Click here to get a FREE Golf Ball Line Marking Tool with ANY purchase! Simply add both items to your cart and discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

What is a Golf Handicap and how do you calculate it?

Golf Handicap and Why It’s Important to the Sport

Golf is a club-and-ball sport played on a large open-air course where players use various clubs to hit a golf ball into a series of holes with the fewest strokes as possible

The focus of this post is on an aspect of golf known as golf handicap. We’ll explore what it is, how to calculate it and why it is important to the sport.

People golfing

Golf Handicap

So, what is golf handicap? To better understand the term, it would be wise to go back in history. The Handicap term was associated with golf in the 1870s, borrowed from a popular trading game in the same era called Hand-in-Cap. When two individuals had items of different values to trade, they used a referee to determine the difference in value of the items they wished to trade. It required money to be put in a pot while the players played the game by putting their hands in a hat and pulling it out, either showing agreement or disagreement to the trade. Hand-in-Cap became shortened to Handicap and became associated with betting in horse racing and eventually golf as a system for settling the difference in skills among golf players.

Not all golfers are capable of playing at the same skill level. A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a player’s ability. In simple terms, it’s a measure of their current ability over an entire round of golf. This is signified by a number. The lower this number is, the better player you are. ​The ability rating is to enable any golfer with a lower skill play with an experienced play on a level playing field. Golf differs in this respect to boxing or fighting championships where the fighters and boxers of different titles cannot fight one another.

Golfing in the Early Days

Golfers sought the need for a handicap system during the 17th and 18th century when they just played between close friends and acquaintances. Since people had different skill levels, the absence of a handicap system meant that the better player always won. This sucked the fun and thrill of the underdog winning out of the game. Golfers had to find a system where a weaker golfer could be given extra shots when playing an experienced golfer. It meant the weaker player could have 3 more shots compared to the experienced golfer’s single shot.

As the system developed, there were different handicap rules alongside the different golfing clubs but golfers are now governed by a universal handicap authority.

Now that we know what a golf handicap is and its origin, the next question is: how do you calculate a golf handicap?

golf scorecard

Calculating Golf Handicap

For a rookie golfer to be able to compete with professional golfers, they need a handicap number or score. To get a handicap score they need to play at least five rounds and a maximum of 20 rounds while recording the scores which they could use to calculate and Adjusted Gross Score (AGS). The player can either play an 18-hole or 9-hole course.

  • Getting AGS

The AGS is determined by getting the total number of strokes during a round then adjusting for the maximum per-hole scores. Maximum per-hole scores are also called the Par score. The Par score is the average strokes a professional golfer needs to hole the golf ball. The Par value differs with the golf course or golf club.

  • Handicap Differential

Once the AGS is determined, the next step is to find your handicap differential which is done through a formula:

(AGS Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

The course rating signifies the difficulty of the course for a seasoned golfer, for instance, a top performer who regularly shoots par. The figure is provided by the course of a golf club. The slope rating signifies the difficulty of the course for an average golfer who averages one bogey per hole and is also provided by the course.

For instance, let’s say your AGS score is 85, course rating is 69.3 and the slope rating is 117. Then your handicap differential will be (85-69.3) X 113/117. Your handicap differential will be 15.2.

  • Handicap Index

The handicap index is the sum of your differential divided by the number of differentials then multiplied by 0.96.

(Sum of Differentials/Number of Differential) X 0.96

It is important to determine the number of differentials to use. If you’re using 5-6 rounds, use the lowest differentials. Golf games with 7-8 rounds use the lowest two differentials. If using 9-10 rounds, use the lowest three differentials and so on till you get to 20 rounds where you will be required to use 10 lowest differentials.

For example, when playing an 8-round golf game, you should use the two lowest differentials. Take a case where your two lowest handicap differentials are 10 and 11, add them to get 21 and then average by two to get 10.5.


21/2= 10.5

Take the 10.5 and multiply by 0.96 which gives you 10.08 where you're required to drop beyond tenths place which will give you 10.0 as your handicap index. There’s no rounding off figures in golf.

  • Course Handicap

Get your course handicap requires using the formula: (Handicap Index) X (Slope Rating)/113

Using the figure previously gotten above, your handicap index is (10.0 X 117)/113 which gives you a course handicap of 10.3.

Interpreting Golfer Handicap

The concept should be simple. If golfer A is a 6 handicap and golfer B is a 16 handicap when they play each other, golfer A has to give 10 strokes to golfer B playing the same hole A is playing. The setup is only found in the sport of golf and is designed to allow anyone have a fair match against the best golf players. Can you imagine playing Tiger Woods? The lower the handicap the more seasoned the golfer is.

golf leaderboard

Why is a Golf Handicap important?

Golf Handicap is important because of many reasons but before we get there it is vital that we mention the organizations tasked with storing information for every golfer including their handicap scores. These include the United States Golf Association (USGA), the International Golf Associates (IGA) and the Handicaps Network Africa. They are tasked with maintaining handicap scores for member golfers through systems that can be accessed anywhere.

Having a golf handicap is important because it is the only means through which a golfer’s skill can be measured. It is also important to note that without a golf handicap, a golfer cannot professionally play in any golf tournament.

Once you begin and get a course handicap, you can start monitoring your prowess by calculating your course handicap frequently. This way, you're able to monitor your progress especially in improving the number of strikes it takes you to hole a golf ball.

Golf is a gentleman's game and therefore it's important to post legitimate scores. For instance, after having your handicap score, there is a restriction on how many strokes you can take on any given hole. If you have less than a 10 handicap, you cannot turn in score over double bogey (a score of one shot over par at a hole). For example, suppose that you are handicap 6 which means on average, it takes you 6 strikes to hole a golf ball. Turning in a score with a par value of 12 is not genuine and is taken as cheating.


Golf is a fun game meant for both men and women. Visit a golf course and get to know your handicap. Note that your scorecard needs to be signed by two seasoned golfers who already have golf handicaps. The formulas seem intimidating, but it shouldn’t worry you because most golf clubs have systems that calculate your course handicap.

If you found this article useful, then please share it with your friends using the links below!