How To Calculate Your Golf Handicap in 3 Easy Steps

how to calculate golf handicap

Learning how to calculate golf handicap for any course is easy when you know the specific formula. With a scorecard, a calculator and this simple formula, you will find your golf handicap in no time!

Your golf handicap is the easiest way to level the playing field and know how you compare to other golfers worldwide, no matter what course you play on, from beginners to the pros. Figuring out your golf handicap is easier than you might think, especially today when you can calculate the formula right in the palm of your hands. 

Read on to learn why you should know your handicap, what information you’ll need, and a couple of different ways to calculate it. 

Why You Should Know Your Handicap

Picture this: you’ve just finished playing a round of golf with your buddy. He’s played a few times but is still pretty new to the sport; you’re a regular player, but this is the first time you’ve played at this course before. So, how do you figure out how you fared for the day? What if you made a friendly wager to see who pays for drinks later?

When you know how to calculate your golf handicap, all of these questions resolve themselves. You know how well you performed, no matter when or where you play, and you can keep the sport competitive no matter who you’re playing with.

As an avid golfer myself, I’ve been keeping track of my Handicap Index steadily for the last seven years. You wouldn’t believe how rewarding it can be to watch your handicap slowly drop over time, and it gives you some perspective on how well you perform on a variety of courses.

The funny thing about golf handicaps is that they never make sense the first time someone explains it to you. Once your pal on the course starts throwing numbers out at you, your eyes begin to glaze over. I know. I’ve been that guy too, but once you understand the basic formula to calculate your handicap, it all becomes crystal clear.

golf swing

 

What You’ll Need to Calculate Your Handicap

To calculate your golf handicap, you’ll need to know a few things. If you have a golfing app such as The Grint or The Diablo, then you’re already halfway there. If not, you’re going to need:

  • A pen/pencil.
  • A sheet of paper.
  • A calculator.
  • A course scorecard.

Your course scorecard should include some vital information you’ll need to calculate your handicap, such as the Course Rating, the Slope Rating, and your Adjusted Gross Score (AGS). Calculating your handicap through an app will save you a lot of time, though variations exist in course handicap calculator formulas. But doing it by hand isn’t too difficult once you know the formula. 

How to Calculate Golf Handicap

Once you have what you need, you can start plugging numbers into the formula and figure out what exactly your golf handicap should be for that particular outing. The equation itself is fairly simple and relies on subtraction, multiplication, and division. Tyson, from Seeking Birdies Golf, gives a pretty good breakdown of the process in this video linked below:

As Tyson states in the video, handicap keeps things equable. Even if you’re not playing with a friend on the same course, you can still use your handicap calculation to know how well you played at your respective courses.

The beautiful thing about your handicap is that it accounts for your performance on any given day and the overall difficulty of that course. So, if two players of equal ability play on different courses with vastly different levels of difficulty, their handicap should remain roughly the same.

Breaking Down the Variables:

Your Handicap score, or Index, can be figured out by using three different variables. Two of these variables are fixed on where you are playing, while the other is dependent on your performance on the greens. To help you better understand how your handicap is formulated, here is a quick break down of the variables:

1.     Course Rating

Each course has its rating, which is figured by the best average number of strokes a professional “scratch” player needs to finish the course. This number then factors in an evaluation of the course’s difficulty, which accounts for bunkers, water hazards, obstacles, and out of bounds.

A more difficult course will have a Course Rating that is slightly higher than the par number for the course. For example, a par-65 course with many obstacles and water hazards might have a Course Rating of 70, while a longer par-75 course with fewer obstacles might also have a Course Rating of 70. In the end, it all balances out. 

2.     Slope Rating

If Course Rating measures a course’s difficulty for the pros, a Slope Rating could be defined as how much more difficult a course will be for an average golfer. This rating accounts for the difference between golfers of various skill levels and will give a bogey golfer a better indication of how they will fare on the greens.

The Slope Rating takes the relative difference between these skill levels and multiplies it by a fixed number, which will churn out a number somewhere between 55 and 155. The higher the slope value, the more difficult the course for the average golfer. 

