November 6, 2023

The handicap system was created by the United States Golf Association (USGA) to help level the playing field for every golfer. A golf handicap is a difference between the total golf course par and a golfer's average number of strokes in about ten games, where Par is the number of strokes a golfer should take to finish the course. To calculate your handicap, the calculations use a handicapping system of course rating together with something known as a slope to compute how many strokes each golfer should get.

The World Handicap System is overseen by the USGA and the R&A, with six different handicap systems in the world, with each developed to ensure equity for local games but different results with every system. According to the USGA, the purpose of the handicap is to make the golf game enjoyable by helping players with different skill levels to compete equally. The World Handicap System comprises both the course rating system and the handicapping rules.

History of Golf Handicaps

The golf handicap system started over 100 years ago and has been operating since then. It was previously known as a hands-on cap, and it involved three parties: two players and two referees, and changed the name to handicap in 1850. Handicaps have been used to gauge your skill-based level on your score and in comparison to the course's par round. They are used in small and large tournaments ranging from a game with friends to club championships.

What Your Handicap Means

The lower your handicap, the better you are at golf, and the higher the handicap, the worse the golfer is at the golf game. Handicaps are used to judge golfers' performance compared to their average play instead of a head-to-head match. They allow golfers to compete and win against talented golfers depending on their game on a particular day.

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap

A golf handicap does not exist for individuals who have never played golf, and to create one, a player should start by tracking their 9 and 18 holes scores. The scores should be recorded in a scorecard and should have two signatures to minimize corruption ensuring your scores are genuine and valid.

Number of Scores Needed to Obtain Handicap Index

To obtain a handicap index, you must submit three 18 holes scores, and this is a combination of 9 holes and 18 hole rounds. To calculate your handicap, there are several applications and programs to help you do it but to do it the old-fashioned way and calculate the golf handicap on your own, below are the steps. The handicap calculation depends on some elements such as course handicap, slope rating, and an adjusted gross score, and additional factors like handicap differential, course rating, and handicap index of the game.

The Course Handicap Calculation Formula is:

Course Handicap = Index x (Slope Rating of Tee on Course / 113)

How to Calculate the Golf Handicap

1. Change the original gross scores into the adjusted total score

You can get the adjusted gross scores using the USGA's Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) to adjust individual hole scores downwardly to create handicaps that clearly show the golfer's playing skills. According to ESC, you can only get a maximum number of strokes in a given hole with nine or fewer handicaps giving a maximum score of double bogey and 40 and above, achieving a maximum score of 10.

2. Calculate your handicap differential for each score and select your lowest handicap differential

The course rating is what the USGA considers a bogey golfer will score on the course when playing under normal weather conditions and the slope rating of 113 is for a standard difficulty course. Your course handicap will be higher than your USGA handicap index when you play a home course with a higher slope rating than 113. However, when you play with a lower slope rating than 113, your course handicap will be lower than your handicap index. The calculation is computed by approximating the course mark to the bogey golfers' records. To calculate the handicap differential, use this formula:

Handicap differential = (Adjusted Gross Score-rating of the course) X 113 / Course slope rating.

Choose your best and lowest handicap differentials, and if you have entered more than 20 scores, only the top ten differentials of your current score will be used for your calculation.

3. Calculate the average of the smallest value from the differentials

Calculate the average of the smallest value by calculating the average for the three lowest HDs out of 10 handicap differentials. For 15 handicap differentials, calculate the lowest six and when you get 20 scores, use the ten best from the most current 20 scores.

4. Multiply the average of handicap differentials by 96% or 0.96

This calculation step involves computing the net handicap differential average, where for the USGA, the averages are multiplied by 96%.

5. Truncate, or Delete, Numbers to the Right of Tenths

This step involves deleting the digits after the tenths for the number you git in the previous step of multiplying the average of handicap differential. Any player should not round off any figure to the nearest tenths.

The USGA has determined the default maximum handicap index on 18 hole golf courses should be 36.4 for males and 40.4 for females. Whereas on the nine-hole course, it should be 18.2 for men and 20.2 for women.

6. Calculate your course handicap

The course handicap is the number of strokes each player receives on each particular course. You can use this formula for nine-hole handicaps by replacing the 18 hole handicap rating with the nine-hole course rating since the slope is the same for both calculations.

Course Handicap = Index x (Slope Rating of Tee on Course / 113)

Ways to Improve Your Golf Handicap

Below are a few tips you can use to improve your golf handicap and general skill level.

a). Improve your swing by often and early practice and get professional help if you need it

b). Ensure your equipment has no problem and is perfect because ill-fitted equipment usually affects your game and increases your risk for an injury

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does course rating affect handicap?

Your course handicap will be higher than your USGA handicap index when you play a course with a higher slope rating than 113. However, when you play with a lower slope rating than 113, your course handicap will be lower than your handicap index.

2. How do you calculate a 2020 handicap?

The reason for the 2020 handicap calculation change was to accommodate players who play off different tees. The new calculation for Course Handicap from 2020 will be:

Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) + (Course Rating- Par)

About the author 

Andrew Robertson

My name is Andrew and I have been playing golf since I was 5! I currently play on HCP 2 and I have been working as both PRO for many years where I have been instructing both junior golfers and more established and experienced golfers. I have been working part-time at a large Golf Shop where I have been in charge of purchasing and custom fitting. My favorite item in the bag at the moment? My TaylorMade Spider X Putter, for sure. I hope you enjoy my guides here at Pine Club Golf. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at if there is something you want to ask!

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