What Is a Handicap Index?

By Joe Miegoc
All levels of golfers must post scores to receive a handicap index.
All levels of golfers must post scores to receive a handicap index.

The United States Golf Association has established a handicap system in an effort to enable players of different abilities, male and female, an opportunity to compete on an equitable basis. Players must submit scores for calculation of a handicap index, which is used for all types of competition; its scores may be carried over from season to season. But the index is available only to members of licensed golf clubs. According to the USGA, a handicap index is the "USGA's service mark used to indicate a measurement of a player's potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It is expressed as a number taken to one decimal place (e.g., 10.4) and is used for conversion to a Course Handicap."

Posting Scores

A handicap index is computed by a player posting no more than 20 golf scores, along with the USGA course rating and slope rating of the course on which each round was played. The index is then computed using the best 10 scores of the past 20 rounds, plus qualifying tournament rounds, posted by the player either at his club or online. An index cannot be issued to a player who has not posted a minimum of five acceptable scores.

Course Rating

The USGA determines a course rating by evaluating the difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer under normal conditions, factoring in yardage and other course situations which may impact scoring. The course rating is then used in combination with the course's slope rating to determine the level of difficulty for players who are not scratch golfers. According to the USGA, scratch players are players with a course handicap of zero.

Slope Rating

The USGA uses its slope rating, created in the early 1980s, to measure the level of difficulty of a specific course for those players who are not scratch golfers. The USGA defines slope as "a measurement of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers. Each course is rated from each set of tees for both the scratch golfer and the bogey golfer." According to the USGA, a male bogey golfer has a course handicap of approximately 20 on a course of standard difficulty; a female bogey golfer has a course handicap of about 24 on a standard course. The greater the difference between the scores of scratch golfers and bogey golfers, the higher the slope rating and the more strokes bogey golfers would then receive in a competition against scratch players. The smaller the difference, the less strokes bogey players would receive.

Who Can Use It

The USGA Handicap System is used by thousands of golf clubs through more than 100 authorized golf associations in the United States. Each golf club using the system must have a handicap committee to insure the integrity of the scores posted and indexes issued and must use course and slope ratings provided by a recognized golf association. Handicap indexes may be used by players from one course to another and from one set of tees to another.

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

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