How the Handicap System Works WORLD GOLF HANDICAP SYSTEM - Golf Sidekick

How the Handicap System Works WORLD GOLF HANDICAP SYSTEM

Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by Matt Greene

A handicap is something that we use to play stroke play or match play games against people of differing handicap levels.

There is a lot of confusion around what a handicap is and I hope to clear up how the golf handicap system works, specifically, how the World Handicap System works.

Knowing how the system works is the first step to understanding what your handicap means. It's not what you think it is. 

How to Calculate Golf Handicap Index - Golf Handicap Explained

There is a formula that the World Handicap System uses to get your handicap index.

The index that the handicap system gives you is not your average score, but a measure of your POTENTIAL. 

Golf Handicap Meaning

A golf handicap is a number assigned as a measurement of a golfer's potential that allows people of different ability to play against one another.

For example, in a strokeplay event, a zero handicap can play against an 18 handicap. After the round, the 18 handicap must subtract 18 shots and the scratch golfer must subtract zero shots. Then we equalize for handicap. 

But you first need a handicap index in the system

What is a Handicap index

Your Handicap Index is a portable number that represents your demonstrated golfing ability. It is based on your past scores relative to the difficulty of the course and tees played, as well as the playing conditions during each one of those rounds. -  USGA

Summarized that means your score minus the stroke and course rating and playing conditions factor. So in fact your score of 90 on a par 72 course could be a differential of 12 on a difficult course or 20 on an easy course, not necessarily 18 over par!

What is a Handicap Differential?

The golf handicap is calculated using a differential. Usually golfers think that a score of 90 would be 18 over par on a par 72 golf course. That is not necessarily true. 

If the course is difficult, you will find that the system will tell you that you shot maybe 12 or 13 over par! That is the differential depending on hwich tee you played and what the playing conditions were like. 

Handicap Differential Formula

Handicap differential = (Adjusted Gross Score- course rating) X 113 / Course slope rating.

Course Rating indicates the difficulty of a course for a β€œpar” or scratch golfer

Slope rating is a measure of the difficulty of the golf course. It takes into account the USGA par rating of the course and the expected score of a higher handicap golfer. The difference between the two multiplied by 5.381 is the mens slope rating for a golf course.

Best 8 out of last 20 differentials only

The last 20 rounds you play go toward your handicap.

The WHS counts your best 8 out of those 20. That is why they say, the handicap system is a measure of your POTENTIAL and not your average score over the 20 rounds. 

What is Score Differential in Golf?

What does differential mean in golf handicap? 

The DIFFERENTIAL is the difference between your score and the stroke rating and slope rating for that day on the golf course. This does not merely mean they count your strokes and minus par and that's your handicap.

These ratings can change depending on the tee, distance, flag positions, weather conditions, turf conditions...everything.

Here's an example of someone shooting a score of 80 six times in a row. Now with only 6 scores, the system counts the 2 best.

But more importantly, note how he shot 80 with different COURSE RATINGS and SLOPE RATINGS. These are measures of difficulty and so the differential ranges from 2.6 to 8.1.

He didn't even shoot 2.5 over par once, but that's his handicap index. 

Many golfers would say that 'he is an 8 handicap because 80 minus 72 is 8'  - very wrong.

Handicap Differential Example

Here is a table of handicap differential chart. With 6 straight rounds of 80, you would think the persons handicap index is 8.

But it is actually 2.5 because with only 2 scores in the system, the system will also subtract 1 off the final index to make sure he is not cheating. This is a complicated system wouldn't you agree?

Golf Handicap Chart - Index

The thing with a handicap is that because there are 20 scores, and only 8 counting at any one time, the other 12 mean nothing, until you start replacing your good scores with higher scores.

So it's easier to go DOWN in handicap than it is to go UP. 

A scratch handicapper can shoot a 90 or a few scores in the high 80's and it's not going to make a difference to his handicap, because his handicap will be calculated from the 8 best differentials. 

Here is an example of a 3.8 handicap index:

Notice how his lowest scores are 74, 75, 75, 76, 76, 77, 77, 78 but his average score is in the low 80s.

Only the best 8 differentials count and so he is a 3.8 handicap index.

handicap conversion chart

Golf Index vs Handicap

The handicap index is "a measurement of a player's potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty,". The golfer uses the handicap index to calculate his handicap at a certain course on the day he plays, based on the difficulty/slope rating/stroke rating of that course. 

For example your HANDICAP INDEX could be 3.8 but at Bethpage Black, from the back tees, your PLAYING HANDICAP FOR THAT COURSE is actually 12 (TWELVE)!

handicap index chart

Golf Handicap Maximum Strokes per Hole

According to the World Handicap System, the maximum score you can make on a hole is the par of the hole plus your handicap for that hole plus 2 more shots.

Maximum Strokes per Hole = Par of the hole + 2 shots + the number of strokes allowed to you on the hole according to your course handicap.

If you are an 18 handicapper, you can make a maximum of triple bogey every hole. 

If you score a 10 on a par 5, your score in the handicap system will be an 8.

  • 18 handicap maximum score per hole is TRIPLE BOGEY = Par + 2 shots + 1 shot (handicap allowance every hole)
  • 36 handicap maximum score per hole is QUADRUPLE BOGEY  = Par + 2 shots + 2 shots (handicap allowance every hole)
  • Scratch golfer maximum score per hole is DOUBLE BOGEY = Par + 2 strokes + 0 strokes 

What is a 16 Handicap Golfers Average Score?

