What does handicap mean in golf ?

Golfers, in their golf circles, often use terminologies that the outside world could puzzle upon.

While there are quite a few of these terms, “Handicap” is one that most amateur golfers tend to get confused about, and “What does handicap mean in golf?” is the question asked by many.

Here we discuss what you need to know about the Golf Handicap System, how does it work, and how to calculate your handicap.



The United States Golf Teachers Federation (USGTF) defines a handicap as “a measure of his current ability over an entire round of golf, signified by a number.” 

In simple terms, a handicap indicates how many strokes below or above par a golfer should be to be able to play. The lower the handicap number, the better the golfer is.

The Golf Handicap System attempts to reduce the gap between golfers of different abilities and make the game more competitive for all. Each Golf Course is different in difficulty and the players also vary in their playing credentials. In this case, the handicap system calculates and assigns specific values to each player considering their skills and the course which is called handicap. At the end of the game, each player’s handicap number is deducted from their score  improving their score.

Better golfers have lower handicap values so that weaker players have a chance to compete in the course. While it does seem very straightforward, a number of critical formulas are involved in calculating handicaps of each golfer.

Unless you’re a professional player with exceptional skills, you are expected to have a handicap number. However, pro players don’t really need a handicap number, and therefore their average handicap totals to zero. 

How does the handicap system work?

For understanding the handicap system, let us suppose your average score in a certain golf course is 100 and your handicap is 26. Now if you score say 98 in that course, 26 is deducted from your score making your score 72. 

If you’re playing against some with a handicap of 10 and he scores 83, then his scores become 73 which is higher than yours and you win even though you had higher scores than him originally before deducing handicaps. So this is how the handicap system works. 

How did the handicap system begin?

The handicap was originally known as “hand in cap” in the 17th century. It was a betting game played with 3 people. While 2 people betted valuables the other acted as a mediator. The players put their possessions into a hat, placed their hands inside it, and simultaneously drew out to determine the winner.

Hand in cap later evolved into a handicap. And during the 19th century when placing bets and wagers on golf matches started becoming more and more popular, the handicap system was introduced. It allowed less skilled players to have a chance of winning against better players. It also encouraged people to bet on players who had fewer skills but still had higher chances of winning. 

How can you calculate your golf handicap?

There are several ways to calculate your golf handicap, the easiest being with the use of an app like Swing by Swing or The Grint. With the help of these apps, you can calculate your handicap without having to learn or use complex calculation formulas. 

Download and install the app, then put in your latest record and the golf course information and the app will automatically show you your suitable handicap number.

To get a USGA standard handicap value, these apps may take the scores of your last 20 games and select 10 of the best scores of them and multiply them by 0.96. This outputs a 98% accurate average best score statistic. While it only marginally upgrades your score, it gives the lower handicapped player a minor advantage. This is a simplified way of calculating handicap, without factoring in the type of club and the type of game being played.

For calculating the difficulty of a particular golf course, a number of factors are taken into consideration. Firstly determine the length of the court, condition of the terrain, structures and shape, and the number of hazards in the course. The difficulty of a golf course is divided into 2 indexes namely course rating and slope rating.

The course rating is used for professional golfers while the slope rating is for estimating the course compatibility for a bogey golfer. A number between 55 and 155 is given and the higher the slope rating is, the tougher is the game for a golfer. A typical golf course has a slope rating of 113. While you’re playing in a standard course with a slope rating of 113, your handicap is the one we previously calculated from your best scores. But if the course has a different slope rating, say 125, then your handicap is calculated as 

(125/113) x (your handicap derived from best scores)

Cheaters persist in every game and so there are some cheaters in golf as well. The handicap system was implemented for creating an equal opportunity of winning the game. But cheaters exploit the system by exaggerating their handicap numbers while registering in a tournament. By attaining a higher handicap number, a cheater gets a better chance of winning over everyone else since the start of the tournament. 

This type of cheating is termed as Sandbagging and it is punishable. Sandbaggers get kicked out of clubs and get penalized in tournaments.

some of the formulas are:


handicap differential formula

handicap calculating formula

references- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handicap_(golf)

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