Explanation of Golf Handicaps

By Clint Hale
Handicaps are an important aspect of golf which levels the playing field for both pros and amateurs.
Handicaps are an important aspect of golf which levels the playing field for both pros and amateurs.

Among the many terms floating about the golf vocabulary is "handicap." And while most experienced golfers are quite familiar with the term, those new to the sport may not grasp the term's meaning and usage. Fortunately, explaining and understanding as much is quite simple.

Definition

The U.S. Golf Association defines handicap as a "mark that indicates the number of handicap strokes a player receives from a specific set of tees at the course being played to adjust the player's scoring ability to the level of scratch or zero-handicap golf."

Course Rating And Slope

In addition to a golfer's score, course rating and course slope are vital when calculating a handicap. Course rating is a number indicating the difficulty of a golf course to a par, or "scratch," golfer.

Meanwhile, course slope is a number that indicates the difficulty of a golf course to a "bogey golfer," one who shoots 18-over par during an average round.

Maximum Handicaps

While a golfer with a 0 handicap is noted as a scratch golfer, the maximum male handicap allowed by the USGA is 36.4. Meanwhile, the maximum handicap allowed by the USGA for females is 40.4.

Purpose

Handicaps are popular during scramble and friendly play. In scramble play, typically employed during corporate or charity outings, players deduct their handicap from their final score. For instance, a golfer with a 6 handicap who shoots 82 would deduct six strokes for a scramble score of 76. Some golfers, even professional, will use handicaps to even the playing field during a friendly round, and will deduct handicaps from final scores.

Online Calculators

A golfer can use a number of free online calculators to determine their handicaps. To do so, simply enter the dates and scores of each round played, as well as the course rating and slope of the corresponding courses. Keep in mind, however, that for a handicap to be recognized as official by the USGA, a golfer must have played and recorded a minimum five rounds of golf.

Photo Credits

  • Stanley Chou/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
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