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A Beginner’s Guide to Calculating Your Handicap

Perhaps you were introduced to golf by a friend, a co-worker, or a family member. Or maybe you watched a PGA TOUR event on TV and were inspired by Tiger Woods and others. Whatever your reason, you chose to add the game of golf to your list of hobbies.

At first, it did not appear to be all that complicated. But then, as you began to play more and more, you realized just how complex the game really is. Why are there so many rules? And what exactly is a “handicap”? What does that even mean?

If this sounds familiar, and you are a golfer interested in playing on a more regular basis, you should not only know what a “handicap” is, but also learn how to calculate it. Here are some pointers for you as you begin the process.

How to Determine Your Handicap

A handicap, officially known as a “handicap index,” allows golfers to calculate a net score that can be used when they are playing against more experienced golfers. A handicap ensures less experienced golfers have lower net scores, resulting in fairer matches whenever they play with intermediate or advanced golfers. To determine your handicap, you will first need to compute handicap differentials, as they are known in the golf world.

  • A handicap differential can be configured by subtracting your course rating (an average good score by a golfer with a 0 handicap; this figure can be found on your course’s scorecard) from your gross score.
  • Then, multiply that figure by 113 (golf courses of average difficulty have this slope rating; a slope rating measures how difficult a course is for golfers who are not “scratch” (with 0 handicaps), when compared to “scratch” golfers).
  • This total figure should then be divided by the slope rating of your course to determine the handicap differential, which is then rounded to the nearest tenth.
  • Like the course rating, a slope rating can also be found on your course’s scorecard.
  • You will need to configure, at minimum, five handicap differentials; at most, you can compute 20 differentials.

Whew! Head hurt yet? Hang with us a little longer, and you’ll soon be flaunting your new handicap to everyone in your golf group.



Next, choose the lowest 10 of the last 20 you have computed. If you only have five differentials, just choose one and so forth. Add these differentials together, and divide that sum by the total number of differentials. Multiply this average by 0.96 to receive your handicap index.

This figure can then be used to discover your course handicap as well (the total number of strokes that should be subtracted from your gross score to determine your net score). Your course handicap is tallied when your handicap index is multiplied by your slope rating; this figure should then be divided by 113.

MATH OVERLOAD! It’s okay! You can do this. So, to recap…

  • You must first establish handicap differentials.
  • These differentials should then be used to configure your handicap index.
  • Official handicap indexes are only issued to members of golf clubs that follow the procedures of the USGA’s Handicap System.
  • Course handicaps can be used to subtract strokes from your gross scores, helping you feel less intimidated when you play with more experienced golfers.
  • Go out and have fun. Remember golf is a game – not life or death. Enjoy yourself and take full advantage of your newfound handicap index and course handicap!

Please review the USGA’s Course Handicap System manual for more information.

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