What Is a Golfer's Handicap?

By Joe Miegoc
A golf handicap allows players of different skill levels to compete on an equitable basis.
A golf handicap allows players of different skill levels to compete on an equitable basis.

The United States Golf Association established its handicap system in an effort to allow players of different skill levels to compete on an equitable basis. For example, this system allows a player with a handicap of 12 at a licensed golf club to receive the assistance of one stroke on the 12 most difficult holes of a course when competing against a scratch player and using the same set of tees.

Leveling the Playing Field

The idea of the USGA's handicap system is to reduce the advantage of the better player by permitting a less-skilled player to receive strokes on certain holes in match-play competition, thereby creating an equitable scoring system. For example, a player receiving a stroke from a more skilled golfer would halve a hole when he makes a bogey to the skilled player's par. In stroke play, once a gross score is posted, the handicap can be deducted to produce a net score.

Handicaps for Golfers

A golfer's handicap index is used to calculate his course handicap, which is then used to determine the number of strokes a less-skilled player would receive from a skilled player. A course handicap chart can then be used to determine a player's handicap on a particular course and determine the amount of strokes to be received during a competition on that course. Depending on a slope rating – or difficulty – of a course, the handicap conceivably could be more than or less than the golfer's handicap index.

USGA Handicap System

Using the USGA Handicap System in a proper fashion should allow an accurate handicap for each player to be determined and used in competition. In stroke play, an 18-handicap golfer would have his score adjusted eight strokes in competition with a 10-handicap golfer. In match play, an 18-handicap player would receive a stroke on each of the eight most-difficult handicap holes from a 10-handicap player. In stroke play, an 18-handicap player who posts a score of 89 would have a net score of 71 and would beat a 10-handicap player who shoots 83 and has a net 73.

Handicap Committees

Each licensed golf club entitled to use the USGA Handicap System must have a handicap committee designed to protect the integrity of scores provided by players and the equitable use of handicaps. Online clubs also should have committees. A handicap index is computed from the 10 lowest of the 20 most recent scores – plus any eligible tournament scores – posted by a member of a recognized golf club.

About the Author

Joe Miegoc is an experienced professional writer with a background in sports, political writing and public relations. He has worked in media for newspapers and in public relations with the United States Golf Association. His writing experience includes books, newspapers, national magazines and online publications. Miegoc holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from East Stroudsburg University.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
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