If you don’t know your handicap, you’re not alone, and you can enjoy the game without ever knowing it. However, for players who are curious, looking to improve, or hoping to take part in tournaments, understanding your golf handicap is vital to ensuring you are rated correctly and the competition is fair. In 2020, the USGA – alongside the R&A (the governing body for the UK) – updated how golf handicaps are calculated. Here, we offer a simple guide for how to work out your golf handicap.
How does golf handicap work?
A golf handicap works by providing a score standard based on a player’s skill level and course difficulty. Simply, a handicap is the number of strokes over par a player is expected to complete the course with. As a result, a lower handicap indicates a better player. It allows for players of different levels to play competitively and fairly. Here’s an example:
- Player 1 is a highly skilled player and has a handicap of 2
- Player 2 is less experienced and holds a handicap of 9
- Both players complete an 18-hole round of golf.
- Player 1 scores +7 over par (+5 of their handicap)
- Player 2 scores +7 over par (-2 of their handicap)
Using their handicap as a baseline, Player 2 has played the better game and could be considered the ‘Winner’.
So, now that you understand why it’s important and how it works, how do you work out a golf handicap?
Variables of how to work out your golf handicap
Before you can compete in competitions, you will need to be given a golf handicap, which can only be issued by a golf club that is affiliated with a Golf Union.
A player must play a minimum of three 18-hole rounds of golf and submit these to be calculated by the golf club. Once you have submitted these scores, your Handicap Committee will allot you a ‘playing’ handicap. You will then use your playing handicap to work out your ‘course’ handicap.
However, there are several variables involved in working out your handicap.
The expected score of a scratch golfer (a player with a handicap of 0) on the course.
The relative difficulty of a course, determined by various factors (obstacles, hazards, etc). Slope rating falls between 55 and 155, with a higher score indicating greater difficulty. The standard slope rating is 113.
Adjustable Gross Score (AGS)
Your score upon completing the course.
All the information you need to work out your handicap should be on your score card, which will provide the course and slope ratings, and allow you to record and work out your own score.
Formula for how to work out golf handicap
There are several steps for how to work out a golf handicap. Let’s go through each step with the following example:
A golfer plays ten rounds at an 18-hole course (65 course rating and 105 slope rating) and scores 87, 81, 76, 88, 78, ,79, 81, 77, 82 and 80.
Calculate each score’s ‘handicap differential’
Formula: (AGS – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating
Using the example, the first calculation would look like this:
(87 – 65) x 113 / 105 = 23.6
The golfer would need to complete this for every score, which would result in the following handicap differentials.
23.6, 17.2, 11.8, 24.7, 13.9, 15.0, 17.2, 12.9, 18.2 and 16.1
Average lowest handicap differentials
When submitting their 10 most-recent scores, the golfer’s lowest three would be averaged and multiplied by 0.96 to determine their final handicap.
This would be: (11.8+13.9+16.1) / 3 x .96 = 13.3
What is the difference between a handicap and handicap index?
While a player’s handicap is a general term for their average score in relation to par, the handicap index refers to an official handicap system which rates the golfer’s game against the Slope rating of the golf course playing difficulty. This will then be used as your playing handicap for the round. Unlike a handicap, the handicap index is worked out on your most recent 20 rounds, taking the average of your best 8.
Naturally, with so many steps to remember, there are a lot of apps available for quickly calculating your handicap. For information on how to improve your handicap, discover how properly caring for your clubs can take your game to the next level.