Golf Handicap Tutorial 101

Have you been wondering what a golf handicap is or where you stand versus the rest of the population by comparing yourself to the average golf handicap index?

No worries, today we will cover everything to know about golf handicaps. You’ll learn what it is, how to get into the system and start tracking your handicap index, and tips for lowering your handicap in golf.

Side Note: If you know your golf handicap, get started with one of these 3 practice plans that will help you improve greatly over 12 weeks. We made 3 separate plans for those at different handicaps trying to break 90, break 80, or break 70. Learn more about them here.

What is a Golf Handicap?

Golf handicap is a way for golfers to be compared to each other skill wise based on their scores. A handicap is “a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability based on tees played for a given course” according to wikipedia’s definition.

What this means in English is when you go to a golf course there are different tees you can play from that vary is yardages. In order to compare apples to apples we need a system that calculates everyone’s playing ability based on the course yardage, course difficulty, and their scores for 18 holes.

Then we can come up with a handicap number for each golfer to use in competitive rounds, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on pretty equal terms.

If one golfer is a 5 handicap and the other is a 9 handicap then the lower handicap golfer is considered to have a 4 shot advantage over the 9 handicap golfer. Therefore, the 9 handicap golfer gets 4 shots off their final score to put them on equal terms.

Holes are rated from 1 to 18 on a scorecard so the high handicap golfer would get a stroke subtracted on each of the 4 toughest holes.

If you are an 18 handicap and playing a scratch golfer then you would get 18 strokes off your final score so one per hole.

If you were a 19 handicap then you’d get one stroke off every hole except the hardest hole you would get 2 strokes off.

See how it works?

You subtract the difference between two players and then that’s how many strokes total you get but they must be spread out and used up on the holes based on hole difficulty. It wouldn’t make sense to use all your strokes on one hole and have a negative score for the hole.

Try out this practice plan with worksheets included and more

How is a Golf Handicap Calculated?

The golf handicap system takes the 10 best rounds of your last 20 rounds and averages them to come up with your average score.

Before spitting out a number it also considers course yardage and rating in it’s calculation since golfers can shoot the same score but play from two completely different yardages. More emphasis is given to harder rated courses and longer courses.

A golf course rating is a number that represents what the typical scratch golfer (even par) should score for that course relative to par 72.

For example, if the course rating is below 72 then a scratch golfer is expected to shoot under par and the course is considered easier. Harder courses represent ratings above 72 and mean that a scratch golfer is expected to shoot above par if they played that course.

Course yardages can range from 4,000 to 7,500 but the average distance tees that most male golfers play from is around 6,300 yards and for females it’s about 5,000 yards.

golf games with friends

Who Can Have a Golf Handicap & How to Get One?

A USGA Handicap Index is issued through licensed golf clubs. Therefore, it’s expected that you are a member of a licensed golf club/course in order to get an official handicap index.

If you’re currently a member at a golf course you can go to the head pro there or talk to the pro shop about setting up a handicap. You’ll need to record 20 rounds of golf as mentioned because the handicap system takes your 10 best scores and throws out the 10 worst.

You can turn in 9 hole scores and once you have two turned in it will match them to create an 18 hole score for you.


How Do You Rank Against the Population?

Take a look at the following chart. The index is to the left so find your handicap. Then use the cumulative total to the far right to see what percentile you rank for and what percent of the population is ahead of you. Golf Professionals don’t have handicaps so this chart represents Amateurs.

golf handicap index

So how did you compare? Here are some quick takeaways to take note of in general:

  • The Top 1% in the world have a negative handicap meaning they shoot one under par or better. For this reason, they have to add strokes to their score to make it fair when playing other opponents at the golf course.
  • The Top 3% shoot around a 73 or better
  • The Top 5% shoot around a 74 or better
  • The Top 10% shoot between 76 and 77 or better
  • The Top 20% shoot 79 or better
  • The top 30% shoot 81 or better
  • The top 40% shoot 82.5 or better
  • The top 50% shoot 85 or better
  • Only 77% of golfers break 90 consistently and therefore have handicaps at 18 or below.

So as you can see the median range for handicaps falls around an 85 and between 79 to 85 is a difference of 30% of golfers. So if you can cut your score just a stroke on average you’ll jump 5-10% of the population.

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