The term "handicap" is used frequently in golf. And while many golfers use the term, some do so without actually knowing its official definition--and what it signifies. Fortunately, there is a hard-and-fast definition for a golf handicap, as well as a way to calculate it.
A handicap is a numerical calculation of a golfer's on-course ability. The lower a golfer's handicap, the better golfer he is considered. As an example, a golfer with a 2 handicap is considered substantially better than a golfer with a 12 handicap.
A golf handicap is calculated by compiling a golfer's recent scores and comparing those scores against the difficulty of the courses that were played. For instance, a golfer who shoots 90 on a course rated 72 is an 18 handicap, while a golfer who shoots 80 on a course with a rating of 68, would be a 12 handicap. The United States Golf Association (USGA) introduced this system in 1911 as a way of gauging players' abilities against course difficulty.
The highest allowed handicap by the USGA is 36 for men and 40 for women. However, anyone with a handicap above 20 is generally considered to have a high golf handicap.
Handicaps are also awarded to golf courses to give players an idea how difficult a course may be. The two handicaps assigned to courses are course rating and slope rating. Course rating is what a golfer with a 0 handicap should score on the course, while a slope rating is what a "bogey" golfer (18 handicap) should score when compared to the course rating.
There are numerous online golf calculators available. A player can input his recent scores, as well as the USGA course ratings and course slopes of each, and receive his handicap number. This can help a player when participating in scramble tournaments or other competitions, most of which factor handicap into the scoring equation.