How Golf Handicap Works

Golf handicaps are infamously difficult to calculate. Math can be difficult, perplexing, and intimidating. Nevertheless, any golfer can compute an accurate handicap score using a straightforward and logical formula.

This ultimate guide clarifies how golf handicaps are calculated. After calculating your handicap, you can compete equitably with peers and clients who may be superior or inferior to you.

You can assess your golf game’s improvement as you play more games.

As any player attests, golf is a taxing sport that can psychologically drain you after just a few ill-advised strokes. However, with your handicap, you can depend on the big picture and comprehend how you fight against yourself across the course of 18 holes. The following stroke may be more successful; before you realize it, you may be on par with or even better than your deficit.

Handicap History

To level the playing field between professionals and amateurs in the middle 1800s, handicaps were introduced. Actually, these players used terms like “third-one” and “half-one” disability, which meant that the beginner did not need to keep track of one shot for every three or two rounds. Although players were given handicaps, it was up to their own judgment or the decision of a commission and not standard practice everywhere.

These offset odds were used around 50 years later, in the late 1800s. The events used a method that involved taking the three best annual scores on the course, averaging them, and then taking the average away from par.

For example, if the three best scores on the course were 60, 65, and 70, and the par for the course was 59, we would take the average of the three best scores, 65, and remove 7 to get the par for the course. (65-59). People didn’t like this handicap method because it gave an advantage to better golfers and left everyone else behind.

One of the main complaints was that it made it extremely difficult for recreational players who had just a couple of excellent games ever to advance their handicap. As time went on and golfers got better with the aid of modern technology, the handicap system improved.

As golfers kept trying to figure out how handicaps work, this background of handicaps helped them get a better idea of how to figure out handicaps.

Preparation Before Calculating Your Handicap

Getting your golf handicap is not hard and can be done by anyone, even if it seems hard at first. But not every new player should feel like they have to get a penalty. Instead, focus on improving your game and swing. (we have all been there).

Until you consistently score under 100 over 18 courses, you shouldn’t worry too much about figuring out your handicap.

You must first register at your home course or Your local golf club will typically include a modest fee with your annual membership or charge roughly $50 annually to register your scores.

You will receive a GHIN number once your application is processed. This GHIN number is your unique scoring identification number. After logging in with your GHIN number and entering your scores, the database will document your score and course. This will enable you to monitor your handicap after a sufficient number of rounds accurately.

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As promised, I’ll explain how a golf handicap is calculated; fortunately, modern, accurate methods do the math for you.

Record Your Honest Score

Don’t deceive is one of the most important principles of golf and life. Golf is a personal competition, as well as one played against others. It’s motivating to fight against your past self and strive for greater success. The only way to win is to maintain a reliable tally. If you hit the ball beyond the boundaries, you’ll have to take a stroke punishment, strokes will be counted accurately, and you won’t be able to retake the opening shot for free.

Keep it honest!

In addition to maintaining an accurate score, you must golf with a partner. You must play with another player because he or she must witness your round and endorse your scorecard afterward. Without this additional evaluation, it is feasible for a golfer to make absurd claims on their scorecard. (although we all know that this sometimes happens even with a second golfer present).

Before registering for a handicap, ten to twenty rounds of golf are required. You will want to play golf on a variety of courses to gauge your performance in varying conditions and terrain.

Complying With USGA Scoring Rules

Maintaining a record that correctly reflects your actual performance is essential. However, your total may need to be adjusted downward to comply with USGA regulations.

The USGA has a set of fundamental handicapping scoring so that the maximum potential score for a hole is capped. For instance, if you shoot a 15 on a particular hole, you will not report 15 strokes on that hole. Instead, your number of strokes would be computed using the following USGA handicap metric:

  • 1 to 9 handicap – Maximum score of double-bogey
  • 10 to 19 handicap – Maximum score of 7
  • 20 to 29 handicap – Maximum score of 8
  • 30 to 39 handicap – Maximum score of 9
  • 40 or above handicap – Maximum score of 10

Considering the Course Rating

Any player will tell you that not every course is the same. Courses on the PGA tour are obviously much more difficult than the local course you play on weeknights. Each lesson is assigned a “course rating” to reflect these variations.

This number is meant to represent the expected score of a player who consistently scores par on that course. To put it another way, the player does not play better than expected but instead has the same number of shots over the span of 18 holes. An extremely difficult course with an 18-hole par of 76 might have a grade of 79 or 80 or three or four shots above par.

A golfer’s handicap can be modified in accordance with the course classification. A player’s deficit will rise marginally if the track is more difficult.

In contrast, a golfer’s disability will be significantly lowered if the track is simpler.

Reviewing the Slope Rating

A Navy Commander by the name of Dean Knuth created the “slope” algorithm in 1979 to forecast how players who score bogeys (one stroke over par) will perform on a particular course. Knuth calculated the “slope rating” by taking this figure and comparing it to players who shot within par.

Golfers have another factor to consider when determining their handicap in addition to the course rating: the elevation. They go to a new course so they can measure their improvement over time and fight equally with players of various skill levels.

Digging Into the Match – The Handicap Formula

The moment has come to get down to the nitty-gritty of the question, “how does golf handicap work?” after having examined the history of the concept of a handicap and the various measures you should take to place yourself in a position to compute your handicap. The USGA publishes a handicap algorithm that is used to determine an individual golfer’s disadvantage.

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The USGA calculation subtracts your adjusted score (meaning you have accounted for the USGA maximum stroke score per hole) from the course rating provided by the golf course you play. This number is multiplied by 113, the average slope rating difficulty.

The third stage involves dividing this number by the course rating for the selected markers.