Average score of a 16 handicapper is around 90. The 16 handicapper will mostly shoot 90-95 with the occasional score below 80. Always remember that average scores are usually about 3-5 shots higher than the handicap index. 

What is a Good Handicap in Golf?

The world's average handicap is around 15 so a good handicap is anything below 10.

If your handicap is less than double digits, you will be in the top 15% of golfers in the world. Single figure golfers do not always shoot in the 70s but if your handicap is 9 or below, then you will touch the high 70s sometimes and mostly shoot low to mid 80s which is better than the majority of golfers on earth.

Average Golf Handicap of the World

The average world golf handicap is between 14 and 15. 

What is the Highest Golf Handicap (Maximum Handicap)?

The highest possible golf handicap in the World Handicap System is 54 and is usually the first handicap given to most beginner golfers.

Lowest Handicap in Golf

The lowest handicap is a plus-handicap in golf. This is when the golfer's handicap is below zero. Scratch is traditionally the goal to have as a low handicap golfer but the lowest handicaps in golf are between +1 and +8. This mean after the round, the golfer must actually ADD shots to their gross score.

If a +4 handicapper shoots a 71, he has to add 4 shots to his score, which means his NET score is actually a 75, to be able to compare to other golfers in the amateur field. 

Professionals do not use handicaps - only amateurs. 

What is Adjusted Gross Score in Golf?

An adjusted gross score in golf is a golfers full score, counting all the strokes, adjusted under the World Handicap System calculations for unfinished holes where you pick up, any holes you missed, or did not play under the Rules of Golf, or Maximum Hole Score/Net Double Bogey.

Gross Score vs Net Score

Your gross score is the total number of strokes you hit on every hole, from tee until you hit the ball in the hole. Your net score is the total strokes you hit for the day, minus the number of handicap strokes that you get according to the course handicap. or example, if you score an honest 85 and on the day, you have a Course Handicap of 11 then your GROSS score would be 85 and your NET SCORE would be 74.

GROSS SCORE (Total strokes you counted) minus COURSE HANDICAP = NET SCORE

What is a 17 Handicappers Average Score?

The average score of a 17 handicap golfer is 92. You can generally add 17 strokes to a par of 72. Then you add 3-5 strokes on top of that for the average score. 

12 Handicap Average Score

To play to a 12 handicap in golf, your average score is around 87. This will depend on the tees, slope rating and course rating.

What is a good golf handicap for a beginner golfer?

A good handicap for a beginner golfer is anything between 20 and 30. The maximum allowable handicap for a male golfer is 54 so if you can begin with a handicap lower than 30, you have a very good handicap for a beginner. 

If I shoot 100, what is my handicap?

If you shoot 100, your handicap is 22.

What is my handicap if I shoot 90?

Your golf handicap is 15 if you shoot 90 multiple times in a row. 

What is my golf handicap if I shoot 85?

Your golf handicap is 10 if you shoot 85 every round for at least 3 rounds. 

Average Score Chart of Every Handicap Index below 24

Average score

Golf Handicap Chart

Handicaps are distributed on a bell curve much like every other human ability. The golf handicap charts below show that most golfers are between 8 and 18 handicap. Lady golfers have higher handicap in general.

Golf Handicap Distribution Curve

golf handicap chart distribution

Percentage of Golfers By Handicap Chart

This chart shows the percentage of golfers by handicap level by gender.

What percentage of golfers are single digit handicap?

29% of golfers play to a single figure handicap according to the USGA. In a clubhouse of 100 people, 29 of the golfers will be a 9.9 handicap or lower.

What percentage of golfers are scratch?

3% of golfers are scratch. One out of 33 golfers is a scratch handicap which shows just how impressive that is. 

Is a scratch golfer good?

Scratch golfers are very good and average around 74 or 75 strokes from further back tees. But the one misconception is that they shoot level par every round with scores of 72. The fact is that scratch golfers are in the top 4% of handicap index, so they are very good compared to the average golfer. They still do not average level par scores. That is the realm of plus-handicap golfers. 

What is better than a scratch golfer?

A plus handicap golfer is better than scratch. Scratch golfers generally average a score of about 74 to 75. A plus handicap golfer is shooting below the stated rating of the course considering the slope rating. Their average score is between 70 and 73. Less than 2% of golfers are plus handicap.

Average golf handicap after 1 year

The average handicap for golfers who have played for one year is 27. One year is not a long time in golf and while some people will improve drastically by taking lessons or focusing on the game intensely, there are many more golfers who will take some time to improve enough to drop their handicap below 30. The game is difficult and no one should be discouraged by a number like handicap. 

Conclusion - Handicap index is a measure of potential

Now that you know how the handicap system works, you can understand that it's merely a measure of someone's potential. It is not an attack on your person or your character to have someone announce their handicap is lower than yours. 

Golf indexes are your potential and the handicap you have at a particular course on a particular day is based on the difficulty of the course. Your average score is not your handicap. If you want to lower your handicap, you should watch my channel and check out my articles on 10 to 15 handicap irons and 9 to 15 handicapper drivers.

Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by Matt Greene