What is a golf handicap?

Golf handicap, for the uninitiated, maybe something difficult to understand. For those who are not into golf sports, the term golf handicap may connote something else.

However, knowing that you have a handicap on the course is vital for golf players to check their improvement. The condition where a golfer could measure or calculate his handicap proved to be beneficial for him to have a good game on the course.

The United States Golf Teachers Federation (USGTF) called golf handicap a measurement of a golfer’s current ability over an entire round of golf. A number signifies the handicap. The lower the number, the better the golfer is.

It is essential to determine a golfer’s handicap level to show how many strokes below or above par he should be able to play.

Additionally, the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) defined golf handicap as a mark that indicates the number of handicap strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees at the course being played to adjust the player’s scoring ability to the level of scratch or zero-handicap golf.

Woman holding a golf driver

The USGA Handicap System promotes fair competition for all genders and ages by allowing players to compete fairly on any rated course. A handicap is a standard barometer used to measure a golfer using different sets of skills. To calculate, understand, and use this number in the game can be done by any golf player.

Man playing golf

How to compute a golfer’s handicap

The calculations of a player’s handicap differ in each country. For example, in the USA, a golfer’s handicap is measured based upon a course Bogey Rating and Slope Rating. In the United Kingdom, they adhered to the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) rules in Great Britain and Ireland in computing the handicap.

Golf players understand that every golf course is not the same as each other. Thus, to check on this, each golf course has Standard Scratch Score (SSS). This allows handicap to be computed to make room for courses that may have a more challenging or easier game than par.

When a golfer looks for a course for a game, he should remember that a matching SSS and par means the golf course may be hard to play at, depending on skills. An SSS that is lower than par implies that most players look at the golf course to be slightly easier. At the same time, an SSS higher than par signified that most of the players find the course to be a bit harder.

Yet, it is important to think that the SSS of a course does not involve how challenging the golf course may be at the time of a golf game or competition.

Player hitting a golf ball

In the United Kingdom, for example, the player needs to consider how tough the game would be through the use of the Competition Scratch Score (CSS).

The five categories of golf handicap


Handicap range



Buffer Zone


5 or less


+ 0.1

1 shot above CSS





2 shots above CSS





3 shots above CSS





4 shots above CSS


29 or more



5 shots above CSS

Club handicap


-0.5 or 



5 shots above CSS

The maximum handicap a player can have can vary, according to Golf Support.com.

In UK, the maximum allowed for men is 28, while 36 for women. For the USGTF, the maximum handicap for a male player is 36, while for the female players is 40. The handicap can vary over time as the golfers have more rounds on the course.

Golf course

How can a golf player get a handicap?

A golf club is in control of issuing golf handicaps when affiliated or connected with a golf union. A golfer must achieve a basic requirement for him to get a handicap. He must play a minimum of three 18-hole rounds of the golf game and have the figure computed by the golf club.

Calculating golf handicap in Course Rating and Slope Rating

Computing a handicap is essential in course rating and slope rating.

A course rating shows how tough a golf course is to a scratch golf player under ordinary golf course conditions and weather.

For example, if the par for a golf course is 72, a course rating might be 71.6, as course rating is typically made with a decimal point, as cited by Golf Week. Slope rating shows the difficulty of a course to a bogey golfer. A bogey player is someone who routinely shoots 18 over par for an 18-hole round. This figure is always a two- or three-digit number, from 55 to 155, with 113 as the average figure.

Computing handicap in Friendly Golf Games

Computing a golfer’s handicap is an excellent opportunity during friendly golf competitions and scramble format games.

In charity or corporate golf outings, the two-man scramble format is expected. The golfers deduct their handicap from their final tally in registering a team scramble score for contest purposes. 

While in friendly golf games, a handicap makes it possible for a golfer of a different set of skills to play against another player equitably by adding the number of handicap strokes to the score of a strong contender or deducting the handicap strokes from the score of a player who was weak in the game.  

To record an official golfer’s handicap, a player would register the dates and scores of each round, together with the course rating and slope rating for every golf course played. A player can use a handicap calculator that is free and widely available online. It is important to remember that a minimum of rounds must be tallied for a golfer’s handicap to be made official.

Golf ball near a hole

The new world golf handicap system

A World Handicap System (WHS) has been implemented starting in 2020. This system is for all the golf players across the globe so that they will be encouraged to get a handicap. The players will be inspired to 

have a golf game with anyone on any golf course around the globe.

The WHS underwent extensive reviews by top golf associations in the world:

  1. U.S. Golf Association (USGA)
  2. Golf Australia
  3. European Golf Association (EGA)
  4. Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland
  5. Argentine Golf Association (AAG)
  6. South African Golf Association (SAGA)

Player standing near a golf ball


Getting a golfer’s handicap is essential in playing on the course. A player must see that he can obtain a handicap and what it takes to have it. A golfer can keep in touch with the golf association registered in his locality.