3.     Adjusted Gross Score

Your Adjusted Gross Score is the number of strokes it takes for you to complete any given course as interpreted by the World Handicap System. This procedure accounts for any unfinished or unplayed holes, conceded strokes, the maximum hole score, or the course’s net double bogey.

golf handicap calculator

Calculating Your Handicap in Three Easy Steps:

Scoring your handicap is a lot like scoring any regular round of golf. The lower your number, the better your performance.

Professional or “scratch” golfers typically play without a handicap at all. Still, even the best amateurs can benefit from exactly knowing their skill level and how their best average compares to the pros.

Here is the process you need to follow to figure out your handicap:

1.     Calculate Your Score Differential

Score differential calculation step 1

 

The first step to learning your handicap requires you to subtract your Adjusted Gross Score from the Course Rating. Both of these stats can be found on your club scorecard. Alternatively, you can look up the needed stats through various online databases such as USGA’s Course and Slope Rating Database.  

Multiply the difference between your Adjusted Gross Score and the Course Rating by 113, which is a calculated average Slope Rating. The result here would indicate how many strokes you were over par, but it would not account for the difficulty of the course.

To get the score differential, you would need to divide this number by the course’s Slope Rating. This computation should result in a two-digit number, rounded up to the tenth decimal.

Example:

Score differential calculation step 2
Score differential calculation step 2

 

The score differential will let you know your handicap is given and how you performed during that particular round and is a good reference point, but as we all know, one round does not determine your level as a golfer.

2.     Calculate Your Average Score Differential

The next step in determining your golf handicap is discovering your average score differential. The minimum number of rounds you need to play before you can give yourself a handicap index is five. From those five score differentials, you take your lowest, or best, score.

As you play more games, you begin to take the average of multiple score differentials. Once you have played ten rounds, you would take the average of your three lowest score differentials to determine your handicap.

Example: 

Last 10 Score Differentials

26.721.3
24.526.6
24.122.6
27.425.6
26.323.5
Average score differential calculation

Your average score differential will account for the last 20 rounds of golf that you play. Once you have more than 20 under your belt, you take the ten lowest score differentials and calculate the average. Since the average only accounts for the last 20 rounds you’ve played, your average score differential will always reflect your current form. 

3.     Multiply Your Average By .96

Golf handicap Formula

After determining your Average Score Differential, the third and final step to calculating your actual handicap index is multiplying your average by .96. This fixed number is often used in statistical mathematics, which accounts for the frequency distribution of various outcomes.

Example:

Golf Handicap calculation

Simply put, multiplying your average by .96 will account for any outliers in your game, so whether you perform exceptionally poor or exceptionally well, it evens out to give you a more accurate representation of your handicap. Don’t forget to round your final handicap to the tenth decimal after factoring in this number!

Different Methods of Calculating Your Handicap:

If you’re like most players, then you want to get out there and play. Fortunately, there are several resources at your disposal when it comes to figuring out the mathematics behind your handicap. Once you know your Handicap Index, you can plug in the Course and Slope Rating to determine your Course Handicap at the USGA online Handicap Calculator.

Of course, you can always try out one of the many golfing apps that are available. Many of these apps figure out not just your handicap, but also include a bunch of other neat features designed to up your game.

One of my favorite apps to use on the greens is The Grint, which is free to download and includes a fantastic satellite image birds-eye view of many popular courses worldwide. The Grint can calculate and log your handicap data so you always know what level you should be playing at for any given course.

golf course slope rating

Some Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still a little bit confused, or if you’re just skimming right on through, here are some frequently asked questions to help fill in the gaps when it comes to calculating golf handicaps: 

What is a Golf Handicap?

In golf, handicap is used in several different ways depending on the context. If you wanted to know what a viable par for a particular course is given its difficulty and your ability, this would be the Course Handicap.

Your Course Handicap gives you a better idea of how to interpret your performance and how to compare your outing with others who are playing at different skill levels other than yours.

In another context, handicap could refer to your Handicap Index. Your Index refers to your overall average performance as a golfer. This number is something you carry with you from course to course and gives you a better idea of your overall skill as a golfer.

If you play consistently at a high level and typically score low on your outings, you will have an overall lower Handicap Index. This Index reveals how you should expect to play at the expected Course Rating, and this number can also be used to determine your specific Course Handicap and how many strokes you are allowed per hole.

How Does Golf Handicap Work?

Your handicap is determined by a series of formulas and calculations that take several variables into account when assessing your potential ability at any given course. How closely you follow your handicap depends on how seriously you take your golf.

