Golf is a sport that prides itself on tradition, etiquette, and a fair playing field. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a competitive amateur, or a seasoned pro, golf offers a unique opportunity for players of different skill levels to compete on a level playing field, all thanks to the handicap system. So exactly what is a handicap in golf, and how does it work?
What Is A Golf Handicap?
At its core, a golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential ability. It’s an estimate of the average number of strokes above or below par a player might be expected to make, based on the difficulty of a course. Handicaps are used to create a level playing field so that players of differing abilities can compete against each other fairly. Essentially, it’s a way of rating a player’s performance relative to the course and relative to other players.
How To Calculate A Handicap In Golf?
Calculate Handicap Index
- Find the Top(lowest) 8 scores from your most recent 20 rounds.
- Calculate the average score of these 8 rounds.
The handicap index should be regularly updated based on your top eight scores from your most recent 20 rounds. Keep track of your score each time you play to ensure accurate recording.
The system relies heavily on honesty, as golf is a game of integrity. Players are expected to submit all their scores for handicap purposes, not just their best ones. Posting all scores, including those from bad rounds, ensures the accuracy of the handicap index. A golfer’s handicap is their badge of honor and should be a true reflection of their playing ability.
To use your Handicap Index to determine how many strokes you get on a specific course, you will convert your Handicap Index to a Course Handicap using the following formula:
What Is Slope Rating?
The Slope Rating measures the relative difficulty of a course for bogey golfers compared to scratch golfers. It’s used to determine how many strokes a player above the level of scratch should receive on a particular course. It essentially provides a basis for how a golfer’s handicap index is converted into a course handicap.
What is Course Rating?
The Course Rating indicates the number of strokes a scratch golfer (a golfer with a handicap of 0) is expected to take under normal course and weather conditions. It represents the difficulty of a golf course for the better player under normal playing conditions.
The Course Rating is expressed as a number to one decimal place (e.g., 72.1). And it typically ranges from about 67 to 77, with a higher number indicating a more difficult course.
Where you Can Find Both Ratings?
- Scorecard: The most common place to find both ratings is on a course’s scorecard. Nearly every golf course prints its Course Rating and Slope Rating on each set of tees on their scorecards.
- Tee Markers: Some courses also post this information on their tee markers.
- Golf Club Pro Shop: The staff at the golf course’s pro shop should have the ratings available.
- Course’s Website: Many golf courses provide their Course and Slope Ratings on their official websites.
What Is a Good Handicap in Golf?
In general, a good handicap is one that is lower than the average golfer’s. The United States Golf Association (USGA) reports that the average handicap for men is around 14.2 and for women is approximately 27.5. A “good” handicap might be considered to be below these averages:
Golfers with a handicap between 1 and 9 are referred to as low handicappers. They are very skilled golfers who consistently shoot close to or under par on any given course. In competitive amateur terms, a good handicap could be within this range.
A mid-handicapper is a player who plays off a handicap between about 10 and 18. These golfers can typically break 90 and occasionally score in the 80s, making them better than average, but they’re not quite in the low single digits. They tend to hit a reasonable number of greens in regulation and make a fair number of pars, with the occasional birdie.
High handicappers are those with handicaps above 18. They often shoot over 100 and are working on improving their game. High handicappers may struggle with consistency and typically have several areas of their game that need significant improvement. A handicap of around 20 to 30 can be typical for recreational players who enjoy the game but don’t play frequently enough to achieve lower scores consistently.
What is a Plus Handicap?
A plus handicap, often denoted as a “+” preceding the number (e.g., +1, +2, etc.), is a term used in golf to describe a player whose handicap is better than zero. Indicating they typically score under par for a round of golf. The “plus” signifies that the player is expected to shoot scores that are better than the course rating. In contrast to a “scratch golfer” who is expected to shoot right around par on any given course. So, a player with a plus handicap actually gives strokes back to the course.
Here’s a breakdown of how this works:
- Scratch Golfer: A scratch golfer has a handicap of zero. And is expected to play to the level of the course rating. For example, if a course rating is 72, a scratch golfer is expected to shoot a 72.
- Plus Handicap Golfer: A plus handicap golfer is one who typically shoots below the course rating. If a player has a +1 handicap, it means they are expected to shoot one stroke better than the course rating on average. If they were playing on the same course with a rating of 72, they would be expected to shoot 71.
Players with a plus handicap are often elite amateurs or professionals. When they enter competitions, they must “add” their plus handicap to their score. For example, if a +2 handicapper shoots a 70, their score for handicap purposes would be 72.