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How does a golf handicap work?

Learn how to master the golf handicap system at Glenmuir with our expert guide. Improve your game and compete on a fair playing field with this easy-to-use system.

25 January 2023 Words by Matthew 4 minute read How does a golf handicap work?

Table of Contents

  1. How is golf handicap calculated?
  2. Why knowing your handicap is important
  3. Golf Handicap & Golf Handicap Index: The difference
  4. The World Golf Handicap System
  5. How does golf handicap work?
  6. Final Thoughts
  7. Get everything you need to improve your handicap at Glenmuir
  8. FAQs

How is golf handicap calculated?

The golf handicap. A prized talking point for many. For others, it's something they want to avoid talking about altogether. Regardless of how good or bad your handicap (or potential handicap) is, it's important to know exactly how it is calculated.

A handicap is the best way to determine how well you play, as well as levelling up the field when it comes to competing with other golfers. As of 2020, a new system, known as the World Handicap System, was introduced.

The establishment of the system means players from across the world can compete more fairly with each other, regardless of the course they play on - or the particular difficulty of said course.

In this article, we'll talk in lots more detail about this new system, as well as how a golf handicap works and how you can calculate it.

Read on to find out lots more.


Why knowing your handicap is important

Say you've just finished playing a round of golf with your friends. While they've played a few times before, they are still pretty much novices when it comes to the sport. You, on the other hand, are a seasoned veteran of the golf course, having played for years at various golf clubs.

It doesn't quite seem to be a fair game of golf, does it?

For one, how will either of you understand how you fared against your pal? And, most importantly, what happens regarding the wager to see who pays for the drinks on the 19th?

Knowing how to calculate golf handicaps can remedy all these problems. For one thing, you'll know how well you performed, regardless of where you have played. This makes the game competitive, fun and still challenging, no matter who you are playing against.

A handicap in golf simply refers to the number of strokes a scratch player - aka, a very good player - would require to complete a hole.

It can be extremely rewarding to keep a score of your handicap for various reasons. It's a great motivator for many to watch their handicap deplete into smaller figures. It also allows you to keep your expectation in check, adding some perspective to your ability.

Ultimately, however, many golfers see it as an opportunity for growth and development on the course.

One of those universal truths about playing golf is the initial confusion over the handicap and how it is calculated. We've all been there. Standing on the course while your buddy attempts to explain the ins and outs of the calculation. You find your mind - somewhat understandably - floating away.

It happens to the best of us. However, once you become aware of the basic foundations of calculating your handicap, all will become much, much clearer.



Golf Handicap & Golf Handicap Index: The difference

It's important to understand the difference between a golf handicap and the index. It's a very common mistake for golfers to get the two terms confused. These are two very different terms that mean two completely different things.

The handicap is a mathematical measure that directly correlates to a player's score. This is in relation to par, and it signifies a golfer's potential playing ability on the course.

That's the easy part. Now for the trickier bit...

On the other hand, the index is a portable metric regarding the official golf handicap system. It refers to a rating of a player's potential playing ability in relation to that system. Here, portable means that a player's handicap index can be used to discover your handicap for every golf course in the world - regardless of how difficult it is.

This system is known as the new World Handicap System.

Let's talk a bit more about it.


How does golf handicap work?

The World Golf Handicap System

The World Handicap System was introduced back in 2020. The main goal of the system coming into play was to unite the six different handicap systems across the world into one.

The six systems were previously used by:

  • The United States Golf Association (USGA)
  • The European Golf Association (EGA)
  • The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland
  • The South African Golf Association (SAGA)
  • The Argentine Golf Association (AAG)
  • Golf Australia

By bringing each of the associations together under the same handicap system, it allows golfers across the world to have their golfing ability measured to the exact same standard as every other player.

How does golf handicap work?

The World Handicap System makes knowing your handicap much easier than it traditionally was. It takes into account your 8 best scores over the last 20 rounds of golf you have played.

These are the steps it takes to work your handicap out:

Step 1

Using the slope rating, course rating and your gross adjusted score, it will work out a differential using the below calculation:

(113 / Slope Rating) – (Gross adjusted Score – Course Rating – Playing Conditions Calculation)

Step 2

Next, as previously stated, the index is determined by selecting your top 8 from 20 games and dividing this total by 8.

Step 3

By now, you should have your very own accurate handicap score.

It should be noted that this score isn't a reflection of your average score, as many golfers first starting out are led to believe. It is, in fact, a measurement of how well you are likely to play on a course that is deemed of average difficulty.


Final Thoughts

Knowing your golf handicap and how to calculate your golf handicap is imperative to make your game stronger. After all, who doesn't want to be the strongest player they can be? Having a solid working knowledge of the handicap system will keep you in good stead in terms of understanding your playing ability and how much better you can potentially get.

Your playing handicap may be a little confusing to begin with, but knowing about it can only be of benefit to players across all types of golf courses.

Get everything you need to improve your handicap at Glenmuir

Glenmuir has been the home of golfing apparel since 1891. Based in Scotland, we know more than a thing or two about looking, feeling and playing your best on the course.

Why not take a look at some of our high-quality men's and women's golf clothing? We also stock an array of accessories and gifts, as well as gift cards, if you want to encourage the golf lover in your life to practise their swing more often.


Can anyone get golf handicaps?

Yes, just about anyone can get a handicap. You can get a handicap through either traditional handicapping or via an online handicapping method.

What is a scratch golfer?

The term is more often used in American golfing but has made its way across the pond in recent years. It refers to a golfer who hits par or better than par. In simple terms, when someone is referred to as a scratch golfer, it means they are a very good golfer indeed.

What are a course rating and a course handicap?

Both these terms are two separate things. A course rating is the number of hits a golfer that averages par for a round should shoot on a particular course. A course handicap, however, is the result of adding the rating of the slope to the rating of the course.

What is a slope rating?

According to the US Golf Association, slope ratings are the "measurement of the relative playing difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers, compared to scratch golfers”.