How to Calculate Golf Handicap

Use our handicap lookup for an official USGA Index

Golf handicaps began in the USA in 1911. The USGA has been modifying and improving the handicap system ever since. The USGA is the authority on official handicaps, even winning court cases against those trying to challenge that authority.

If you want to compete in official USGA sanctioned golf events, you will have to have a Handicap Index®. This is not optional. And even if the event is not an official USGA tournament, there are numerous amateur golf tournaments that will require an official USGA handicap for you to participate.

Before we explain how golf handicaps are calculated, let's understand the goal of handicapping. The official wording from the USGA states: "The purpose of the USGA Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable by enabling players of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis."

So what the USGA is trying to do is ensure that players can compete on a level playing field. With a golf handicap, the theory goes, players can have a fair contest, adjusted for their abilities.

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding your golf handicap and how it's calculated.

Know the Handicap Factors

  1. You: Your Handicap Index is calculated based on your play at one or many courses. But it's important to note that your handicap may change from course to course. So you will have both a personal handicap and in effect a course handicap.
  2. Ability: Remember that your golf handicap is based on your "potential" ability, and not every score you've ever shot. The goal if to calculate your handicap over a representative number of rounds, eliminating your worst rounds and even your worst holes. Generally this means your best 10 scores out of your last 20 rounds will be used to calculate your official handicap. But if you don't have 10 scores, your handicap will be adjusted based on the number of rounds you do have, which is known as the Handicap Differential.
  3. Slope Rating®: this allows adjustments to your golf handicap based on the difficulty of the course. Obviously scores will be much lower on an easy course, so this is taken into account.
  4. Tees Played: Slope ratings will change, even on the same course, based on the tees you play. So the 7,200 yard back tees will have one Slope Rating and the 6,500 white tees will have a different Slope rating, which means your handicap is different based on the tees you play on a given day.

What to Know about Your Golf Handicap

The net is it's not very simple to calculate your handicap, but if you are one to dive into the details, you can learn the entire process from the USGA website.

So what should you do about calculating your handicap? It depends, but you have a couple of options:

  1. If you plan to play in official amateur golf tournaments, you need an offical USGA Handicap Index. Local golf courses often have this service available as long as you live within 50 miles of the course. You may want to start by contacting your local state golf association - the list can be found here.
  2. If you just want to get a general idea of what your unofficial handicap may be, use our FREE online tool » calculate golf handicap.