What Does Handicap Mean in Golf?


“What does handicap mean in golf?”-it’s a question commonly asked by new golfers. Golf handicap system is a method originated by the USGA (United States Golf Association) that attempts to reduce the gap between players of different abilities and make the game more competitive for all.

Courses vary in difficulty levels and players vary in their playing credentials. The handicap system computes and assigns a specific value that is to be omitted from each player’s score considering the player’s skills and the course.

Better players are assigned lower values so that weaker players can give them better competition in the course. It seems like a straightforward idea, but in reality there are some critical formulas involved in calculating handicaps for individual players.

The word handicap originates from a 17th century betting game called “hand in cap.” The game was played by three persons, where two people exchanged valuables while the other acted as a mediator. The game required the players to put their possessions into a hat, place their hands into it and then bring them out simultaneously to determine a winner.

Later on the term evolved as “handicap” and entered the golf glossary around the 19th century, when placing wagers on golf matches became popular. Handicapping allowed less skilled players to take on more gifted players with a winning chance. This encouraged people to bet on high risk players who had lower but viable chances of winning.

If you are not a pro golfer, you are expected to have a handicap. Pro golfers are elite class golfers with impeccable skill sets (compared to us novices, of course!). So, they don’t need any handicaps, their average golf handicap is totally zero.

If you are a recreational golfer with average skills and want to compete with a player of different level, handicaps are a great way to even the playing field. Handicaps are often used in amateur tournaments or by players who are just having a bit of friendly wager between them. It diminishes the quality gap among players and makes the contest more equal for all.

This could be better explained with an example. Suppose, your average score is 100/105 in a certain course. What is a good golf handicap for you in this situation? Without getting into any complex golf handicap calculation methods let’s assume it’s 28. This translates into the fact that if you score 105 in that turf, you can minus 28 from your score. This will keep you in contention of winning against a better player, who has a handicap of, say 6. So, if he scores 85, he will only be able to subtract 6 from it. Even though there is a huge difference in original scores between the two players.

The scores get quite similar (77 for the higher handicap player, 78 for the lower handicap player) after the handicaps are considered. Therefore, it’s clearly evident that the handicap system works as a buffer between stronger and weaker players.

How can you calculate your golf handicap?(handicap golf calculator)


The easiest way would be to use an app like “Swing by Swing” or “The Grint”. These apps allow you to calculate your handicap without you having to putting in any difficult handicap calculation formula.

 All you need to do is provide your latest record and course information, and the app will yield a suitable handicap number for you. To provide a USGA standard handicap value, these apps will take your last 20 scores and sort out the best 10 scores out of them. Afterwards, they will multiply your best ten scores by .96. This gives you a 96 percent accurate average best score statistic. This multiplication of .96 marginally upgrades your original score so that the lower handicapped player gets a minor advantage. This is a simplified form of the handicap calculation process, but we must also factor in the type of club and the nature of the turf the game is being played on.

We take a number of factors into consideration while trying to figure out the difficulty level of a particular golf course. We need to examine how long the court is, how is the terrain, how is it structurally shaped and of course, how many hazards the course have. The difficulty of a course can be asserted by two indexes; the course rating and the slope rating.

 Course rating pertains to professional golfers whilst the slope rating is used to estimate the course compatibility of a bogey golfer. The number ranges between 55 and 155. The higher the slope rating is, the more difficult it is for a golfer. A regular course has a slope rating of 113. If you are playing in a standard course, your handicap for that particular course is the handicap we had previously computed from your best scores. If it has a different slope rating, 120 for instance, your handicap for that course would be-

(120/113) X (Handicap derived from best scores)

Even though the handicap system was implemented to give everyone an equal chance of winning the game, some players exploit the handicap system to tip the balance of the game to their favor. “Sandbagging” is a common example of handicap abuse.

Players often exaggerate their handicap numbers to register a higher handicap index. This gives these players a competitive edge when they register for tournaments. A sandbagger falsifies his scores intentionally or excludes his best rounds from the scorecard to push his index up. Sandbagging is a punishable offence and players often get kicked out of clubs attempting it.


Hope our article made you understand what handicap means in golf. It’s a marvelous endeavor to make the game equally enjoyable to golfers of all talents. Handicaps are a thing of forgotten past for players who made it to the pros, but when you are out for a fun golfing session with your buds, properly designated handicaps will make your outing worthwhile.



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