Golf Handicap Explained: What Is it & How Does It Work? [2023 Guide]

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You may have heard of handicapping in golf and be wondering how the golf handicap works. If this is the case we’ve got your covered with our complete guide.

A key component of playing golf is understanding how the golf handicap works. By understanding exactly how the golf handicap works, you will have a full understanding of your golf level, how it is calculated and where you stand compared to other golfers.

In our guide we go into the topic in detail. We’ll explain how the golf handicap works, answer what is a golf handicap, explore how to calculate a handicap both manually and with calculator & also provide some simple golf tips to improve your scores.

What Is A Golf Handicap?

A golf handicap indicates how good a golfer is in relation to other golfers. The lower the handicap, the better the golfer is. Handicapping can be used to level the playing field for golfers of different abilities, or to calculate a winner in a competition where players have different skill levels.

The golf handicap index system was introduced by the United States Golf Association and the system calculates the rating of golf scores against certain criteria. This calculation which uses course rating and slope rating and the course handicap is the number which is a measure of a golfer’s ability with the leading golfer being a scratch golfer. When you turn up at a golf course, you should always remember to check the course handicap that you will be playing that day.

The reason that the course handicap system is tried and tested amongst golfers is that it can accurately compute the total number of strokes allotted to golf players of all ranges.

With roughly 25 million golfers in the US alone (NGF), this means that there are a large amount of people with golf handicaps.

there are roughly 24 million golfers in the us alone

Starting out many beginner golfers can find it hard understanding the difficulty of a hole, what the handicap index is and what the expected score for the hole is. However, by having an accurate golf handicap you can precisely understand your expected score for that particular hole and then for the round in total.

Therefore for golfers of all abilities it can provide a great guide as to what your playing level and ability is compared to other golfers.

In Summary: The golf handicap gives a numerical measurement of a golfers playing ability – Wikipedia 

How Are Handicaps Calculated In Golf?

Golf handicaps in golf are calculated by using at least your 5 most recent scores. To find out your golf handicap you will do the following calculation for each round: (Your score – Course Rating) x 113 (this is the average slope rating of a golf course)/ Slope Rating = x. Once you have your averaged out handicap differential you multiply the number by 0.96.

It is valuable skill for golfers to have a basic understanding of how to calculate a golf handicap.

Below we will go through the golf handicap calculation in full thanks to both the course rating and the slope rating.

Step 1 of the calculation is the following:
(Score – Course Rating) x 113 (this is the average slope rating of a golf course)/ Slope Rating = x

So using the figures in the below golf handicap calculator example that would be:
(100 – 72.9) x 113 / 128 = 23.92

This result is defined as the ‘handicap differential’. When calculating a handicap it is essential to include a minimum of five handicap differentials and a maximum of twenty.

If you are using five differentials to calculate your handicap then you would use the lowest ones for the final calculation of your average score.

The final handicap calculations involve multiplying your handicap differential by 0.96 so in the above example 23.92 x 0.96 so the handicap index would be 22.9.

Fortunately, if you prefer you may use a pre-made golf handicap calculator such as ours below to figure out your handicap differential using your scores, course rating and slope rating (these should be available on your relevant golf course website.)

Try our Handicap calculator

It is easier to track what your handicap is when you use a simple free golf handicap calculator. You can calculate your handicap easily below by filling in information from your previous golf rounds:


18 Hole Score:

Course Rating:

Course Slope:


Your Golf Handicap is:

How Do I Improve My Golf Handicap Index?

Now that you have a strong overview of how handicapping in golf works we want to provide you with some tips that will allow your game to flourish next time that you step out onto the course. Reducing your score may take some time but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some quick wins that you can implement to your game.

Tip #1: Practice putting to reduce three putts

Now you’ve figured out how does the golf handicap work let’s look at some ways you can get the best score possible.

So many amateur golfers overlook their putting when it comes to practice time. What they tend to forget is that by having a solid putt you could probably shave anywhere from up to 5 shots a round off your score.

Three putts are the worst and are something that no golfer enjoys so check out some of the below exercises to start working on your putting game:

Tip #2: Practice accuracy

Now how many times have you been to the driving range and you see people out with the driver just trying to hit it as far as they can.

