Golf Handicap Explained

Explaining how Golf Handicapping Works and How to Improve Your Golf Handicap

For most new golfers getting a golfing handicap seems to be a huge mystery. But once you understand the ingredients involved it becomes a simple task. The handicap allows golfers of all abilities to compete fairly against each other and the golf course.

Every 18 hole golf course you play will differ from another through different terrain, some being parkland courses, some heath land courses others links or costal courses. With differently shaped holes, some perfectly flat, some hilly, some blind and some around corners called dog legs. With varying lengths of holes, some will be short holes, some mid length hole, some long holes. But each hole will have a par, which is the required number of strokes that it should be played in. Some holes will have a par of three, some a par four and some a par five. The par of each hole is determined by its length. So even though the make up of courses vary so much in length from each other, when the pars of each hole are added up you will find the par for that golf course.


Each golf course has its own score card (The one above is for Shifnal Golf Club, Shropshire) giving details of the length of each hole and its par as well as the total of those pars for the first nine holes, second nine holes and the total for the full 18 holes. It has been a tradition from golf’s earliest beginnings to play golf over two 9 holes for a full round of golf. So for example if each par for the 18 hole course all added up to 70, then that would be the score you would be expected to achieve if you had a zero or scratch handicap.

To determine your handicap on first joining a golf club, you would have to record your score of three rounds of 18 holes of golf. The average figure you score over the par of the course for those three rounds, would be your handicap. For example if your average score was 93, over a par of 70 the difference would give you a handicap of 23.

Also on a score card you will find a stroke index for each hole. Shown in the coumn after the hole par column with red numbers on the score card above. Number 1 will be given to the most difficult hole on the course and number 18 to the easiest. So if you play a match against a golfer with a lower handicap it would be unfair to play him without some assistance. Three quarters of the difference between the handicaps is given to the higher handicap player. If one player has a 12 handicap and you have a 24 handicap three quarters of the difference of 12 would be 9. So at each hole that has a stroke index of 9 and under you get a handicap stroke allowance. If for example, you score a 5 at a hole giving you a stroke allowance it becomes a 5 net 4 and if your opponent also scores a 5, then your 4 would win the hole.

Lowering your handicap can only be done by playing in competitions. If you score lower than your handicap, e.g. you score 87 from a 23 handicap on a par 70 course you have deemed to have played 6 strokes better than your handicap and the handicap secretary of the club will reduce your handicap accordingly as allowed within the rules. Hopefully if you keep on improving, one day you will eventually get down to a scratch or zero handicap!

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