In golf what is a handicap

In golf what is a handicap

New players and also seasoned golfers sometimes struggle to understand the handicapping system in golf, I get asked a lot of times working at a golf club – In golf what is a handicap, it can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be if you look at it logically.

In this article, I am going to try and explain it so it should become a lot clearer to understand – hopefully!

A golf handicap is a number which is allocated to a golfer to measure his or her potential ability of the game of golf. In a medal or stroke play event it is used to calculate the nett score after deducting the handicap from the gross score – so to keep it simple – the Par of the course is say 72, the golfer shoots a gross score of exactly 100, minus their handicap which is say 28, so that makes it a nett score of 72, so the handicap golfer playing off of 28 has shot a score of 72 which is Par!


This also enables all golfers of all capabilities to play each other off of an even playing field, so a 28 handicap golfer could, in theory, play a scratch or zero handicap golfer in match play and WIN the match dependent on the strokes received – which is pretty unique in all sports because a top class tennis player, for instance, could not play an amateur player because there is no handicapping system in other sports. In golf what is a handicap - Scorecard

In horse racing they have a handicapping system where it is judged on previous results, which is called recent form, the penalty they receive in horse racing is a weight handicapping system which in theory should slow the horse down and bring that particular horse back on an even playing field with the rest of horses in the race – are you starting to get the picture?

However, handicaps are not used in the professional game of golf unless possibly you might be playing in a Pro-Am tournament, then handicaps are applied to give everyone playing a chance of scoring well regardless of ability and talent. Amateur golfers are allocated their handicaps after completing 3 score cards in a competition or general play, as long as at least one of the three scorecards is under 100, this then entitles the man to a maximum handicap of 28.

If a handicap golfer is playing in a club competition or event you then have to work out where he or she gets their strokes and on which holes if the event is not a stroke play event – if you are playing a Stableford event when you score points on each hole you then have to refer to the course scorecard and work out where you get your strokes or allowances.


Each golf course rates their golf course by a thing called stroke index, hole stroke index number one being deemed the hardest hole on the course and stroke index number eighteen being deemed the easiest hole on the course, all of these indexes have been worked out on historical scoring on each of the 18 holes.

So if you had an 18 handicap you would receive one stroke per hole, if you bogey the hole (one over par) then you could get 2 points because you received a stroke on it, if you should a double bogey (two over par) you would get 1 point – and if you scored a par on a hole you get a stroke on you would receive 3 points – all nice and clear isn’t it!

The whole idea of a Stableford competition is to score 36 points if you have played to your handicap, so 2 points per hole on average gives you 18 holes x 2 points per hole = 36 Stableford Points.

So in conclusion, a golf handicapping system was devised to give all golfers of all standards and capabilities of winning regardless of how good or proficient they are at the game, it is an easy system but a lot of people just over complicate it on many occasions – but hopefully this article will shed a bit of light on the system for you?

Here is another article about Rules in Golf – CLICK HERE to read the article.

I hope that this article in golf what is a handicap if you have any questions regarding this article please do not hesitate to leave me a comment below I will be glad to respond to any comments left.

Happy Golfing as Always.


Michael Baker
Bogeys to Birdies

6 Responses

  1. Bogeys to Birdies says:

    Hi Rhys,

    Thanks for your comments regarding the article In Golf What is a Handicap, the reason they have a handicapping system in golf is to allow all players of all abilities to compete on a level playing field so that everyone can enjoy the game – however it is not necessary in the professional game.

    Hope that answers your question? if you have anymore please do not hesitate to drop me a message.


    Michael Baker

    Bogeys to Birdies – Golf Tips for the Serious Golfer

  2. Bogeys to Birdies says:

    Hi Rhett,

    Thanks for your comments regarding the article In Golf What is a Handicap, the reason that the handicap system was brought about was that all ‘amateur’ golfers could play the game to the best of their ability and beat the best amateurs in the field, so gives everyone an even playing field.

    Thanks for your feedback and if you have any other questions regarding golf in general please don’t hesitate to drop me a message.


    Michael Baker

    Bogeys to Birdies – Golf Tips for the Serious Golfer

  3. Bogeys to Birdies says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for your response regarding the article In Golf What is a Handicap, it such an easy system to understand if you just break it down and think about it logically. In response to your question where did the term ‘Scratch’ golfer come from, here is the answer : That meaning of scratch goes back to the late 18th century. From there it came to apply specifically to the starting point, in a handicap, of a competitor who received no odds.

    If you have any further questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me.


    Michael Baker

    Bogeys to Birdies – Golf Tips for the Serious Golfer

  4. Eric Cantu says:

    I’ve asked this same question many times, and absolutely forgotten the answer every time, lol. I like the way you break it down.

    When you describe it as getting an extra stroke per hole, it finally came together for me. One other question though, where does the term “scratch” golfer come from?

  5. Rhett says:

    I have always wondered what a handicap in golf was- at least ever since I saw Caddie Shack for the first time! SO now I understand what a handicap is but now I am trying to understand why it would be allowed in a tournament situation. Instead of having a handicap, why don’t they just hold tournaments for people of different skill levels? Handicapping kind of seem like it cheapens the competition to me.

  6. Rhys says:

    Hi Michael

    I’ve never really known what the handicap system for golf was until now so thanks for the informative oversight of the system. I’m still left wondering though. Why is there a need for handicaps in golf? I know you explained in your third paragraph but I’m still not too certain on why it’s necessary.

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