Whether you're an enthusiastic beginner or looking to elevate your golf game, grasping the concept of a golf handicap is crucial. This numeric portrayal of your golfing proficiency is derived from the scores you've accumulated over your past performances, serving as a conduit for comparing your abilities with other golfers. And just so you know it: "What is a handicap in golf" is by far the biggest question for every beginner in golf.

So, what does a common golf handicap resemble? For male golfers, it generally fluctuates between zero and twenty-eight, whereas for female golfers, it's typically zero to thirty-six. This crucial datum is especially relevant for those aspiring to participate in tournament-style golfing events. Why? Because the golf handicap system stands as the ultimate leveler in the sport, ensuring all participants, irrespective of their proficiency, are given a sporting chance on the course.

Quick Read: Handicap Essentials At a Glance

If you're short on time but want the essentials on "what is a handicap in golf", here's a quick summary:

Golf Handicap, Simplified

The golf handicap is a figure that levels the playing field, giving golfers of all skill levels a fair chance during competitive games. It's essentially a number representing a player's potential ability, based on their previous performances.

Handicap Range

Men's golf handicaps usually sit between zero and twenty-eight, while for women, they're typically between zero and thirty-six.

Handicap Calculation

To get a golf handicap, you'll need scores from at least three 18-hole rounds. The current formula takes your best 8 scores from the last 20 rounds, averages them, and multiplies by 0.96. Course and slope ratings also come into play.

Course and Slope Rating

Course rating is the expected score for a scratch golfer under normal conditions, while slope rating measures the course's difficulty for non-scratch golfers. Both contribute to handicap calculations.

Impact of Equipment

Your equipment significantly impacts your golf handicap. Professional clubs offer precision but are less forgiving, while game-enhancing clubs are easier for amateurs. Ensure your clubs are the right fit for your body and swing type.

Handicap Misconceptions

A high handicap doesn’t necessarily equate to being a poor golfer. It simply means there's room for improvement. A low handicap is indicative of consistent, skilled play.

Handicap Improvement

Professional training and continuous practice can help lower your handicap. Challenging yourself on tougher courses and ensuring you have the right equipment also contribute to this.

Handicap's Role in Golf

Understanding and managing your handicap can improve your game and enhance your enjoyment of the sport. It serves as a personal benchmark, pushing you to strive for better performance. Remember, golf is a game of patience, precision, and fun.

And remember, above all, golf is about having a good time on the course. Your handicap is merely a tool to make the game more equitable and enjoyable. Don't let it overshadow the joy of the game!

Decoding Golf Handicaps

A golf handicap is a numeric measure of a player's potential skill, derived from their previous rounds. It's designed to let golfers of varied proficiency compete on a level playing field. For males, golf handicaps often vary between zero and twenty-eight, while for females, they range from zero to thirty-six.

The Relevance of Golf Handicaps

Golf handicaps play a vital role in the sport by facilitating golfers of different capabilities to compete on equal terms. They foster a balanced game and offer a means for players to track their growth over time. By understanding your handicap, you can establish realistic goals and observe your progress as you aim to decrease your handicap.

The Origin of Golf Handicaps

The concept of golf handicaps can be traced back over a century, evolving alongside the sport's changing dynamics. Originally, it was known as a "hands-on cap", a system involving a referee and two players. The term "handicap" was officially recognized by 1850.

Handicaps in Contemporary Golf

In present-day golf, handicaps hold a crucial position in both major and minor tournaments, making them a cornerstone of the modern game. They are utilized to assess a player's potential ability compared to the par score of a course, fostering balanced competitions.

What Does Your Golf Handicap Reveal About You?

Generally, a lower golf handicap implies a higher level of skill. A golfer with a handicap of 5 tends to score 5 strokes over par on average over their recent rounds. Hence, a golf handicap serves as a method for evaluating a player's performance relative to their average proficiency.

Deciphering Your Handicap

Recognizing what your handicap signifies can aid you in establishing and achieving your golfing objectives. A high handicap doesn't automatically signify that you're an inferior golfer; rather, it indicates room for improvement. Conversely, a low handicap is a commendable achievement, symbolizing consistent and skilled gameplay.

Golf Handicaps in Competitive Play

In competitive play, your golf handicap lets you compete against more adept golfers based on your performance on a particular day. If you end up scoring lower than your expected handicap, you stand a decent chance of victory, even when competing against golfers with lower handicaps.

How to Determine Your Golf Handicap

Procuring a golf handicap necessitates playing and recording scores from a minimum of three 18-hole rounds. The current methodology (as of 2020) for calculating a golf handicap is based on a player's top 8 scores from their latest 20 rounds. 

Golf Handicap Calculator

Input the course and slope rating of your home course and the scores of the best 8 rounds out of your last 20 rounds played and click
"Calculate Handicap".
Your handicap will appear here:

Understanding Course and Slope Rating

The Course Rating signifies the score a zero-handicap golfer is expected to achieve on a course under normal conditions. The Slope Rating measures the relative difficulty of a course for golfers who are not scratch golfers. Both these factors are integral to handicap calculation.

