What does Handicap Mean in Golf? (Explained for Beginners)

If you’ve ever been paired with a stranger at a golf course, chances are one of the first questions asked between the two of you is, “What’s your handicap?”

A golf handicap allows everyone to play the great game on equal footing.

In this article, we’ll explain why handicaps are so important, how to calculate your golf handicap, and most importantly, how you can improve yours starting today.

What Does Handicap Mean in Golf?

A handicap index creates a numerical measure that registers a golfer’s ability based on their scores at various golf courses. Simply put, a golf handicap gives you a number that shows how many strokes you will need on a neutral course.

If you’ve recently played, you may have noticed terms such as Course Rating, Slope Rating, and Course Slope on your scorecard.

The United States Golf Association has long held that golf handicaps are a way to measure a golfer’s true skill level at any course in the country.

Handicaps also provide golfers the ability to play a fair match, no matter the difference in skill level.

How to Calculate Your Handicap

Finding a good and accurate golf handicap calculator app remains the best shortcut when figuring out your playing handicaps, but if you like putting pencil to paper to calculate your handicapping number, here’s the way to get your score.

1. You need to find the adjusted total score using the calculations below

To find the score with the adjusted gross, use the USGA’s equitable stroke control displayed below. The table restricts the total number of strokes you can enter on any single hole.

Course Handicap = Nine or fewer than the maximum score is a double bogey

10 to 19, then the maximum score is 7

20 to 29, then the maximum score is 8

30 to 39, then the maximum score is 9

40 and above, then the maximum score is 10

2. Find the handicap differential for each round’s score

Handicap differential is found by using this formula: Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – course rating) x 113/Course Slope Rating.

3. Choose the lowest handicap differential

Find the lowest scores from the total number of rounds you’ve played recently. For 20 rounds, take the lowest 10 scores.

4. Calculate the average handicap from the smallest value of the handicap differentials

Once you have a solid base of handicap differentials, say 10 or more, then you find the average from the lowest rounds. If you’ve got 20 rounds in the books, take the 10 lowest number of strokes.

Anything lower, say 15 rounds, and you’ll look at the six lowest scores.

5. Multiply the average of the handicap differentials by .96

For the fifth step of calculating an official handicap, you need to find the average from net handicap calculations by multiplying the average by 0.96 or 96 percent.

6. Delete the numbers of the right of the tenths

Although you do not want to round off any numbers in the score, you should note that the USGA sets a maximum handicap index for women and men.

For women, the maximum number is 40.4, while the men totals 36.4 when playing golf on an 18-hole course.

Once you multiply the handicap differential by .96, you will chop any numbers after the first tenth off to give you a legitimate handicap calculation.

7. Find the course handicap calculation

The last step to help you calculate your handicap covers finding the course handicap. The formula reads Course Handicap = Handicap Index x Slope Rating/113 + (Course Rating – Par)

How to Improve Your Handicap

Improving your handicap is fairly easy as you only need to post better scores on courses with higher course ratings.

So how do you improve your scores? You work on your golf game from the green to the tee. Take time to work on each golf club, starting with your putter.

When you actually play golf, find courses with a moderate course rating and slope rating to challenge yourself to be better in all parts of your game.

After you’ve played golf, look at your weaknesses. The best players with the lowest handicaps examine their round with a critical eye.

Every golfer, even those with similar handicaps, carries varying abilities when it comes to hitting the ball off the tee box, striking from the fairway, and the short game. So look critically at your game and work to sand away the rough edges of your skill set.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good handicap in golf?

Most golfers feel that any single-digit handicap signifies that a player owns a good official handicap.

Mid-handicappers typically carry a figure of 10-19, while anything over that total number when you compare golfers signifies a high handicapper.

What is a +1 handicap golfer?

Golfers with a handicap index of +1 rank very close to a scratch golfer. A scratch golfer holds a handicap index of zero and does not need strokes when playing on a neutral course.

What does a 25 golf handicap mean?

A 25 handicap means the golfer registers an average score worse than a bogey golfer.

Regularly posting a final score around 100, a 25 index is typically found with golfers that hold the skill level of a high handicapper or beginning golfer.

Other golfers, such as a bogey player, carry a handicap of 18.

How does a handicap in golf work?

In stroke play, the golfer with the lowest adjusted score after the round wins the match. To calculate the correct score when playing handicap strokes, the golfer takes their net score and subtracts their handicap from that number.

For example, if a 10-handicap posts a score of 82 at a par 72 golf course, then their adjusted score is 72.

In match play, the golfers will find the average differential between their two handicaps. For example, if a 10-handicap plays a 5-handicap, the handicap allowance is five strokes.

Therefore, the 10-handicapper will get one stroke on the holes with the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 handicaps on the scorecard.