What Is A Handicap In Golf? (For Beginners)


A golf handicap in simple terms is a rating system used to measure how good of a golfer you are. It allows players of different abilities to compete against one another. The lower your handicap is, the better golfer you are.

A handicap in golf would be higher for beginners since they just started learning how to play the game. Advanced players who consistently hit the average golf distances would have the lowest handicaps.

golf scorecard with tees and ball

How Does A Handicap In Golf Work?

Handicap does not always mean handicap index. Here’s why:

  • Handicap is a general term for a golfer's average score in relation to par. For example, if your average score is 14 over par, your handicap would be 14. Casual golfers who don’t compete in tournaments sometimes use this method.

  • Handicap index is a term specific to an official handicapping system. A golfer’s game rating is produced using that system. You need to have a handicap index assigned if you want to enter competitions or tournaments.

Source: LiveAbout

How Does A New Golfer Get A Handicap Index?

New golfers aren’t automatically assigned a handicap. In order for a golfer to obtain an official handicap index, he or she must join an approved club or local golf association that is a member of the USGA.

Once you have joined a club, you need to play and post scores from a total of 54 holes, made up of any combination of 9 or 18-hole rounds, and then you will qualify to have a handicap index.

Here are three options:

  • Sign up for a handicap index through USGA.org.

  • Sign up with an authorized golf club. Search for an authorized golf club by clicking here.

  • Find your local Allied Golf Association and ask for recommended clubs in your area by clicking here.

RELATED POST: What Is A Good Golf Score?

How Do You Calculate Golf Handicaps?

Once a player has completed the satisfactory number of rounds, the golf organization issues a handicap index to use in calculating a course handicap.

  • The maximum handicap index is 54.0 for all players, although the Committee in charge of a competition may set a lower maximum limit for entry.

  • The average handicap for a female golfer in America is 28.9, and a male golfer is 16.1, according to Golfweek.

  • A Golfer skilled enough to have a handicap of 0 is known as a “scratch golfer” and a golfer whose handicap is in the 20’s is known as a “bogey golfer”.

The handicap a player gets at a course does not have to equal the handicap index. A calculation based on the handicap index and the difficulty of the course gives a player their course handicap. If you need to calculate a course handicap, USGA has a calculator you can use.

Under the World Handicap System, a handicap index reflects the demonstrated ability of a player. However, when it’s time to go out and play, that number is converted to a course handicap and playing handicap.

Watch this video that explains more:

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What Is The World Handicap System?

There are six different handicap systems used around the world.  Each is well developed and successfully provides equity for play locally, but each of the different systems produces slightly different results when calculating players’ handicaps.  The WHS unifies these six existing systems into a single system that:

  • enables golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a fair and equal basis, in any format, on any course, anywhere around the world.

  • makes things easy to understand and implement, without sacrificing accuracy.

  • meets the varied needs and expectations of golfers, golf clubs, and golf authorities all around the world and is adaptable to suit all golfing cultures.

Here is a video explaining more:

According to the USGA, the World Handicap System was implemented in the United States in January of 2020.

How To Improve Your Golf Handicap

Here are four steps:

  1. If you are new, make sure you’re using the best beginner golf clubs that are designed to make it easier for someone who is still learning.

  2. Make sure you clean your golf clubs and golf balls to maximize performance.

  3. Practice your golf swing often. You can do this by teaching yourself at a driving range, a par 3 course, or you can take professional golf lessons from the comfort of your own home.

  4. Set goals and don’t give up. Read these great quotes from golfers who’ve mastered the game to help you stay motivated!


There you have it, golf handicaps explained! If you found my post helpful, please like and share so others can benefit from it as well.

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