Golf handicap

Golf handicap

A golf handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer's playing ability. It can be used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. Handicaps are administered by golf clubs or national golf associations. Exact rules relating to handicaps can vary from country to country.

Handicap systems are not used in professional golf.


A handicap is calculated with a specific arithmetic formula that approximates how many strokes more than par a player should be able to play. The R&A (now a separate organization from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club), based in St Andrews, Scotland, is responsible for the authorization of handicap systems in all golf playing countries except the United States and Mexico, where United States Golf Association rules apply. The administration of handicapping systems in countries affiliated to the R&A is the responsibility of the national golf associations, which are affiliated to the R&A. The two governing bodies specify slightly different ways to perform this calculation for players. The details of these calculations are presented below.

A golfer's net score is determined by subtracting the player's handicap from the gross score (the number of strokes actually taken). The net scores of all the competing golfers are compared and (generally) the lowest score wins.

A player's handicap is intended to show a player's potential, not his average score, as is the common belief. A player will play to his handicap less than 25% of the time. The USGA refers to this as the "average best" method. So in a large, handicapped competition, the golfer who shoots the best with respect to his abilities and the normal variations of the score should win.

While there are many variations in detail, handicap systems are generally based on calculating an individual player's playing ability from his recent history of rounds. Therefore, a handicap is not fixed but is regularly adjusted to increases or decreases in a player's scoring.

A golfer whose handicap is zero is called a "scratch golfer." A golfer whose handicap is 18 is called a "bogey golfer." It is possible to have a handicap below 0; these are referred to as 'plus' handicaps, and at the end of the round, a 'plus' handicap golfer must add his handicap to his score. A professional golfer plays off scratch, but has no actual handicap.

In the United States, handicaps are calculated using several variables: The player's scores from his most recent rounds, and the course rating and slope from those rounds. A "handicap differential" is calculated from the scores, using the course slope and rating, and the player's handicap differentials are used to calculate the player's handicap.

Course rating and slope

In the United States (and elsewhere) each officially rated golf course is described by two numbers, the "course rating" and the "slope rating". The rating of a particular course is a number generally between 67 and 77 that is used to measure the average "good score" by a scratch golfer on that course. The slope of a particular course is a ratio generally between 105 and 155 that describes the relative difficulty of a course for a "bogey golfer" (defined above) compared to a scratch golfer. These two numbers are used to calculate a player's handicap differential, which adjusts a player's score in relation to par according to the slope and rating of the course.

For each officially posted round, the player's handicap differential is calculated according to the following formula:

Handicap differential = (gross score - course rating) × 113 / (slope rating).

The differential is rounded to the nearest tenth.

The "handicap" index is then calculated using the average of the best 10 differentials of the player's past 20 total rounds, multiplied by 0.96. Any digits in the handicap index after the tenths are truncated. If a golfer has at least 5 but fewer than 20 rounds posted, the index is calculated using from one to nine differentials according to the following schedule:

And, finally, here are their gross and their net scores:

Dan wins. He is the only one in the group who actually shot better than his handicap, so he deserved to win.

lope rating

The "slope rating" is the USGA mark that indicates the measurement of the relative difficulty for the bogey golfer compared to the course rating. Slope rating is computed from the difference between the bogey rating and the course rating. The lowest slope rating is 55 and the highest is 155.

Bogey rating

The bogey rating is the USGA evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for the bogey golfer. It is based on yardage, effective playing length and other obstacles to the extent that affect the scoring ability of the bogey golfer. To figure out this number, one should take the slope rating, divide it by the set factor (5.381 for men, and 4.24 for women) and add that to the course rating. The result is a target score for the bogey golfer, and is a truer yardstick of the challenge that lies ahead for the particular set of tees.

Example: A male golfer plays a course with Slope Rating 126, and Course Rating 72.5. Per the formula, compute 126 / 5.381 + 72.5 = 95.9 - which predicts the bogey golfer's average of his ten best (out of twenty) scores would be approximately 95.9 from this particular set of tees.

History of the USGA system

The USGA has often resorted to the courts to protect the integrity of its handicap system. In one such case, the California Court of Appeal (First District) summarized the system's history:

Handicapping in the United Kingdom and Ireland

In the UK and Republic of Ireland, a "scratch score" system was previously in place in order to rate courses and be fair to golfers of varying ability, and to make allowances that courses may play "easier" or "harder" than par, overall, to the amateur field. For this reason, a "standard scratch score" (SSS) is used as a baseline for how the course plays in practice (e.g. an SSS lower than par indicates a course which golfers find slightly easier, and vice versa).

Akin to the SSS is the "Competition Scratch Score" (CSS). The principle is the same, only this describes how easy or difficult the course played during a given competition. It is against this CSS score that a player's handicap is adjusted by the club. Golfers with a handicap of 5 or lower are said to be Category 1 players. Higher handicap players are categorised as Category 2, 3, or 4. For every stroke the Category 1 golfer's net score is below the CSS, his handicap is reduced by 0.1. For Category 2 golfers, this figure is 0.2, for Category 3 golfers it is a 0.3 reduction, and 0.4 for Category 4 golfers.

Similarly, amateur golfers are allowed a "buffer zone" to protect their handicap on "off-days". For Cat 1 this is 1 stroke, for Cat 2 this is 2 strokes, etc. This means that if a Category 1 golfer's net score is one stroke higher than the CSS, his handicap will not increase. If a golfer's net score is higher than the CSS plus buffer zone combined, his handicap will increase by 0.1. This 0.1 increase covers all golfers and does not vary by category.

The Home Unions of England English Golf Union & English Ladies' Golf Association, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are members of the Council Of National Golf Unions (CONGU), who publish the handicapping rules for both men and women.


External links

* [ USGA Handicap System] (used in the United States and Mexico)
* [ Unified Handicapping System by the Council of National Golf Unions] (used in Great Britain and Ireland)
* [ Australian Handicap System]
* [ South African Golf Association] (handicap system used in South Africa)
* [ Golf handicap FAQ] (US Rules)

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