Understanding Course Rating

The Course Rating is a critical aspect in the world of golf, representing the score a zero-handicap or "scratch" golfer is expected to shoot on a course under normal playing conditions. The rating takes into account multiple factors that might impact a golfer's performance. These include the length of the course, the difficulty of the terrain, hazards on the course, the altitude, and even the type of grass used on the fairways and greens.

The Course Rating is expressed as a number (usually to one decimal place), and it tends to be close to the par for the course, though it can be higher or lower depending on the difficulty of the course. A higher Course Rating means a more challenging course, where even skilled golfers may struggle to make par.

What is slope rating golf?

Understanding Slope Rating

While the Course Rating measures the difficulty of a course for scratch golfers, the Slope Rating, on the other hand, is designed to assess the relative difficulty of a course for bogey golfers, or those with a handicap of around 20 for men and 24 for women.

The Slope Rating takes into consideration how much worse a bogey golfer's score would be compared to a scratch golfer's on the same course. A course with a lot of hazards or a challenging layout will have a higher Slope Rating because bogey golfers are more likely to be penalized by these difficulties than scratch golfers.

The Slope Rating ranges from 55 (easiest) to 155 (most difficult), with 113 being the average or standard difficulty used when calculating handicaps. Higher Slope Ratings indicate that higher handicaps will face a tougher challenge relative to scratch golfers. This helps to determine how many handicap strokes a player receives when playing on a course with a specific Slope Rating.

Together, the Course Rating and Slope Rating are used to calculate a player's handicap for a specific course, helping to level the playing field for golfers of different skill levels. They are fundamental components of the handicapping system, allowing it to accurately reflect a player's potential ability and ensuring fairness in competition.

Understanding and utilizing these ratings effectively can assist golfers in assessing a course's difficulty, tracking their progress, and setting personal goals, ultimately helping them improve their performance and enjoy the game more.

Recent Modifications in Handicap Calculation

In 2020, the formula for calculating the handicap index was revamped to make handicapping more equitable and accommodate players playing from different tees. The updated formula now includes consideration of the course rating minus par in the computation of the course handicap. This new method is known as the World Handicap System.

Understanding Scores and Their Effect on Handicaps

Golf scores are the primary element influencing handicaps. Consistently better scores result in a lower handicap, while consistently worse scores lead to an increased handicap. The sporadic good or bad round has a minimal effect on your handicap as it's based on your top 8 scores out of your last 20 rounds.



Under 70

Scratch golfer or better

70 - 79

Single-digit handicap

80 - 89


90 - 99

High handicap



A handicap is not the ultimate measure in golf—it's merely a tool to help render the game more balanced and enjoyable. Always bear in mind that golf is a game meant to be relished. Irrespective of your handicap, the most crucial aspect is to have fun on the course!

How Shooting Better or Worse Affects Your Handicap

Change in Score


Consistently better scores

Handicap decreases

Consistently worse scores

Handicap increases

Occasional better score

Minimal impact

Occasional worse score

Minimal impact

Consistently shooting better scores will lead to a lower handicap, whereas consistently shooting worse scores will lead to an increase in your handicap. The occasional good or bad round will have minimal impact on your handicap as it is based on your best 8 scores out of your last 20 rounds.

Common Misunderstandings About Handicaps

There's a common misbelief that a high handicap equates to being an inferior golfer, while a low handicap is a mark of proficiency. However, the handicap merely supplies a measure of potential playing capacity—it's not an absolute gauge of skill.

Tactics to Enhance Your Handicap

Boosting your handicap calls for persistent effort and practice. From polishing your swing and examining your equipment to testing your skills on more challenging courses, numerous tactics can assist you in lowering your handicap.

The Impact of Professional Coaching on Lowering Your Handicap

Professional coaching can have a considerable effect on your golf handicap. A golf professional can scrutinize your swing, offer personalized guidance, and help you address specific shortcomings in your gameplay, ultimately assisting in lowering your handicap.

The Influence of Equipment on Your Handicap

The tools you use on the golf course, notably your golf clubs, can significantly impact your performance and consequently your handicap. Here are a few ways that your equipment can influence your golf game:

  1. Club Selection: It's essential to have a selection of clubs that can cater to a variety of shots. Typically, a golfer's bag may contain a mix of woods, irons, a putter, and possibly a few hybrids or specialty clubs. Each of these serves a unique purpose and is used for different types of shots, which can significantly impact your score.
  2. Club Fitting: The most crucial aspect of golf equipment is the fit. A club that is too long, too short, too heavy, or too light can affect your swing, making it harder to hit accurate and consistent shots. This includes the shaft flex, club length, lie angle, and the weight and size of the clubhead and grip. Custom-fitted clubs that are tailored to your specific body dimensions and swing characteristics can enhance your control and accuracy, potentially lowering your scores and your handicap.
  3. Quality of Equipment: The quality of your clubs can also impact your game. Higher quality clubs often have better balance, are made of superior materials, and have more advanced design features that can assist in hitting the ball further and more accurately. This doesn't mean you need the most expensive clubs on the market, but investing in a quality set that suits your game can pay dividends in the long run.
  4. Golf Balls: The golf balls you use can also make a significant difference. Different balls have different construction, spin rates, and compression, all of which can affect distance, trajectory, and control. Finding the right ball for your game, taking into account your swing speed and skill level, can help you perform better on the course.
  5. Technological Aids: In the modern golfing world, technology plays an increasing role. Using rangefinders or GPS devices can provide accurate distances, helping you choose the right club for each shot. Similarly, swing analyzers can give you valuable feedback on your swing mechanics, which can lead to improvements in your game and potentially lower your handicap. Devices like these are perfect for gifting by the way.

