rounds played on courses with a slope rating of 113 or higher.

Next, you’ll need to determine your handicap differential for each of these rounds. This is calculated by subtracting the course rating from your score, multiplying the result by 113, and then dividing the result by the slope rating of the course.

Once you have your handicap differentials, you’ll need to average them and then apply a formula to calculate your Handicap Index. From there, you can use your Handicap Index to calculate your Course Handicap for any golf course you play on.

By following these simple steps, you’ll be able to calculate your golf handicap and start competing on an even playing field with other golfers of different skill levels.

The Benefits of Having a Golf Handicap: Why Every Golfer Should Have One

Having a golf handicap is not only important for competitive play, but also for personal improvement and enjoyment of the game. Here are some benefits of having a golf handicap:

  • Fair Play: A golf handicap allows golfers of different skill levels to compete against each other on an even playing field, making the game more enjoyable for everyone involved.
  • Personal Improvement: Keeping track of your scores and calculating your handicap allows you to monitor your progress and identify areas where you need to improve.
  • Goal Setting: Setting a target handicap and working towards achieving it can provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Course Management: Knowing your handicap can help you make better decisions on the golf course, such as which clubs to use and when to take risks.
  • Tournament Play: Many golf tournaments and events require participants to have a valid handicap, making it essential for those who want to compete at a higher level.

Overall, having a golf handicap is an important part of the game that can provide many benefits for golfers of all skill levels.


In conclusion, grasping the concept of what is a golf handicap and comprehending its functionality is a fundamental aspect of playing and deriving pleasure from the game of golf. Golf handicaps enable golfers of varying skill levels to compete equitably, fostering a more enjoyable and inclusive experience for all participants. Regardless of whether you’re a novice or a seasoned player, being aware of your handicap empowers you to establish goals, monitor your progress, and make well-informed decisions on the golf course. Therefore, the next time you embark on a golfing adventure, bear in mind the significance of your handicap and how it can elevate your overall golfing experience. You can also see our review of Best Golf Swing Analyzers here


How is a golf handicap calculated?

A golf handicap is calculated using a formula that takes into account a player’s scores and the difficulty of the golf course. The specific calculation may vary depending on the handicap system being used (You need to remember, what is a golf handicap), such as the USGA Handicap System. The formula considers a player’s best scores, adjusts for course difficulty, and produces a handicap index or specific handicap.

How often should I recalculate my golf handicap?

It is recommended to recalculate your golf handicap regularly to ensure its accuracy. The frequency of recalculation depends on the handicap system in use and local regulations. Typically, golfers update their handicaps after submitting scores from designated rounds or tournaments. Staying up-to-date with handicap revisions ensures fair competition and reflects your current playing ability.

Can I have a golf handicap if I’m a beginner?

Absolutely! Golf handicaps are available to golfers of all skill levels, including beginners. Having a handicap provides a fair measure of your progress and allows you to compete against players of different abilities on an equitable basis. It can also serve as a motivating factor as you work towards improving your game and achieving your target handicap.

What is the difference between a course handicap and a handicap index?

A handicap index represents a golfer’s potential ability and is calculated based on scores from different courses. On the other hand, a course handicap is specific to a particular course and is derived from the handicap index, adjusted for the difficulty of the specific course being played. The course handicap reflects the number of strokes a golfer receives or gives on a specific course.

How does weather affect my golf handicap?

While weather conditions do not directly affect the calculation of a golf handicap, they can indirectly impact your scores and, therefore, your handicap index. Extreme weather conditions, such as strong winds or heavy rain, can make the course more challenging and lead to higher scores. Over time, consistently adverse weather conditions may reflect in your handicap index, which represents your playing ability. Therefore, it’s important to consider the potential influence of weather when evaluating your golf handicap. Remember, what is a golf handicap, which defines your playing ability, remains an essential reference point regardless of the weather conditions you encounter on the course.