If you're new to golf in general or you use it as a way to catch up with your friends and colleagues, you're going to encounter new terminology that you've likely never heard of before.

If you spend enough time on the golf course, you're going to hear questions like “What's your handicap?” or you will likely overhear someone boasting about theirs to people that they play with often.

Ultimately, a golf players handicap score is a concept that a lot of players, professional and hobbyists alike, keep track of to get an idea on how good they are on average. In this article, we'll go over the core concepts of golf handicap scoring and what it takes to have the best score in your friend group.


yellow golf ball

Image by Stefan K. from Pixabay 

A golf handicap is a system developed by the United States Golf Association in an attempt to help players determine what kind of skills they possessed when they played. The system itself is just a form of private system that uses the slope in each course to determine how many strokes everyone should get to have a perfect score.

A handicap index comes based on a golfer's ability as well as the difficulty of the course that's getting played at the time. It also refers to the number of strokes that the golfer may take or subtract from His or her score which allows players to play on a more even ground especially when it's an amateur player versus a professional player.

The concept itself came to be owed about 1911 to allow players to compete on an even playing ground even if there are individuals who are Pros involved in the game. The system will enable players to enjoy themselves and compete without the disadvantages of skill level holding players back.


When you're trying to determine what your handicap is, there's a simple formula that is used to resolve it best. This formula is the same formula that is used by any USGA-rated golf course that you're playing on as well.

In that formula, they take the average course rating and the average slope rating into account as well as you're playing information. But what is a course rating and what is a slope rating?

A course rating is the average scores produced by scratch golfers which are professional players. A slope rating gets found by comparing the course rating to the bogey rating which is a set of scores derived from bogey golfers ( an average golfer).

Bogey ratings are always going to be higher numbers than the course rating. When the two are measured, there will be a line drawn through them, And the rise over the run of the two points will end up giving you your slope rating.

A slope rating will give you an average Indication of how challenging a course will be for the average golfer whereas it wouldn't cause that much difficulty for a scratch golfer.


If you were to go around the world and try to play golf in other countries, you might notice that the way that they calculate their handicap score differentiates from how it's typically down in America.

The R&A ( otherwise known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club) is an establishment set in St Andrews Scotland and is the ruling authority over golf all over the world except in the following countries:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Mexico

The R&A have paired with the USGA to create a World Handicap System which they plan to launch in 2020. This World handicap system will get based on the already-established USGA handicap system that takes the course and slopes ratings to provide a consistent and balanced handicap system.

The new system that they plan to implement across the world will have three main objectives that they'll aim to utilize. The first objective is to get as many golfers as possible to obtain and maintain a handicap score.

The second objective would be to indicate with accuracy the score that a golfer is capable of achieving on any course on the globe while playing under normal conditions.

And finally, their third objective would be to enable golfers of a large variety of different abilities, genders, and nationalities to transport their handicap score to any course across the globe and compete on a reasonable and even basis.

When the system is adopted, the World handicap system will be governed entirely by the R&A and the USGA based on what they've come up with in regards to handicap rules. These ratings will be administered locally by the six real authorities that get signed up as well as other national associations around the world.

All six of these handicapping authorities represent 15 million golfers in over 80 countries that allow and function with a golf handicap. These six authorities are:

  • The Council of National Golf unions
  • Golf Australia
  • The European Golf Association
  • The Argentine Golf Association
  • The United States Golf Association
  • The South African Golf Association

The system will make it easier for golfers around the world to compete in Friendly competition with each other no matter what course they play on. The consistency can even help newer players get more involved with golf in general and start to push themselves to better their scores.


So why is it essential to have a golf handicap figured out? Many times, especially if you're a casual or an average golfer, you don't usually need to see or have the United States Golfing Association handicap presented for you.

Most of the time the average golfer will not play enough times for it to matter, and ultimately a lot of people use the game as a way to test their limits and compete against themselves.

It's this kind of competition with oneself that actually makes having a handicap essential to figure out, especially since different golf courses will automatically calculate your handicap for you and you don't have to utilize a complicated formula to figure it out.

Figuring out what your handicap is a great way of finding out if you are improving in your game at all. While you're entering your scores, whether it be in 9 or 18 holes, you'll be able to see where your strengths lie as well as where you might be struggling depending on the course that you're on and how many strokes it takes you to finish the game.

Even if your handicap is not the best at first, it's a high starting point to improve upon, and when you start getting better to the point that your handicap score is lower, you'll be able to compete against friends and colleagues who are also keeping track and compare your ratings and set new goals.

If you plan on taking part in any local tournaments, it's essential to have your handicap available to make it fair for all players participating in the match.


To calculate a proper handicap score, you have to have a minimum of five ratings available to start calculating your handicap. Once you have your five scores available to you, you want to take your adjusted gross score which is the actual number of strokes a player makes which has become adapted as per the USGA is handicap system manual.


You'll want to then minus the USGA course rating which is mostly dependent on which golf course you frequent. The results will then get multiplied the official slope rating which is always 133 then divide your result by the course slope rating. The resulting number would be your end handicap differential.

Your formula should look something like this: [ ( a - b ) x 133] / c = d

You’ll want to do this for all five of your course scores and then take the lowest result and put that in your handicap index equation. If your scores increase, your scores will be added together and then divided by several differentials which get settled into your equation.

There's a second part to the equation that also gets considered as well. The second part of the handicap index formula is 0.96 which gets regarded as a potential rating or a bonus for excellence which provides an incentive for players to improve their games.


There are several apps that you can use on a smartphone that helps you keep track of your handicap score, however, are official handicap score will only be granted to you from a USGA certified Golf Course. Unfortunately, that typically means that you will have to pay for it and since handicap scores change with your games, it might be a bit costly to do.

There are tutorials on how to keep track of your handicap through Excel which will allow you to keep track of it for free.


golfer swinging

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

To get the most out of your golfing game, whether you're playing against friends and colleagues or you're playing against yourself, what's a good idea to get a golf handicap score to keep track of where your progress is.

While it might seem complicated at first to determine what your handicap score is, there are a large variety of materials and tutorials available online and from the USGA's website, and I'll teach you what you need to know to keep track of your handicap score without any issues.

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