Casual players might not worry too much about keeping up with their scores in relationship with the course average and difficulty levels. However, many will still use a general rule of handicap to determine how many strokes they are allowed per hole.

From a practical standpoint, this helps keep players moving throughout the course and allow beginners a fair amount of swings to get the ball in the hole before picking up and moving on with the group. Handicap lets you keep your game in check and keeps the game moving forward, and in that respect, it is an important mechanism of the sport.

How Do I Get a Golf Handicap?

Your golf handicap is something that is calculated, either on your own or by a club official. If you are just playing among friends and there are little to no stakes in your game, then there is no reason to go all out and run your official score and handicap by the club. However, if you have professional aspirations, you will want to keep close tabs on your handicapped score.

The coursing club provides all the information you need to calculate your handicap. Once you have played enough rounds, you will form an Index, which you can use to come by a more accurate representation of your handicap.

Keep in mind that this number is not fixed, and as you develop your skills as a golfer, your handicap will eventually reflect the progress you have made.

How Do I Calculate a Golf Handicap for Just 9 Holes?

If you are serious about keeping tabs on your handicap or just feeling like playing a quick front or back nine, you can still determine what your Course Handicap should be, even if only playing nine holes.

To calculate either the front or back nine, you first take your total handicap and divide that by two. But you do not stop there. Next, you need to find out the course Slope Rating for the tees group from which you are playing. The club typically provides this information.

Multiply your halved handicap by the nine-hole Slope rating, then divide by 113 (the average slope rate) to receive your actual halved handicap. Remember to round this number up to the tenth decimal.

What is My Golf Handicap if I Shoot 100?

To quickly figure out what your handicap should be, you need to subtract your number of strokes with the overall Course Rating.

For example, on an average par-72 course, if you were finished with 100 strokes, you would subtract 72 from 100 and receive a handicap of 28. 

What is the Average Golf Handicap?

The average golf handicap for men is 16.1. For women, that number is 28.9. This average includes golfers from across the globe, so if you wanted a more specific breakdown of average handicaps, for English males, that number is 17.2, in Australia: 16.9, and in America: 14.4. 

What is a Good Golf Handicap for Beginners?

Golfers who average a double bogey on each hole typically complete an average par-72 course after 90 to 100 strokes. A brand-new golfer with little to no experience driving or putting the ball shouldn’t expect to be hitting these numbers straight away.

According to the National Golf Foundation, the average score factoring in all golfers is a little more than 100 strokes per round. If you can make contact with the ball, have a decent amount of athleticism, and understand the physics of the game, you could expect to score right around this average.

If you were to shoot about 108 strokes per round, with a 72 Course Rating, then it would be fair to set your Course Handicap at a modest 36. There are many golfing gurus out there who believe that beginners could improve to sub 100 stroke rounds in just a matter of weeks with consistent practice.

How Can I Lower My Handicap?

As is the case in learning any new skill, it takes time and dedication to improve your abilities. Lowering your handicap will take patience as you improve your game over time. There are a lot of little things you will learn the more you play.

I find that a big part of golf is teaching your body the basic motions and then performing the correct swings on a consistent basis. For beginners, a lot of this boils down to trial and error. You will learn the strengths and weaknesses of your game, and if you can identify and correct issues in your form and posture, you will never stop improving.

As you begin to lower the number of strokes it takes to complete a round, your handicap will similarly drop. Remember that it might take longer for your Handicap Index to drop since it is an average of your best, most recent score differentials. 

sunset over golf course

Some Final Thoughts

So, do you need to know your handicap to play a round of golf? Absolutely not. However, by taking the time to learn how to calculate your golf handicap and comparing it with others, you will better understand your own skills and abilities.

Playing with your handicap can also open a new dimension to how you golf with friends, as it reintroduces a competitive spirit back into the game. A healthy bit of competition can spur you on to make those improvements in your game and become a better player.

If you are serious about developing your skills and mastering the game, then knowing your handicap is intrinsically important to achieving those goals. The good news is that you can either calculate your score with pen and paper, or through an app that does the work for you.

Go ahead and share your handicap index in the comments if you feel like flexing a bit, and if you found this article helpful to understand what golf handicaps are and how they are calculated, be sure to share with your friends!


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