Ah, the golf handicap. It might be the most daunting term in any new golfer’s vocabulary. But once you understand what it is, and how to calculate it, your golf game will benefit from a host of new opportunities - especially if you’re eager to start playing competitively.
If you’re looking to incorporate a golf handicap into your scoring, this guide will go a fairway to putting you on the road to success.
What is a golf handicap?
Colloquially known as the ‘great equalizer’, a golf handicap is a key feature in any competitive game of golf.
The concept of handicapping can be traced back to the 17th century while the modern model has been used for over a century too, although it is updated on a semi-regular basis. In short, a golf handicap is a number that gauges a golfer’s ability. As with most scores related to the game of golf, a low number is better than a high number.
When playing a round of golf, the handicap figure is subtracted from a player’s score. An accurate handicap should mean that the individual’s adjusted score is closer to the course par. Of course, however, a player may still finish above or below par depending on whether they had a good or bad round on any given day.
Generally speaking, male players have golf handicaps between 0 and 28 while female players have handicaps between 0 and 36. An average male handicap is around 15 while golfers playing with a handicap of 10 or under are considered above average. Virtually all professionals will ‘play off scratch’, which means they have a handicap of 0. Achieving scratch is the aim of most golfers, although only a very small percentage ever reach it.
Why is the golf handicap important?
A golf handicap is an important aspect of the game of golf. For starters, you can start to think about it from the moment that you learn how to hit a golf ball while reducing your personal score provides an ongoing source of motivation that also enables you to track your development.
The golf handicap can be particularly useful in several situations. Firstly, if you play against friends who are more experienced or naturally better players, the handicap scores will level the playing field so that the less skilled player has an equal chance of winning a round. Besides, it is far more enjoyable to see that you hit a score of 75 rather than a score of 100.
Crucially, the handicap systems are also used for amateur tournaments. This allows courses and organizers to open the field to a far larger group of players while also creating a fairer situation where any player that shoots their best round would be in with a shot of glory.
How to calculate your golf handicap
Understanding the value of a golf handicap is one thing, but knowing how to calculate yours is another altogether. While there are several methods, the United States Golf Association(USGA) is arguably the best. Firstly, you will need to complete 12 rounds of golf before removing the best and worst scores from your calculations.
The following process of calculating your score may seem daunting at first, but it will come very naturally after a few attempts. To work out your handicap for a game of golf, you should;
- When completing a round of golf, you will cap the maximum number of shots on any given hole to 10. So, the maximum you could shoot on 18 holes is 180.
- With the new scores of your 12 (10 excluding the best and worst) rounds, you can work out how many shots you tend to shoot over par.
- Each course you play will have a course rating and slope score too, you must note these figures to work out your handicap.
The formula for calculating the score is:
Adjusted Score – Course Rating x 113 / Slope Rating
For example, if you shoot 100 on a course rating of 71 and a slope rating of 120, you will see the following calculation:
100 - 71 x 113 / 120
100 - 71 = 29
29 x 113 = 3277
3277 / 120 = 27.038
In this instance, the handicap would be 27. Of course, it is important to regularly monitor your handicap, especially as you develop as a golfer. For most players, the score will get lower over time, highlighting their growing ability as a competitive golfer.
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