Sure when golf holes can be 400-500 yards, distance has some merit… BUT inaccuracy is a huge cause of bogeys during a round.

Would you rather hit it 200 yards and on the fairway or 250+ yards and in the tree’s or out of bounds?

How do I improve my golf accuracy?

When you go to the driving range aim at specific targets instead of just general spaces. This will help you to hit your driver straight and this is something that the pro’s do on tour even when they are playing their rounds. Instead of aiming for a general space in the fairway, they’ll target a specific area (often on the left or right side) and aim there.

Tip #3: Play with lower handicappers

It can be deflating and lower morale to always play with people who have a lower handicap than you.

However, what it does present is a great opportunity to learn. Not only that as you improve at golf you will find that you can play a round of golf faster.

Learn from their swing, talk to them, watch their routines.

It all adds up to a better round of golf for you going forward.

Tip #4: Invest in good equipment

It’s true, good equipment doesn’t come cheap so new golfers tend to settle for old golf club equipment which is often at the detriment of good scoring.

If you are serious about improving your game and moving from beginner status then eventually should have a good set of golf gear.

Tip #5: Maintain your focus

Golf can be a long game with the average round taking anywhere around 4 hours.

This is a long time to maintain focus and consistency and is a major culprit in lost shots throughout a golf round.

So how can you maintain your focus during your golf round?

Firstly, stay hydrated and well fed during your round to keep concentration levels up.

Secondly, don’t rush your shots. Keep a strict routine for each shot and keep things nice, slow and relaxed to maintain focus and reduce lost shots.

Check out this pre-shot routine for some ideas:

Tip #6: Track your progress

Staying on top of your golf game is imperative to keep on improving.

Nowadays this can be easily done through a range of golf apps.

One that we love is hole19 as it has a gps rangefinder to help you throughout your round. However, in terms of your golf handicap index, what we love is that you can easily record your scores to produce stats that are important to track such as greens in regulation, driving accuracy, putting averages etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the maximum golf handicap?

Currently under the United States Golf Association (USGA) handicap index system the maximum handicap for both male and female golfers is 54. Typically a beginner golfer will play from the maximum course handicap when starting out.

This world handicap system was introduced in 2023 from the previous high of 36.0 for males and 40.4 for female golfers.

What is The Average golf handicap?

Often golfers want to compare their scores to others which leads them to ask what is the average course handicap? The average course handicap index is between 13-15 (USGA). If your golf handicap is in this range you are roughly around the equivalent of a bogey golfer.

From the same statistics, it appears that less than 1% of golfers are scratch golfers and around 30% will have a golf handicap of 10 or under which is considered to be a very good handicap for an amateur golfer.

What Is A Good Golf Handicap?

A good golf handicap can range depending on a range of factors. However by taking the USGA average we’d say a good handicap would be in the 13-17 range.

If you are striving for a good individual handicap and are wondering how this translates to a round of golf then it would mean you score in the 90 range on a typical golf course.
However, the true answer to this will range on a wide variety of factors as ‘good’ is subjective. For example you may be new to the game. If this is the case then you are unlikely to be a scratch golfer. Additionally, you may have previously played as a 5 handicap but suffered a dip in form that has moved you to a 10 handicap. As you can see, there is no one size fits all approach.

How Do I Establish A USGA Golf Handicap?

Getting a handicap is easy and is simple to get started. Typically the steps to getting a handicap are to join a golf course that is licensed and then you simply need to keep a track of your golf scores using their system or an app such as hole19. This is possible at a range of golf course types and not just exclusive to country clubs or private courses.

The best way to get started would be to ask a member of staff at the course or golf association about if they offer golf handicapping services.

Read our full guide on how to get a golf handicap.

Handicapping In Golf: Summary

Now that you fully understand what a course handicap in golf is, having a good golf handicap doesn’t need to be as complicated as it may appear at first. However, it is one of those common golf terms that is well worth knowing if you are serious about your golf game. The great thing about the handicap index system is that it enables you to not only view your skill level but also to measure it. Thanks to handicapping in golf you are also able to compete in contests against players of a higher skill level thanks to the different methods of golf scoring which helps to level the playing field.