Golf Terms Explained: What is a Golf Handicap?
We’re often asked, “what’s your handicap?” before friendly competition. We often know our number but few of us fully understand how it works. Essentially, a golfer’s handicap places a numerical value to his or her skill level, which is calculated mathematically using variables like average rounds and best scores.
Here is how it works:
The handicap is generated by mathematically approximating how many strokes above par a player traditionally scores during a round. A golfer’s net score is determined by subtracting the player’s handicap from the gross score (which is the total shots played). When handicaps are being used the net scores of all the competing golfers are compared and the person with the lowest score wins the match.
To calculate a player’s handicap you must first calculate a round differential using the following equation:
Here SD is the score differential, S is the player’s score, and the CR and SR values represent the course rating and slope rating respectively.
After calculating the score differential, a golfer can then calculate his or her golf handicap by averaging the appropriate number of score differentials (see chart) and multiplying that average by 0.96.
Since a golfer’s handicap calculation is based on a golfer’s best scores it should be noted that a handicap is given to show potential, not average score. The frequency by which a golfer will play to their handicap is a function of that golfer’s handicap. Essentially, this means that lower handicap golfers are more consistent in their golf game then high handicap golfers.
A scratch golfer is a zero handicap and a bogey golfer is approximately 18. This means that an ‘18-handicap golfer’ will most likely shoot 1 over each hole for an approximate score of 90 on a par 72 course.
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The good news is that we humans don’t have to figure all this out manually so we’ll recommend some quality Handicap websites for you to check out. If we had to pick one free and one paid site to use to calculate your handicap, we’d use these:
- Fairway Files (Free) – A partner site that’s completely free and easy to use. Find the course you played and enter your score and stats. The site helps manage your stats and composes graphs and charts to offer visuals to help you improve and record your game.
- Golf.com Handicap Tracker ($$) — with different membership packages available at different prices, we like the silver membership on this site for $2.50 per month. It gives you a free registration to post your scores and move around the site, but if you want a USGA handicap index, you need to cough up some membership dues.