What Is A Handicap In Golf? Explained For Beginners

Last update:
What is a handicap in golf

A handicap is more than just a number, it’s the game’s heartbeat. Even, having handicaps is essential for golfers in tournaments. But most people want to know, what is a handicap in golf.

A handicap in golf is a measure of a player’s skill level. An accurate reflection of a golfer’s ability, not just a statistic. Low-handicap players are considered more skilled than high-handicap players.

Also, handicaps allow golfers to compare their performance with others. It creates a more enjoyable and competitive environment for golfers.

What Is a Handicap In Golf: Brief Overview 

In golf, a handicap measures a golfer’s skill based on previous performance. A handicap is like your golfing reputation in numbers.

Even, in golf competitions, this numerical representation helps level the playing field by allowing players of different skill levels to compete equally.

However, the lower, the better – just like in golf scores. If you’re a scratch golfer, you play at the tip-top level. But if you’re like most mortal golfers, you have a handicap that reflects your skill.

The cool part is that handicaps allow players of different abilities to compete on an even keel. So, if you’re playing against someone with a lower handicap, they might give you some strokes to even things out.

It’s like golf’s saying, “Hey, we’re all here to have fun, and everyone’s got a shot at glory!”

Furthermore, handicaps are widely used in amateur golf, and golf associations or governing bodies typically oversee their calculation. In the United States, for example, there is the United States Golf Association (USGA).

Calculate your golf handicap with our golf handicap calculator.

How Does A Golf Handicap Work?: 10 Essential Steps!

Usually, in golf, handicaps are personal scorecards that show your playing ability. It all begins with the scores you record after each round of golf. These scores are the raw material for the handicap magic to happen.

However, let’s check out some steps where we’ll show, how the golf handicap works:

Step- 1: Submission of a score

Golfers are required to submit their scores after playing rounds of golf. The more scores a golfer submits, the more accurate their Handicap will be. The golfer’s scores are usually offered to their golf club or association.

Step- 2: Score Adjustments

The submitted scores undergo adjustments to account for the difficulty of the course played. Each golf course is rated in terms of the problem, known as the “Course Rating“. It reflects the score a scratch golfer (0 handicap) would be expected to achieve on that course.

Step- 3: Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) prevents exceptionally high scores from significantly affecting a golfer’s Handicap. According to ESC, a player’s course handicap determines how many strokes are allowed on any hole.

Step- 4: Calculating Handicap Differentials

For each submitted score, a Handicap Differential is calculated. It is the difference between the golfer’s adjusted gross score and the Course Rating.

Step- 5: Best Score Selection

Typically, the best scores from the golfer’s recent rounds are selected. The number of scores used may vary, but it is often based on the most recent 20 scores. A sliding scale is used if a golfer has at most 20 scores.

Step- 6: Average and Multiply

After averaging the differentials, the result is multiplied by 0.96 (constant factor). A player’s Handicap should reflect their potential ability rather than their best.

Step- 7: Course Handicap

Handicap Indexes, based on averaged differentials, are used to calculate a course’s Handicap. A formula that considers Course Rating, Slope Rating, and Par determines the Course Handicap.

Step- 8: Playing Handicap

The Course Handicap is the number of strokes a golfer receives or gives on a specific course. For a given round, it determines how many strokes a player may subtract from their gross score to get their net score.

Step- 9: Competing Fairly

Golfers with different handicaps benefit from the playing handicap. As strokes in match play, the player with the higher Handicap gets the difference in Handicap. In stroke play, the net score is used to determine the winner.

Step- 10: Regular Updates

Handicaps are regularly updated as golfers submit new scores. It ensures that a player’s Handicap reflects their current level of play.

What Is The Purpose of Golf Handicaps?

Generally, golf handicaps are like the glue that holds the diverse golfing community together. Besides skill, it promotes camaraderie and fair play. Also, they let you track your progress and compare your scores with others.

However, In detail, here is why we need them:

Compelling Battles:

Assume you’re playing golf against a friend who’s been playing for years. Without handicaps, it might seem like an uneven battle. With handicaps, each player’s skill level is considered, ensuring a fair match and uncertain results.

A Better Golf Experience:

Golf is meant to be enjoyable. Handicaps help take the pressure off and focus on the game’s fun. When you know that your Handicap is there to guide you, playing golf becomes more relaxed and enjoyable.

