What Is A Golf Handicap? (And How to Calculate)

One of the first questions that golfers tend to ask each other is: “What is your handicap?” Non-golfers might hear this and feel offended, but handicap is a golf term and trust me as a beginner you will learn to appreciate the fact that you do have a handicap. 

If the handicap concept is foreign to you don’t worry, below we will look at what a golf handicap is and we will also look at the importance of a handicap for golfers. 

The Golf Handicap Explained

Golf Handicap Estimator

A golf handicap is defined as a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential. A golf handicap also allows players of different skill levels to compete against one another on a level playing field thanks to their respective handicaps. 

The rules of golf is a single set of rules that is overseen by the USGA and the R&A, one would think that a universal handicap system exists, but this isn’t the case. Currently, there are six different handicap systems around the world, all sis are well developed and very effective, but they all produce slightly different outputs. 

The World Handicap System (WHS) is looking to change this and its goal is to unify these systems into one system. With a universal handicapping system in place, players from different countries will be able to compete against each other on a fair basis at any course around the globe. The administration of international amateur competitions where handicaps are used will also be a lot easier to administer. Overall it will provide a more enjoyable experience across the board. 

To learn more about the World Handicap System visit either www.usga.org or www.randa.org or www.whs.com.

Must-Know Handicap Terms 

Handicap Index (HI)

Handicap Index is an indication of the golfer’s potential as a player. In numerical terms, your HI will be 96% of the average of the best 10 differentials for your last 20 rounds played. 

Course Handicap (CH)

Your course handicap is the calculated handicap that you will use out on the golf course. Your course handicap will be dependent on the course rating of the tee boxes that you are playing from on the day. 

Course Handicap Conversion Tables (CHCT)

CHCT tables will be displayed on a club’s notice board as well as on the 1st or 10th tee box. These tables will show you what your course handicap is for all respective tees based on your handicap index. 

Course Rating (CR)

The course rating is the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a golf course for scratch golfers under normal circumstances (course and weather conditions). The course rating is expressed as a number (one decimal place) and it is based on various factors including distance and other obstacles that affect scoring difficulty for a scratch golfer. 

Slope Rating (SR)

Slope rating refers to the relative difficulty of a set of tees for a higher handicapped golfer in comparison to a scratch golfer. SR is expressed as a numerical number with the lowest being 55 and the highest being 155. 


As mentioned above differential forms part of the equation when calculating your handicap index. The following formula is how differentials are calculated.

  • Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – CR) x 113/SR

Adjusted Gross Score 

Adjusted gross refers to the maximum amount of strokes that a golfer can take on an unfinished hole. For example for a scratch golfer, the maximum number of shots allowed on a hole unless they are competing in a medal/stroke play tournament is a bogey. If a scratch golfer gets a double bogey on a hole they will score zero points on that hole. On the scorecard however it is important to write it down as a 6, this is your adjusted gross score. Maximum shots on a hole will depend on your HI, to learn more about it click here

Golf Handicap FAQs

How often is my Handicap Index calculated?

Handicap Indexes are updated and revised daily at 4 pm. Players have 24 hours after completion of a round to enter their score either through the WHS app or via the terminal at the golf course where they played. Players that don’t enter their scores within 24 hours will be subject to receiving a penalty round. 

Must I enter all of my scores? 

The answer to this question is almost always yes unless one of the below situations apply: 

  • When the score cannot be confirmed by a playing partner or competitor
  • When the types or number of golf clubs used were limited (for example in a competition in which only irons were allowed)
  • When the round played included the use of “Mulligans”
  • When more than one ball was used at a time
  • When the course played is not officially rated including when a course is set up much longer or shorter than the average playing length when the rating of the course was determined
  • When the player used non-conforming clubs, balls or tees, or with respect to Rule 14-3 (Rules of Golf) where an artificial device was used in the execution of stroke or when the equipment was used in an unusual manner during the execution of a stroke

Must I enter a nine-hole score for Handicap Index purposes?

Yes. Players are obliged to enter all nine-hole scores into their respective handicap systems except when the situations in the previous question apply. 

What is a good Handicap Index? 

The answer to this question depends, it depends on your individual goals as well as your skills. But to give you an idea players with single figure handicaps will score in the ’70s on a regular basis, 10 – 18 handicappers are capable of shooting in the 80’s on a regular basis, and so on. 


The golf handicap system has undergone a lot of changes in recent years, but it is important for golfers to familiarize themselves with the system to ensure that they use it accurately. 

The golf handicap is what makes golf so great, it allows players of different skill levels to compete against each other on a level playing field. For high-level amateurs and professional players, a handicap becomes irrelevant as their careers progress, but for a club golfer, it is an integral part of being a golfer. 

This article was last updated on November 23, 2021 .

Bertine Strauss
Written by
Bertine Strauss
The Golf Blog