How to Calculate a Golf Handicap

by | Jul 4, 2021 | Pro Shop

If you are new to golf or starting to take your rounds more seriously, understanding your golf handicap is a necessity. Golf handicaps are a number that represents the golfer’s ability based on their previous golf round’s scores. It serves the purpose of comparing your performances with other golf players. For men, your golf handicap is generally between zero and twenty-eight, and, for women, between zero and thirty-six.

Knowing your handicap is a must when a player wants to participate in tournament-style formats. Your handicap is the great equalizer. Many tournaments format their play so that a players handicap is used to score a round. This increases competition and allows players who may not be the strongest golfers a chance to taste victory. But this leads us to a few important questions. What is your handicap, and more importantly, how do you calculate it?

New handicap calculation changes were introduced in 2020 so we’ll go over what a handicap is, how to calculate your handicap, and what rules changed for 2020.

History of Golf Handicaps

Golf handicap began over 100 years ago and has been in operation ever since. In the previous years, it was known as a hands-on cap, involving three parties: the referee and two players. Later on, they changed the name to handicap in 1850.

Now, your handicap is used to gauge your skill level based on your score compared to a course’s par round. Handicaps are used in tournaments large and small. From a scramble with friends to club championships.

What Your Handicap Means

Essentially, the lower your golf handicap, the more skilled you are. A player with a handicap of 5 means that the average of this player’s previous  rounds was 5 over par (criteria changed from 5 rounds to 3 rounds starting in 2020). Handicaps are often used to judge how a player performed compared to their average level of play opposed to a straight head-to-head matchup. Handicaps allow players to compete and win against more talented golfers based on how they each played that day.

For example, let us say you and a friend are going to play a 18-hole course with a par of 72. Your friend, with a golf handicap of six, is expected to play 78 strokes, or six over par. While you and your twelve handicap are expected to hit 84 strokes, 12 more over par. Your handicap, in short, is the number of strokes over par you should take in the course of the 18-hole round. In this scenario, let’s say you shoot a 82 and your friend shoots an 80. Technically, your friend shot the lower round, but because you incorporated handicaps (you are -2 and your friend is +2) you are actually the victor!

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap in 2020

If you have never played golf, your golf handicap does not exist. When you are ready to create your golf handicap, start by tracking your 9 and 18-hole scores. The scores should be recorded in a scorecard and must be signed by two people: you and the partner accompanying you to the golf game. The signatures are needed to minimize corruption and make your scores real and valid.

Number of Scores Needed to Obtain Handicap Index

As of January 2020, you must submit three 18-holes scores to obtain a handicap index. This can be made from a combination of 9-hole and 18-hole rounds; the handicap index will be revised at the beginning and mid of every month (1st and 15th). This change requires that you submit only three 18-hole scores. The revision to your handicap will be done daily as long as you update your third 18-hole scores before midnight.

Golf Handicap Calculation Changes for 2020

Before 2020, the calculation of course handicap was done using this formula: Handicap Index X Slope rating / 113

The 2020 calculation is done using this new formula: Handicap Index X (Slope rating/113) + (Course Rating-Par)

Notice the changes; the new formula includes course rating minus par. These changes were done to accommodate players who play from different tees. Because they are playing with different benchmarks, there is a need to make handicapping more fair.

The 2020 changes introduce new rules of handicapping, and it represents the strokes players receive in a competition. Therefore, the new formula for playing handicaps is the course handicap X handicap allowance. This new change introduces two new rules for handicapping that are: you will be allowed to use course handicaps to adjust your scores, and secondly, playing handicaps will be used for net competition purposes.

World Golf Handicap System

Course Handicap Calculation Formula

There are several apps or programs you can sign up for that will calculate your handicap for you, but if you like to do things the old fashion way, here is a complete breakdown in calculating your own course handicap.

The calculation of handicap is based on several elements. Some of these elements include the slope rating, course handicap and the adjusted gross scores. Other factors that can be considered include the handicap index of the game, its associated handicap differential as well as the course rating.

Step 1 – You need to change the gross scores into adjusted total score

To get adjusted gross scores, use the USGA’s equitable stroke control. Use the ESC downwards while adjusting the individual 18-hole scores to create a golf handicap. According to ESC, you are restricted to the maximum number of strokes you can enter in a given hole. The maximum can be obtained from the table below

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Step 2: Calculate the differential in handicap for each score

It would be best if you used this formula to calculate the handicap differential.

Handicap differential = (Adjusted Gross Score-rating of the course) X 113 / Course slope ratings.

The course rating is simply the scores of a new golfer on a normal course under a normal playing condition. Slope rating is the rating of 113 for a course based on the standard difficulty.

Step 3: Select the lowest handicap differential

Select your best, or lowest, handicap differential. In case you have entered more than 20 scores, the top 10 differentials of your 20 most current scores will be used for the calculation.

Step 4: Calculating the average of the smallest value from the differentials

If you have 10 handicap differentials available, calculate the average for the lowest 3 HDs. For 15 HDs calculate the average for the lowest 6. Once you have at least 20 scores, always use the 10 best from the most recent 20 scores.

Step 5: Multiplying the average of handicap differentials by 96%

The fifth step involves determining the average from net handicap differentials by multiplying the average differential by 0.96.

Step 6: Truncating, deleting the number to the value of right of tenths

Do not round off any figure in the scores. USGA states that the default maximum number from any handicap index in a golf match should be 40.4 for women and 36.4 for men if played on an 18-hole course. On the 9-hole course, it should be 18.2 for men and 20.2 for women. For example, if the handicap differential average is 13.196 after multiplication by 0.96, the truncated value will be 13.1.

Step 7: Calculate the course handicap

A course handicap is the number of strokes a player receives on a particular course.

Course handicap = Handicap Index X Slope Rating/113 + (Course Rating-Par)

Example: This course handicap calculation assumes a 12.7 and a course slope of 115

Course Handicap = 12.7 x 115 / 113 = 12.92 = 13

How to Improve Your Handicap

Now that you know your golf handicap, and are determined to improve it, what do you need? Here are a few tips to help you improve your handicap:

  • Improve your swing – Improve your swing by practicing early and often. If your golf game needs help, look into personal golf lessons with a PGA Professional
  • Play with Custom Fit Clubs – Ill fitted equipment could affect your game and increase the risk of injury.
  • Push yourself – Always aim to set new records every time you play.

About the Author

<a href="" target="_self">Alan Darty</a>

Alan Darty

Alan is the founder and publisher of Golf One Media and the former publisher of eSouthernGOLF—a second-generation Florida native who loves all things Florida. You can usually find him with his wife, watching their two daughters coaching volleyball at Oviedo (FL) High School or Mississippi State University when he's not golfing, hunting, or fishing.