Enhances Performance:

Your handicap changes based on your recent version. It encourages golfers to improve their game continually. It’s like a friendly nudge saying, “Hey, keep working on those swings, and your handicap might drop!”

Creating A Level Playing Field:

Golf courses vary in difficulty, and players have different skill levels. Handicaps provide a way to even out these differences. No matter how good you are at golf, handicaps keep everyone on equal footing.

Fair And Equitable Competition:

Golf is a game for all, regardless of skill level. Handicaps enable golfers of different abilities to compete on an equal footing. Beginners can join more experienced golfers without feeling intimidated.

Societal factors:

Golf is often as much about the social interaction as it is about the game itself. Handicaps facilitate a sense of community. Golfers of diverse skill levels can play together, fostering friendships and connections.

Benefits Of Having A Golf Handicap

Having a golf handicap is like the great equalizer in the world of golf. Considering its importance, here are a few reasons:

  • Levels the playing field, ensuring fair competition regardless of skill levels.
  • Recognizes and accommodates the diversity in golfers’ abilities, fostering inclusivity.
  • Creates a balanced competition, accounting for differences in experience and skill.
  • Facilitates participation of golfers at all levels in events and tournaments.
  • Provides equal chances of winning based on skill.
  • It provides a dynamic measure to motivate golfers to improve their skills.
  • Provides insights for strategic play, customizing golfers’ approach based on Handicap.
  • Ensures consistent performance over time.
  • Identifies a player’s skill level and facilitates integration into diverse golf communities.
  • Provides a shared experience and a sense of camaraderie on the course.

In the end, a golf handicap promotes fairness, inclusivity, and camaraderie. Golfers everywhere use it to motivate improvement and guide strategic play.

What Is A Good Handicap For Beginners?

What Is A Good Handicap For Beginners

Well, A good golf handicap for beginners is a subjective measure that evolves with progress. It generally falls under 20, reflecting a developing level of skill. Beginners should focus on the learning process, not their handicap value.

Therefore, it is crucial first to understand the handicap categories so you can determine what’s categorized as suitable for beginners. There are 3 categories of golf handicaps:

Low Handicap (0–10):

Golfers in this category are considered more advanced. They have honed their skills. Consistently score close to or below par and navigate the course with more precision.

Mid-Handicap (11–18):

Mid-handicap golfers are in a transitional phase. They possess a moderate skill level, demonstrating competence across various aspects of the game. Improvement opportunities exist, but they can still post competitive scores.

High Handicap (19+):

High-handicap golfers are typically newer to the game or still developing their skills. They may need help with consistency and may take more strokes to complete a round. However, this category is a starting point for many beginners.

So, For beginners, here is a good handicap:

For beginners, a good handicap is relative and depends on various factors:

  • Under 20:

Generally, a good handicap for a beginner falls under 20. It means they’re gradually progressing and getting a handle on the game. It reflects a certain level of proficiency that allows them to navigate the course with a degree of skill.

  • Common Range (20–36+):

It’s common for beginners to have handicap indexes of 20 to 36 or even higher. Golf is a challenging sport, and progress varies among individuals. Likely, a beginner with a handicap in this range is improving their swing and understanding of course management.

Also, several factors influence a beginner’s Handicap: 

  • How quickly a beginner improves depends on their dedication to practice and learning. Regular exercise and a commitment to refining skills contribute to a lower handicap over time.
  • Beginners who invest more time learning the nuances of golf tend to improve faster. Regular play and exposure to different courses enhance their understanding of the game.
  • Access to a coach or utilizing learning resources can significantly impact a beginner’s Handicap. Proper guidance can expedite skill development and help golfers overcome challenges more efficiently.

How Do You Improve Your Golf Handicap?: Essential Facts You Must Know!

It is certainly possible to improve your golf handicap, so let’s talk about some specific strategies:

  •  Regular Practice Sessions

The age-old adage “practice makes perfect” holds in golf. Dedicate regular sessions to practice your swing, putting, and various aspects of your game.

  • Play More Golf

There’s no substitute for actual play. Whether you play 18 holes or spend time at the driving range, the more you play, the better you get. In real-game situations, you can also apply what you’ve learned.

