What is a Golf Handicap?

Last updated: March 2, 2021

A golf handicap is a term that has confused most beginner golfers all over the world. Once you understand the concept, you can seamlessly record your scores.

Here’s a clever analogy to describe what is a golf handicapImagine you’re racing against Usain Bolt. It surely sounds ridiculous because it’s almost certain that he will win, considering he’s the fastest man alive.

But, there are ways to make it more challenging for him. For instance, you can take a head start of a few meters and make it a real contest. Sounds fair, right?

A golf handicap is quite similar to this system. Every golfer has a different skill level and abilities, making it complicated as a competitive sport as higher skilled players are more likely to win.

Handicap allows players with varying abilities to compete with each other in a more fair and enjoyable manner. It is a technique used to level the playing field for all golfers.

Currently, there are several different handicap systems in place globally; among them, the USGA Handicap System and World Handicap System (WHS) are the most widely used.

What Does A Golf Handicap Mean?

Handicap is a generic term that signifies a golfer’s average score in relation to par. It is often used interchangeably with another term, “handicap index.” Despite sounding similar and being very nearly equal in numerical value, there is a minute difference between the two. 

According to the USGA, a handicap index is defined as an estimate of a player’s ability calculated against the Slope Rating on a moderately difficult golf course (a course having a Slope Rating of 113). 

Don’t worry if that sounds a little complicated, you’re not alone. A lot of amateur golfers get confused by this stuff. In simple words, the handicap index is a rough estimate of a player’s potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty.

The handicap index is subsequently used to calculate the “course handicap,” which we’ll discuss below. However, before learning more about handicap and calculating it, you must be aware of some basic terminology.

Terms Associated With Golf Handicap

Slope rating

According to the USGA, the slope rating is a measure of a golf course’s relative difficulty for players who are not scratch players in comparison to scratch golfers. 

To put it more simply, the slope rating compares relative difficulty between a bogey golfer (players with a handicap of 20 or above for men and 24 or above for women) and a scratch golfer (player with a handicap of 0).

It is a numerical value that highlights that as the golf course’s difficulty level increases, the scores of higher-handicapped players will rise more quickly than those of lower handicapped golfers. 

Generally, slope ratings are in the range of 55 to 155, and standard playing difficulty courses have a rating of 113.

Course rating

The course rating represents a golf course’s difficulty for the scratch golfer under normal course and weather conditions. It is a number whose value is very close to the par of the course, and as the value rises, so does the difficulty level.

Most golf courses have multiple course ratings, and each value corresponds to a different tee. Both the slope rating and the course rating are instrumental in the calculation of the course handicap. 

Score Differential

A Score Differential measures a single round’s performance in relation to the course’s relative difficulty while making adjustments for the Course Rating and Slope Rating.

The result of the daily Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC) is also included in the Score Differential calculation in cases where weather conditions can significantly impact the outcome of the game. It is used primarily to calculate the handicap index of a player. 

You can calculate the Score Differential using the formula given below:

Score Differential = (113 / Slope Rating (SL)) * (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – PCC adjustment)

Steps to Calculate the Handicap Index

To calculate your handicap index, you must have at least 20 scores on your scoring card. Once you have that, average the best eight scores out of these 20 and make suitable adjustments for committee review or exceptional scores. Finally, round it off to the nearest tenth, and voila, there is your handicap index. 

Once you have the values of your handicap index, par, slope rating, and course rating, you can then finally calculate the course handicap value. 

Course Handicap

A course handicap is a convenient tool for players who play on multiple golf courses. It helps in converting a player’s handicap index into a numerical estimation of a player’s potential performance on a particular course.

The handicap index, slope rating, and course rating are used to calculate the course handicap. It allows for portability of the handicap index and making the sport more competitive, irrespective of where it is being played. 

A course handicap denotes the number of handicap strokes received by a player on a particular course, from a specific set of tees as determined by the slope rating and the difference between course rating and par.

It is essentially used to adjust a golfer’s abilities to a scratch player’s level on a given course. You can calculate the course handicap by using the following formula:-

Course Handicap = Personal Handicap Index * (Slope Rating/ 113) + (Course Rating – par)

How to Use a Golf Handicap

Now you have all the values you need, including the handicap index and the course handicap. But how do you use them while in a game? Well, the procedure is reasonably easy to understand as it basically means granting extra strokes to low skilled players. 

As you probably know, each hole is rated according to its difficulty level and assigned a stroke index. A stroke index of 1 denotes the highest difficulty, while 18 signifies the least.

Consider a player having a course handicap of 7, then he or she will be awarded strokes on seven hardest holes, allowing him to be on the same level as a scratch golfer.

Why Use a Golf Handicap?

As mentioned earlier, the handicap system is primarily used to level the playing field for all golfers and ensure fair play. But exactly how does that happen?

Consider a game between two players, one a scratch golfer, and the other having a handicap of 10. In this case, the scratch player must allow the 10-handicapper ten additional strokes before commencing the round. 

The handicap system also helps in tracking improvement in a player’s abilities and skill level. A falling handicap is an indication of progress, while a rising handicap indicates the opposite.

Golfers usually set handicap targets for a given period of time, and it acts as a vital motivating factor for them. 

Finally, the handicap is beneficial for players who frequently play friendly and scramble golf. 

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