What is a Golf Handicap: The Ultimate Guide (2020 Changes, Calculator, Explanations)

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Knowing your golf handicap is key to understanding how good you are against your competition. It is used to properly place and rank you in tournaments and special events, plus allow you to earn a spot in professional leagues.

In this article, I will go over exactly what a golf handicap is, how to calculate it, and some frequently asked questions about it.

What is the Golf Handicap?

A golf handicap is a number that represents how good of a golfer you are, based on your previous rounds of golf. The lower the number, the better a golfer you are.

There used to be many different ways to calculate your golf handicap. In 2020, the USGA and the R&A devised a brand new World USGA Handicap System called the WHS. The new USGA golf handicap system is accepted around the world today.

USGA golf logo

When was the Golf Handicap Created?

The earliest record of the golf handicap being created dates way back to the 17th century (although the word handicap was not used off the start). During the 19th century, a three-score method for calculating a golf handicap was created in England and Scotland.

To get your number, you used to take the difference of the average of your three best scores during the year. That number represented your official handicap.

In the United States, the USGA introduced its world handicap system in 1911. It was based on the three-round average that started in England. They also developed a par rating system that assessed the average score of a scratch golfer on every course. This allowed golfers who played at different courses to understand their handicap relative to one another.

By the 21st century, there were six different handicap systems recognized throughout the world. Most of these systems shared common features, but there were some significant differences that also made them non-universal.

What Does Your Handicap Mean in Golf?

Your golf handicap essentially lets other golfers know how good you are. The lower the number, the better a golfer you are.

Your golf handicap enables you to compare yourself to other golfers and see who is likely to shoot a better score on a round of golf.

2020 Golf Handicap Changes

In 2020, golf’s governing body made a number of changes in order to make the handicap system more universal around the world.

To start, only three 18-hole scores are now needed to establish your Handicap Index instead of five scores. You also don’t need to enter 18-hole round. A combination of 9 and 18-hole rounds will work to establish your playing handicap.

Next, only eight of your lowest 20 most recent rounds are used to calculate your Handicap Index instead of 10. This allows your number to fluctuate a little more often.

A net double bogey on any hole is the maximum allowed score, no matter what par on the hole is. This is called Equitable Stroke Control.

An Exceptional Score Reduction is when a player posts a score that produces a score differential of 7 strokes or more below their handicap index. This will automatically reduce their handicap index to support quicker changes.

A new Playing Conditions Calculation was also introduced. This adjusts your score differential to reflect your performance better when abnormal course or weather conditions cause unusually high or low scores.

The Increased Maximum Handicap Index is now 54, regardless of gender. Previously it was 36.4 for Men and 40.4 for Women. The change was done to make golf more welcoming for everyone and incentivize all players to track their handicaps.

All of these changes make the handicap calculation more universal overall so that it works for any golfer and course.

If you want more information on all of the changes for 2020 and why they were made, check out the video below:

USGA Handicap App - World Handicap System - 2020 Golf Handicap Changes

Exact Golf Handicap Formula

The current 2020 formula to calculate your golf handicap is the following:

Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) + (Course Rating – Par)

The handicap index is the average of three 18-hole golf round scores. This can be a combination of 9 and 18-hole scores.

The slope rating is the difficulty of a golf course for an average golfer. It is calculated by comparing the course rating to a bogey golfer’s scores. Every professional course you golf at will be able to let you know its slope rating.

The course rating is a value the USGA assigns to each hole on a golf course. It totals up the number of strokes on average that are needed to complete the course. The course rating is also available from the golf course, so you don’t have to add it manually.

You don’t need to use this formula manually if you don’t want to. There are multiple online tools where you can punch in your numbers and it will spit back your golf handicap instantly. Click here to view our golf handicap calculator.

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap (Step by Step)

If you want to go through the calculation for fun, here are the individual steps you need to take:

Determine Your Golf Handicap Index

First, you need to determine your golf handicap index. Handicap index can be calculated with as little as three 18-hole rounds now.

With less than 20 scores in your scoring record, your handicap index is your low number of scores. Once you have 20 scores on your record, your handicap index is the average of the best 8 out of your 20 most recent scores.

Use the table below to calculate your handicap index if you have 20 or less rounds of scoring to count.

what is a golf handicap index

Determine the Slope Rating for the Course

Next, you must determine the slope rating of a golf course. The great thing is you can get this directly from the clubhouse at any golf course.

The slope rating is divided by 113. 113 is determined to be the absolute standard difficulty of a golf course.

Find Out the Golf Course Rating

The clubhouse can also give you the course rating for its golf course. The course rating is a value assigned by the USGA to each hole on a golf course and adds up to the number of strokes needed to complete the course.

Once you have these numbers, you can plug them into the formula above to manually determine your golf handicap.

Golf Handicap Calculator

If you don’t feel like manually doing the math to determine your golf handicap, you are in luck!

Hitting the Golf Ball has an online golf handicap tool where you can punch in all of the necessary information and it will automatically provide your golf handicap.

Give it a try below!

free golf handicap calculator

How do you Improve Your Golf Handicap?


Playing golf is a tough and challenging sport to master. The best way to get better at golf is to practice on the driving range consistently and on the golf course to improve your swing and lower your scores.

Take Private Golf Lessons

What better way to improve at golf than to learn from the best?

Every golf course has a Professional Golf Instructor that will provide private lessons, watch your swing, and critique how you can improve. This is a great way to learn and improve if you are determined to get better at golf.

Get Custom-Fitted Golf Equipment

Custom-fitted golf clubs can help to correct your slice and allow you to get more control on your shots. A golf course or store can watch your swing and determine precisely what you need to hit the ball perfectly every time. They will adjust your shaft length, club angle, bias, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average golf handicap?

The average golf handicap for men is 15 and for women is 27. A bogey golfer will have a handicap of 18.

What is a scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer is a golfer who has a course handicap of zero on all rated golf courses. This means they will shoot precisely at par, no matter where they play.

Why does the golf handicap system exist?

The golf handicap system is a way to measure how good you are at golf and allows you to compare to other golfers. It is a way to enhance the game’s enjoyment and will enable you to be more competitive if you wish.

How many golf rounds do you need to calculate your handicap?

With the new handicap system introduced in 2020, you only need three 18-hole golf scores to calculate your handicap. This can be a combination of both nine and 18-hole scores.

What is your handicap if you shoot 100 in 18 holes?

Your handicap is 28 if you shoot 100 strokes in 18 holes on average.

What is the maximum golf handicap?

In 2020, the maximum golf handicap is 54 for both men and women. This is equals to a triple bogey on every single hole.

What is a good golf handicap to have?

For most casual golfers, a handicap of 18 (bogey golf) is considered good. As you get more serious about the game, a 10 handicap is good. Eventually, becoming a scratch golfer (0 handicap) is the goal for many.

Ryan William
Ryan William

With over 25 years hands-on experience in the golfing world, Ryan is not just an avid golfer but a topical authority. His journey has had him delve deep into the nuances of the sport, from mastering the swing to understanding new golf technology. As an entrepreneur, Ryan is at the forefront of the latest golf trends, reviewing all new clubs, accessories, and training aids. His insights and expertise are backed by a prolific writing career, with over 1000 articles published across various platforms. Ryan's commitment is clear: to guide and inform the golf community with unparalleled knowledge and passion.

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