Handicap Match Example

To illustrate the above USGA formula, let’s use some numbers to clarify the golf handicap calculation:

You played 18 rounds on a difficult course and scored 90. Your total was 92, but after changing it to meet USGA regulations, you could subtract two points. You’re pumped up, but you don’t know your disability. You may want to evaluate your performance this round in relation to your performance next week at a different track. After reading this piece, you can pull up your phone’s computer and get to work.

Workers tell you the training is worth an 84, so if you subtract 90 from that number, you get 6. Up to this point, everything has been fine. There are six of you.

The typical grade for an incline is 113, so we need to multiply 6 by that number to get a total of 678.

Finally, split this total by the course’s overall grade. Three hundred and thirty, we’ll say. Subtracting that number from 130, we get a result of 5.21 if we divide 678 by that number.

If this player plays 18 holes at his or her current pace, he or she will finish about five points above par. After about 20 rounds, this golfer’s handicap will be calculated as the mean of their ten lowest differentials. The golfer’s handicap index is calculated by increasing their total impairment by 96%.

Use these formulae to verify the USGA’s software, but remember that the software will automatically fill in the answers.

Taking Your Handicap Score One Step Further

Interpreting Your Handicap

You can now calculate your handicap, but it is nothing more than a number. What then?

This number represents a rough estimate of what you should score on a standard 18-hole par course. For instance, if your handicap is 12 and the 18-hole par is 74, you can anticipate a score of approximately 86.

Despite the fact that the majority of golfers fire over par, many above-average golfers have positive scores. If a golfer reported a handicap of +1 and the 18-hole par is 74, we would estimate that this golfer would shoot 73.

Professional golfers average between +4 and +6 handicaps on the world’s most challenging courses.

Applying Your Handicap For Gameplay

You have completed multiple rounds and accurately reported your scores. You are now prepared for the weekend tournament with your coworkers. Numerous methods exist to use your group’s handicap scores to level the playing field for a weekend of enjoyment and competition.

An alternative is engaging in “stroke play,” a more casual format. Take a hypothetical round of golf where you and a friend compete; you both have 12 handicapped players, but your rival has 18. To win this hypothetical match, you need only outshoot your rival by a margin of six shots. Your disability number can be used in this manner with the least amount of effort.

One alternative is to engage in “match play.”

Suppose your deficit is six strokes lower than your opponent’s in the same scenario. This implies that the top six penalty rounds will be played at your opponent’s pace. You can find your handicap in the “Handicap” or “HCP” column or section of your scoresheet. This will provide an order of difficulty from most challenging to easiest for each hole.

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Let’s say your rival has six shots to use and decides to focus on the par-threes, par-4s, and par-5s on the back nine.

Consider whether you’ll be playing “stroke play” or “match play” before you shoot off.

This way, nobody will feel “cheated” at the end of the round, and there will be no room for misunderstanding or miscommunication during play. Weighting aims to make the game more equitable and exciting for everyone, not to sow discord because of a misunderstanding.

Tips and Warnings

When you get your Handicap Index, keep in mind that it is not an indication of your typical result but of your maximum ability for a given round.

By limiting players to no more than a net double bogie on any given course, the World Handicap System effectively removes the concept of “disaster holes” from the scoresheet.

This is in place to prevent players from “sandbagging,” or deliberately playing a hole badly to increase their handicap by capping the number of strokes that can be taken on that hole at a predetermined percentage of the course’s total handicap. If you score big on a course, your Handicap Index will be off.


Learning about scoring will help your golf game because you can monitor your development over time. You can challenge your loved ones and coworkers to a round of golf. People value those who take the time to learn about their individual disabilities.

You can now start keeping track of your impairment with confidence because you know how golf handicap works, what factors into the calculation and have the method to do so.


A great deal of new information generates plenty of new questions, but don’t worry; the following are answers to some prevalent handicap queries.

What Kind of Handicap Should I Aspire For?

There’s no “right” answer. Playing more will improve your game and lower your deficit. If you want to score under 100 in an 18-hole round, aim for a 20 penalty.

Playing will alter this goal again.

If your only goal is to play with a better golfer without slowing them down, you should be in fine shape if you can crack 90 shots in an 18-hole round, but this will take practice and commitment.

Do I Really Need a Handicap?

An offset is suggested but not needed.  For one, it’s polite to other players to help level the playing field and make the round more fun.  Don’t stand out in stroke play or team play.

This will also help you track your success, identify weaknesses, and better.  You may need to improve your endurance if you hit more shots late in the round, regardless of the hole challenge.

I’m Not a Great Golfer. What’s the Maximum Handicap?

Before shooting under 100 shots per 18-holes, start noting your scores.  The USGA’s highest score for men is 36.4, and for women is 40.4.

I’m Not Great at Match. How Do I Get Someone to Calculate My Handicap?

Relax.  As mentioned above, your course and the USGA website will compute your handicap, but for those asking “how does golf handicap work,” now you know!

How Often am I Allowed to Update My Handicap?

Even if it wasn’t your best round, record your total for every serious round of golf you play.

How Can I Lower My Handicap?

“Practice makes perfect” refers to golf too. Don’t obsess over your rank! Analyze and develop various game stages by practicing alone, with pals, or with a tutor.

Disciplined exercise will lower your deficit.

Do Tournament Scores Matter?

There is truth to the claim that championship play can significantly impact your net score.  You must select the “Tournament” option before submitting your result online.

Mushfiq is obsessed with Golf. From his passion for Golf to becoming a lead writer in the golf category, his journey was quite awesome. Mushfiq covers all the Golf events and net worth information of players in Surprise Sports.


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