The term "handicap" is an important one for amateur golfers for a number of reasons. Of course, this term--quite common in the golf world--is one with many layers. Fortunately, amateur golfers with thorough knowledge of their handicaps are well on their way to better understanding the game.
According to the USGA, a handicap scoring system is used to "make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis."
The USGA defines course handicap as a number that "indicates the number of 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." For instance, a golfer with an 18 handicap can expect to shoot 18 over par on a USGA-approved course, while a 22-handicap golfer would be expected to shoot 22 over par.
The handicapping system is most often used in scramble tournaments, the format of choice for many corporate and charity events, which tend to feature golfers of varying skill levels. At the end of these tournaments, players deduct their handicaps from their 18-hole tally to record a "final score." For instance, a golfer with a 6 handicap who shoots 78 would deduct six strokes and record a 72, while a golfer with a 10 handicap who shot 74 would deduct 10 strokes for a final tally of 64.
The term "scratch golfer" is assigned to those golfers with a 0 handicap. These golfers are expected to shoot par on a standard golf course. These golfers also aren't allowed to deduct any strokes from their final scores in scramble tournament play.
Handicap calculators, most of which are free, are available all over the Internet. These calculators have golfers input some statistics to generate a final score. This number will help golfers see progress as they continue to hone their respective games.