How a Golf Handicap Works

If you’ve been golfing for a bit, you’ve probably heard about other people’s golf handicap. However, you may have dismissed it because you don’t know what it means, what the average golf handicap is, or how to calculate your own handicap. We will provide that insight so that you can figure out your own handicap and some ways to improve it.

What Does Handicap Mean in Golf?

A golf handicap is a measure of a golfer’s potential. It is a number calculated and assigned to each golfer based on several factors. The golf handicap was developed to allow players of differing abilities (amateur vs pro) to compete against one another. A golfer’s handicap reflects the “average best”, not your average score.

The lower your handicap is, usually means that you are a better golfer than others. As you start out you want to play with players who have a similar handicap (or skill level) to you. As you improve, you will want to play with golfers with a lower handicap to learn from them and improve your own skills.

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap?

It is relatively simple to calculate your golf handicap. If you’ve never played before, you won’t have a handicap yet. If you want an official handicap, you have to be a member of a golf club authorized by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA). 

First, you need to keep score on your next few rounds of golf. The USGA handicap is based on the ten best scores from a golfer’s last twenty rounds, with each round equal to 18 holes. Each hole on the course has a predetermined number of strokes, or par, that a golfer should need to complete a hole. Count how many strokes it takes from your golf tee to get your ball into the hole, and then you can figure out your score by determining how many strokes above or below par it takes for you to finish each hole. 

After playing at least twenty rounds, you will take your ten best scores (or ten lowest scores) and then average those scores to get your handicap index.

There is also a golf handicap differential which takes into account the difficulty of the golf course. Every golf course has a course rating and a slope rating which are used to indicate how difficult the course is. Once you have that, you can calculate your course handicap by using the following equation: Score minus Course Rating, multiplied by 113, then divided by Slope Rating, or:

(Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

Once you calculate this, you’ll be able to see how you compare with others who may have played more difficult courses.

What is a Good Golf Handicap?

On average, a handicap of 15.0 to 20.0 is considered average by the USGA. However, this range is only based on recorded handicaps. Many golfers do not have a recorded handicap because they don’t belong to a club, so the average handicap may be higher. 

How to Improve Your Golf Handicap?

Now that you have your average score, you’re probably looking to improve your handicap. There are several things you can work on such as practicing at the driving range, purchasing better equipment, and testing out new courses. 

The first thing that can help you improve your score is to work on your short game. This is one area where you can make quick gains on improving your score. You also can practice your putting game in your backyard or at home. Make sure that you select the best putter or a good face balanced blade putter and set an appointment every week to practice your stroke. 



Putting strokes are not very strong or fast, but require you to hit the right direction. Try drawing a chalk line on your practice green and then work on training yourself to strike the ball and move it in a straight line. 

Once you see your score improving, start working on the next step of your short game. You need to produce consistent numbers with the different pitch distances. Bring your 3 wedge set to your practice green and practice your wedge shots from different distances, focusing on hitting targets. These are the most important areas where you can decrease the number of strokes you take. Instead of spending your time at the driving range, spend more time with your wedge and putter to improve your accuracy and improve your handicap.