Golf Handicap:
The Great Equalizer

What is a golf handicap and why should you have one?

A handicap is a unique scoring system that levels the field for players of different abilities by “giving strokes” to the more inexperienced golfer. Without it, it wouldn’t be much fun for the rookie golfer to go up against better players.

It also makes it possible to compare scores when competing from different tees or even when women are playing against men.

Deducting your handicap from the actual number of strokes you took (= gross score) gives you your net score.

A golf handicap makes it fair play!

How do you get a handicap?

Handicap most commonly refers to handicap index, issued by the USGA (or its European counterpart, the R&A).

You submit your scores (for 9 or 18 holes) through one of the following options:

  • By handing your score cards over to the golf handicap committee of your club
  • By entering your score online

The USGA then uses a formula on the best 10 scores of your last 20 rounds to determine your handicap index.

How do you use your handicap index?

Your playing ability is only part of what determines your score. The difficulty of the course you are playing makes up the other part. Some courses are longer, some have more hazards and some have rough weather to deal with. Course rating and slope indicate how hard a course is to play.

Having a set number of handicap strokes would not make up for those added difficulties. That’s why you need to translate your index into a course handicap. This will give you the correct amount of strokes you can deduct on a particular course.

It’s easy to do: most courses have charts that will show you the corresponding course handicap for your handicap index.

What if you’re new and don’t have a handicap index yet? No problem, use the maximum handicap index of 40.4 for women (36.4 for men).

Do you really need a handicap?

No, of course not. As a matter of fact most recreational golfers never get one, because they never play in competitions. There are a few other benefits to having one, though:

  • It’s an indication of your level of play, regardless of the course you’re on.
  • It’s a great incentive to improve your game: because it’s based on your best 10 scores it’s a reflection of your potential, not your average score or strokes over par.
  • Some golf courses, especially in Europe, require proof of golf handicap before letting you on the course. Keep that in mind when planning your golf resort getaway!

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