What is Golf Handicap Scoring?

sheet showing golf handicap scoring

Golf is a sport that has been around since the early 1800s, and in those days, there were no rules or regulations on how to play the game. Golf was played by anyone who could afford a set of clubs and balls. That didn’t exactly mean that there was a fair scoring system or golf handicap scoring system. 

The basic idea behind a golf handicap scoring system is to give players an equal opportunity to win. If you are a very good player but have bad luck, this may not work because you might lose more often than you win. With a handicap system, you can make up for your bad luck by giving yourself a handicap number which adjusts the score according to the golfer’s skill level. A higher handicap means you get a lower score after adjusting for your skill level. This allows everyone to play at their skill level and still compete against others.

Handicaps are usually assigned in one of two ways: either by calculating a golfer’s average stroke-play rating over a certain period or by estimating a golfer’s current skill level based on his/her performance over several rounds of competition.

What is Golf Handicap Scoring?

man shooting the gold ball

A golfer’s handicap is simply a number that represents the number of strokes required to shoot that golfer’s score using only his/her best shots from each hole during the round.

What is the History of Golf Handicap Scoring? 

vintage golf card

Before the advent of modern golf courses, there were few rules governing how a person should play golf. The first official rules of golf came out in 1744 when they began regulating the distance between holes and requiring golfers to use tees.

In 1864, the United States Golf Association (USGA) was formed and established a set of rules for all golfers to follow. These rules included establishing a handicapping system to ensure that every player had a fair chance to win.

How Does the Golf Handicap System Work?

A handicap system works by assigning numbers to different levels of skill. Each player starts with an initial handicap, which is determined by their age and gender. Every year thereafter, they will receive a new handicap based on how well they performed in the previous years. 

Each player’s handicap is then used as a multiplier to adjust the number of strokes needed to achieve a particular score. For example, if a golfer shoots 85, he/she would need to add two strokes to their average score to obtain a handicapped score. 

If a golfer plays well enough to qualify for a tournament, he/she will be given an entry score that includes both his/her normal score and the handicap number. In most cases, a golfer needs to finish within a specified range of this “handicap adjusted” score to advance to the next stage of the tournament.

Why Do We Need a Golf Handicap Score?

One of the main reasons we need a handicap system is that people of differing abilities can compete fairly against each other. When someone wins a tournament, they have won because they shot better than everyone else on the field. But it doesn’t matter whether that player shot better because they are really good, or because they got lucky. It matters how much better they shot compared to everyone else. So we need a system where everyone gets a fair chance to win regardless of skill.

Another reason a golf handicap system exists is to help determine who qualifies for events. As mentioned above, many tournaments require entrants to fall into a specific range of scores. But even if you meet those requirements, there may still be room for improvement. If a golfer’s handicap number is too high, they could shoot lower scores than expected. This means they might not have qualified for the event just because they met the criteria. On the other hand, if a golfer’s handicap is too low, they might shoot higher than expected scores and miss qualifying for the event.

The final reason a handicap system is important is to give players something to strive for. A lot of times, golfers don’t know how good they are until they try to improve. By knowing your handicap, you’ll always have a goal to aim at and keep improving.

Why Do You Need a Handicap?

man playing golf

You should consider getting a handicap if:

  • You’re going to play more than once a month.
  • You want to enter tournaments.
  • You want to improve.
  • You want to compare yourself to others.
  • You want to see what your handicap number is.
  • You want to understand how you perform relative to others.
  • You want to understand if you’re able to play well enough to qualify for tournaments.
  • You want to know if you’re eligible to play in any specific type of competition.
  • You want to find out how well you’re doing overall.
  • You want to become familiar with the rules of golf and the basic etiquette of playing the sport.
  • You want to set personal goals.

How Do You Get a Golf Handicap? 

There are several ways to get a golf handicapping score. Most courses offer some kind of handicap service, but you don’t necessarily have to use one. Some clubs allow members to calculate their handicaps on their own. And sometimes, you can simply ask around to friends and family who’ve played before. They may be willing to share their opinion about your skills and performance.

Most golf courses provide a service called “Handicap Scoring.” This allows you to get a handicap by completing an online form. The course will then analyze your previous rounds and come up with a handicap number based on your past performances.

How Do You Calculate a Handicap? 

The handicap calculation used to determine a golfer’s handicap number is as follows:

(1) Add all the strokes taken by the golfer on every hole where he/she made par or better

(2) Divide total par plus eagles by the number of holes played 

(3) Subtract 1 from the quotient 

(4) Multiply the quotient by 100 + 2 

(5) Round off to the nearest whole number

For example, if you’re playing with someone who shoots 70% of your handicap, then you would add together the number of strokes you took on every hole where you scored par or better (including eagles), and divide by the number of holes, then subtract 1. Then multiply the quotient by 100 and add 2 to arrive at your handicap number. So, if you shot 3 under for 9 holes, you’d use the formula above to calculate your handicap number. Your handicap number should be between 0 and 10.

What Does Your Golf Handicap Mean? 

Your golf handicap means that you’re given a number representing how far below-par your average round of golf is. If your handicap is 4, it means that you shoot four shots per hole over par. Your handicap might look like this: -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

A low handicap number represents a golfer who is relatively skilled and consistent. Someone with a high handicap number is typically a less skilled player who has trouble performing consistently.

