Establishing Your Golf Handicap Index

golf handicap index average golf score

What’s happening today Golf Nation,

In today’s lesson on how to get to scratch golf, we will be talking about handicaps. We need to establish a starting point of what your current scoring average is for an 18 hole round of golf. Then we can begin working to cut down your handicap and move you towards scratch golf.

If this is the first time seeing the 2017 Journey to Scratch Series of blog posts, then click the link to find the full list of posts.

In Lesson 01, we discussed the golf practice plan I will be following as I work on my golf game to get back to scratch golf. I also shared how I signed up for a season membership at a nearby golf course, giving me a place to work on my golf game each week. Have you found a course to practice yet this season?

I recommend finding a golf course that has a nice sized practice green for working on both putting and chipping skills. In addition, the golf course should have a driving range and perhaps a sand bunker as part of their overall practice areas.

Once you’ve found a golf course to call home, the next step is getting your handicap set up.

Understanding Golf Handicaps for Beginners

Part 1: Setting Expectations

When the season first begins, many golfers are coming off winter rest and have not touched a golf club in several weeks or months perhaps. I’d be included in this group as I just went to the driving range for the first time the other day to shake off some of the rust.

That being said, it’s likely your first few rounds of golf will be sloppy and have high scores compared to where you usually shoot mid season.

Case Example:

A few weeks back I played my first round of golf for the season at a nice course in Destin, Florida with some buddies while on vacation.

I shot 82 as expected and discovered I have lots of work to do on the short game as this is where most of my strokes were given up. Pars I usually convert were bogies that day because my short game is rusty still from not playing all winter.

So lesson #1 with handicaps is don’t be upset if your handicap is high at first. Expect to go out and shoot bad scores initially. This will lower your overall expectations of yourself and can actually help you perform better because you’re playing more carefree and not stressing from self-pressure.

Part 2: How to Establish Your Handicap

Calculating a golf handicap is a complicated process. There is a formula the USGA uses but it’s easiest to use an online golf handicap calculator.


The formula for those of you wondering is to subtract the course rating from your score and then multiply it by 113. Then divide this number by the slope listed on your scorecard (119 for example).

Example – Let’s say you shoot 79 today and the course rating is 72 and slope is 120. Subtract 72 from 79 to get 7. Now multiply this by 113 to get 791. Lastly, divide 791 by the 120 slope to get 6.6 as your handicap.

Why do course rating and slope matter?

Course rating and slope impact your handicap because they help indicate how difficult a golf course is. Every golf course is different in difficulty so this formula helps place you on an even playing field with other golfers playing different courses.

How many rounds of golf to establish a handicap?

Generally, you need 5-20 rounds of golf to establish your golf handicap. Start off by playing 10 rounds of 9 holes or equivalently you could play 5 rounds of 18 holes.

The handicap calculator will usually cancel out a certain number of your best and worst rounds, keeping the middle scores to calculate your handicap. I’m sure you remember math class and how Average can differ greatly from Median.

Golf typically uses your median scores so that one super bad round doesn’t kill you and one super good round doesn’t hurt you either if you’re playing in tournaments where handicap is used to group players.

If you’re a member of a golf course, they should have a handicap tracking system set up that they enter you into for a fee. For example, when I signed up at my course I had to pay a $25 handicap fee to be entered into their system. Every 2 weeks the golf club posts handicaps on a clipboard so I can see how I’m progressing and what number to use in the weekly games I play with other members.

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What is Handicap Used for?

There are many different uses for a handicap. The most common is simply to identify your average score above par. For example, if you are a 10 handicap, this means you average 10 strokes above the course rating. So if the course plays 72 as par, then you’re averaging 82.

Another use for handicap is competitions.

When I enter the city tournament in my town each summer, they group players into different tiers based on their handicap.

If they have 50 golfers enter the tournament, they might create 5 brackets and you essentially compete against only the golfers in your bracket who have similar handicaps.

If you’re in a head to head competition against another player, then handicaps help even the playing field. Let’s say you have a 19 handicap and the golfer you’re playing against is a 6 handicap.

It’s expected that you are 13 shots worse than the other golfer, so they would have to give you 13 strokes during the round to even the playing field.

Each hole is ranked from toughest (1) to easiest (18).

You’ll get one free stroke to offset your score on the toughest holes first and if you have a handicap above 18, then you’ll get more than one stroke on the toughest holes.

It’s a tough concept to grasp but if you’re a 19 handicap and your opponent is a 6 handicap then we established how he will need to give you one stroke for the first 13 toughest ranked holes to offset your scores on each of those holes.

You might bogey all 13 of those holes, but after factoring in your one stroke you end up with a “handicap par” on the hole which could tie or beat your opponents natural score depending on what they scored.

Also, grab my golf skills assessment challenge and see how good your golf skills are in different areas of the game: Driving, Iron Play, Chipping, Putting, etc.

Today’s Action Plan

First you need to determine if you’re going to join a golf course or just bounce around playing rounds of golf at different courses in your city. If you join a golf course, get set up in their handicap system and start turning in your rounds until you’ve turned in 5-20 rounds. This will be enough for the system to start spitting out a handicap.

If you don’t join a golf course, track your scores and manually enter them into an online golf handicap calculator like this one I linked to. You can also sign up with the USGA yourself.

Once you’ve established a handicap, you can begin entering the weekly money games at your golf club or use it to enter different competitions and tournaments.

In upcoming lessons we will begin reviewing the key statistics we need to track on our journey to scratch golf such as Fairways in Regulation, Greens in Regulation, Scrambling, Putts Per Round and others.

Handicap is a great metric that gives a clear picture of your average score, but we also want to analyze other metrics besides just score!

How to Follow My Journey to Scratch Golf

Now that I’m signed up for a season golf pass to my local course and I’ve told you about the practice plan I’ll be following, the next step is actually putting in the work.

Each week I’ll be publishing a blog post at night when I get done practicing, sharing a summary of my practice session and some of the results for a few of the drills. I’ll also try to log how long the practice took me to complete so that if you’re on the fence about joining the program because of time commitment, you’ll be able to see realistically what to expect.

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Poll of the Day

What’s your current golf handicap? What’s the highest handicap you’ve ever had and what’s the lowest handicap you’ve ever had? Share below in the comments and tag friends to check out these posts! Thanks (:

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