In conclusion, your golf equipment has a considerable influence on your performance and your handicap. Investing time in selecting the right equipment, making sure it is properly fitted, and learning how to use it effectively, can lead to significant improvements in your game. While good equipment won't make up for poor technique or lack of practice, it can help you make the most of your abilities and lower your handicap.

Sidenote: The Tale of Two Clubs - Navigating the Fine Line between Professional Precision and Amateur Forgiveness

Buckle up, it's about to get swinging!

Let's start with professional clubs. They're like that slick sports car you've always dreamt of driving. They look sleek, feel great, and perform like a dream - if you know what you're doing. But just like not everyone can handle a sports car at 200 mph, not everyone can use professional clubs effectively. These clubs are for the cream of the crop, the top-drawer golfers who can hit a 7-iron sweetly while sipping their morning coffee. With smaller clubheads and a demand for precision, these clubs aren't exactly "amateur-friendly."

On the other hand, we've got game-enhancing clubs. These are like your friendly neighborhood SUV: reliable, forgiving, and designed to keep you safe on those golfing trips (or mis-hits). Think of them as your buddy who always has your back, even when you shank a shot into the neighboring fairway. They're packed with all sorts of features to help you look good out there on the course, even when your swing feels like you're wrestling with a garden hose.

But let's say you're an amateur golfer (like most of us mortals), and you decide to go all gung-ho and use professional clubs. You're pumped, ready to channel your inner Tiger Woods. You've got your blade irons in your bag, and off you go. And then reality hits like a splash in the water hazard.

Those player's clubs? They demand accuracy, consistency, and a precise strike each time, kind of like hitting a bullseye with a dart... blindfolded. Their clubhead size isn't exactly forgiving either, they're like the diet version of clubheads, trimmed down and sleek. This means the sweet spot is smaller, so unless you're hitting dead center every time (kudos if you are), you might be spending a lot of time in the woods.

And then there's the feedback. Oh, the feedback. Player's clubs are like that brutally honest friend who tells you every little detail about your swing, good or bad. They will let you know if your strike was off, even by a fraction. Great for pros who can interpret that feedback, not so great if you're still working out the kinks in your swing.

In the grand golfing scheme of things, it's about choosing what suits you best. Don't be the person trying to race a sports car in rush hour traffic; get the clubs that match your skill level. And remember, even the best golfers started somewhere (and yes, they didn't start with player's clubs). So grab those game-enhancing clubs and hit the course with confidence. And when you're ready to make the leap, the player's clubs will be waiting. Just remember to keep your sense of humor intact when they start giving you "feedback".

golf equipment

How Pushing Your Boundaries Can Decrease Your Handicap

By setting personal targets, taking on tougher courses, or participating in competitions, you compel yourself to improve. Stretching your limits can significantly contribute to reducing your handicap and enhancing your overall performance.

Handicap's Role in Personal Development and Game Enjoyment

Understanding and managing your golf handicap can not only boost your gameplay but also augment your enjoyment of this splendid sport. It serves as a personal benchmark, motivating you to aim for superior performance.

In Conclusion: The Worth of Golf Handicaps

Golf handicaps serve as a just and effective method to balance the playing field in the sport of golf. They provide players of diverse skill levels with the opportunity to compete against each other in a balanced manner. Irrespective of your current handicap, remember that golf is a game of patience and precision, and enhancing your handicap demands commitment, consistent practice, and a positive mindset.


What is a good golf handicap?

A handicap of 15 is considered above average for a golfer. A player with a handicap between 10 and 20 is generally viewed as an accomplished golfer.

How many rounds does it take to get a handicap?

To obtain a golf handicap, you need to play and record scores from at least three 18-hole rounds.

How is a golf handicap calculated?

A golf handicap is calculated by taking the average of the best 8 out of your last 20 scores, then multiplying that by 0.96. The course rating and slope are also taken into consideration.

Why did the formula change in 2020?

The change in the formula in 2020 was made to accommodate players playing from different tees and make handicapping fairer.

Can anyone have a golf handicap?

Yes, anyone who plays golf can have a handicap, regardless of their skill level.

Beyond the Handicap

A handicap is not the end-all-be-all in golf—it's just one tool to help make the game more equitable and enjoyable. Always remember that golf is a game meant to be enjoyed. Regardless of your handicap, the most important thing is to have fun on the course!

About the Author

Founder and Owner of AutomateThis, hartmut.io and Birdie+1. He's a Father of 3 and considers himself as the luckiest husband in the world. He loves golf, pizza and the times with family and friends. Lives in Cyprus and is lucky to play all year round on the most amazing courses and in sunny weather.

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