In most cases, a golf handicap number of zero indicates you’re perfect! However, there are some exceptions. A golfer could have been penalized for missing greens, bunkers, or roughs. Or their putting stroke may not be strong enough to make par on certain holes. But other than these rare instances, a zero handicap usually indicates that a golfer plays very well and is quite consistent.

If you score poorly on a particular day, you may still have a good chance of making up the difference in future rounds. For instance, if you miss two putts on 15 different holes during a round, you’ll probably end up shooting worse than your actual handicap because of those misses. However, you might still be able to make up for those missed opportunities through more solid play on subsequent rounds.

Why Does Your Golf Handicap Matter? 

If you have a low handicap number, you can expect to perform pretty well on the green. You’re more likely to hit a fairway wood instead of a driver, which gives you more options in terms of what club to choose when approaching the green. Low handicappers tend to hit many fewer shots on the green than high handicappers. Consequently, they will typically have lower scores overall due to their superior accuracy.

If you have a high handicap number, you’ll need to watch out for hazards such as sand traps, water hazards, trees, and bunkers. You’ll want to take careful aim before hitting any shots. High handicappers aren’t necessarily bad players; however, they might struggle to achieve consistency. A bad round often results in a higher handicap number.

Handicaps are useful for determining the amount of money you can spend on golf courses, but remember that you don’t want to buy into an expensive course so that you can improve your handicap.

Is There a Maximum Golf Handicap? 

The answer is no. Nothing is stopping you from improving your handicap down to zero. However, keep in mind that you want to avoid getting too low. With practice, you can certainly improve your golf skills. But if you constantly shoot three or four strokes over par, you’re going to start feeling discouraged. The same goes for taking advantage of discounts offered by clubs that allow you to cut your handicap. These incentives only apply to people who are already good golfers. They won’t help you become a great golfer.

So while there’s no upper limit, you do want to avoid being penalized for missing greens or having a poor putting stroke. If you find yourself frequently shooting over par, consider starting at a slightly higher handicap number. You’ll save money, but your goal should be to lower your handicap number, not raise it.

When is Your Golf Handicap Updated? 

Most courses update their handicap lists once every year. This means that your handicap number reflects your performance throughout the entire previous calendar year. So if you had a terrible round at one course last January, then your handicap number wouldn’t reflect that until December 31st.

It’s important to note that golf courses don’t always give equal weight to each round played. Some courses count your best 18-hole round, while others count your worst 18-hole round. Other courses also factor in, such as the quality of weather conditions. And some courses even include penalty strokes when calculating your handicap.

How Do You Improve Your Golf Handicap? 

You can increase your handicap score through a variety of methods:


When learning new techniques, you should focus on mastering the fundamentals first. Then, you can work on developing advanced skills later. As long as you continue practicing, you’ll eventually develop better habits that will lead to improved performances.


If you’ve been playing for years, then you know exactly where your weaknesses lie. That’s why you should focus on fixing those holes first. For example, if you make lots of mistakes with your short game, then you should improve your swing speed first. Only after you perfect that aspect of your game should you then turn your attention toward making more consistent putts.

Course Selection

If you’re struggling to consistently sink your drives, then you may need to choose a different type of course. Sure, you could stick with your local public course, but if you’re struggling to make birdies, maybe you should try another course that has less risk associated with it.


If you’re using the wrong set of clubs, then you may benefit from switching them out for something else. It’s possible that your clubs aren’t providing you with enough distance, so you may need to switch out your driver and fairway woods for a longer iron and hybrid set.

Playing Partners

In addition to choosing the right clubs, you should also consider finding a partner who can challenge you during rounds. Golf games can be frustrating when you play alone because you never get to see what happens when someone else hits the ball. You may even feel like you’re doing everything right but still lose the hole.

How Do You Use Your Handicap?

golf scoring

First, let’s talk about the basics. When you play golf, you want to make sure you understand the importance of keeping score. It’s easy – after each hole, simply record your score on your scorecard. Make sure you write down your name, address, date, time, and place where you played. Then record your total score. Finally, calculate your handicap using the following formula: 

x 100 Your Handicap

It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how to calculate your handicap right away. Just go through the steps above and see what happens!

You can also check your handicap online. Many sites will provide you with a handicap summary and a breakdown of your scores by round. You can also compare your handicap against other members’ handicaps.


Golf can be a lot of fun, especially when you have a good handicap. But, it’s important to remember that no one cares about your handicap as much as you do. If you care too much about your handicap, then you’ll probably end up being miserable whenever you hit the links.

So, just relax and enjoy yourself. After all, there’s nothing worse than taking your sweet time at the range only to blow off steam by hitting balls into the lake.


How do I get started with a golf handicap?

To get started with a golf handicap, start keeping your score without cheating or fudging the rules. Having your most accurate scores will help you get the most accurate handicap. 

What are the rules for counting your handicap?

You need to have another player witness your score to technically count it toward your handicap. This will keep you from having to redo a game of golf. 

How do I get a handicap in golf?

You can sign up for one at your home course or register online at www.USGA.com.

How much does it cost?

If you’re signing up on your own, it’s roughly $30-$40 per year.

Why do I need a handicap system?

Without a handicap system, it makes it very difficult to compete with players that aren’t quite at your level.

Why was the handicap system created?

It was originally used to match a less skilled golfer to one that was more competitive.

How do I know if my handicap is accurate?

Your handicap fairly accurately reflects your current form because you must record your score every time you go out.

What are the rules?

You need to play at least ten rounds before being eligible for a handicap.

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