  • Focus on Short Game

The short game—putting, chipping, and pitching—is often where lower handicappers shine. You should invest time in improving your skills in these areas.

  • Invest in Forgiving Clubs

Consider upgrading your equipment to clubs designed for forgiveness. These clubs often feature larger clubfaces and more substantial sweet spots.

  • Take Golf Lessons

Take golf lessons to improve your swing, master different shots, and refine your overall game. A golf instructor can identify specific areas for improvement tailored to your skill level.

  • Course Management

Improve your decision-making on the course. The key to course management is understanding your strengths and weaknesses. Avoid unnecessary risks, play to your strengths, and focus on minimizing mistakes.

  • Track Your Progress

Keep a detailed record of your rounds, noting areas where you excelled and where improvement is needed. Tracking your progress helps identify patterns and areas that require additional attention.

  • Physical Fitness:

Golf is a physical sport, and good physical shape can positively impact your game. Maintaining fitness and strengthening core muscles can help keep your golf swing consistent and adequate.

  • Join a Golf League or Club:

Engaging with other golfers in a league or club setting provides a supportive environment for improvement. You can learn from others, receive friendly competition, and share experiences.

Remember, the journey to lowering your golf handicap is gradual. Celebrate small victories, stay patient, and enjoy the process of continuous improvement.

Each step toward improving your Handicap, whether investing in equipment or seeking professional guidance, will help you.

What Is The Maximum Golf Handicap?

The USGA handicap index system has undergone a notable shift in determining the maximum golf handicap. Before 2020, the maximum handicap index for men was 36.4, and for women, it was 40.4. Those were the maximum numbers golfers could submit when requesting a handicap index.

In the world of golf, however, a pivotal revision brought a more inclusive approach to handicapping. In 2020, the maximum handicap index was universally standardized to 54.0 for all players, regardless of gender.

As a result of this modification, players of varying skill levels can participate in the handicap system equally. There is now a maximum handicap of 54.0 to make golf more accessible.

Golf Handicaps and Their Problems

Like many economic indicators, golf handicaps rely on past performance to gauge future outcomes. However, this approach introduces a set of challenges that golfers often grapple with:

  • Inconsistencies in time:

As a result of the timing of assessments, handicaps may not accurately reflect the golfer’s current skill level.

  • An unfair advantage or disadvantage:

Some golfers may have an unfair advantage because their abilities may outpace their handicap. Alternatively, some may have handicaps reflecting past stellar performances not replicated in recent years.

  • Striving for Equitable Solutions:

Addressing these challenges demands a delicate balance. It is crucial to recognize the value of historical data in assessing skill levels and the inherent variability in golf performance over time. As golf ability is evaluated, a more accurate and dynamic handicap system becomes imperative.

  • Inconsistent Form Realities:

Golfers are well aware of the transient nature of consistent form. Golfers’ performance during handicap assessment periods may not be sustained in subsequent outings. It affects the accuracy of the handicap.

Understanding historical data and how golfers perform over time is challenging. So, it is essential to address these concerns as golfers strive to develop more accurate and dynamic handicap systems.


What does a handicap mean in golf?

A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a player’s ability, reflecting their expected performance relative to the course’s difficulty. It enables fair competition by allowing players of different skill levels to compete evenly.

What is a bad golf handicap?

A bad golf handicap typically means a higher number, indicating a less skilled player. While opinions may vary, handicaps above 20-25 are often considered higher. It may suggest room for improvement in a golfer’s game.

What is a beginner golf handicap?

A beginner golfer may start with a high handicap, often 25 or above. As the player gains experience and improves, the Handicap is expected to decrease, reflecting their enhanced skills and ability to play the game more competitively.

What is a 15 handicap in golf?

The average Handicap for men and women golfers is around 15. They would shoot around a 90 on a typical 18-hole course. A golfer with a handicap below ten would average 82 strokes on an 18-hole course.

What does a +7 handicap in golf mean?

A +7 handicap in golf indicates an advanced player. Having a golf handicap of 7 suggests that on their best rounds, they averaged approximately seven shots over the course ratings of the courses they played, reflecting a high level of skill.

Share On
Photo of author


Hey, I am Allen Jackson a golf expert with over 30 years of experience. From my childhood, I have found my passion. I played on high school and college teams and went on to become a professional golfer. Now, I am a full-time trainer.

Leave a Comment