How to Calculate Golf Handicap

Whether as a source of shame or pride, almost every golfer wants to know his or her handicap. Golf handicaps were first introduced in 1911 to help players of varying skill levels play a fair match. This allows a newcomer go toe-to-toe against a seasoned veteran.

While handicaps are essential to the game, knowing how to calculate golf handicap can be difficult because several calculations are required. Golfers of all skill levels can figure out their handicap if you have played at least five full games of golf.

Step 1: Adjusted Gross Score

The first thing that you need to calculate is your adjusted gross score. This is an essential part of the handicap formula, so you need this number before going forward. You’ll need your overall score from the last five 18-hole games or ten 9-hole games. Don’t pick and choose your best or worst scores, just last the most recent ones.

Calculating your overall score is simple. Add up the number of strokes that you took for each hole. Many holes have a maximum number of strokes so that inexperienced players don’t get a terrible score. For example, if the maximum number of strokes for a hole is five and it took you seven strokes, then you’ll write down five on the scorecard.

Add up all your strokes and get your total score for each game. You will then take all those scores and figure their average, so add them and divide by five or ten (depending on whether you’re using 18-hole or 9-hole scores).

For example, if your latest scores are 70, 72, 74, 68 and 70, then your adjusted gross score will be 70.8 (round up to 71).

Step 2: Calculating Handicap Differential

Aside from having your adjusted gross score ready, you’ll also need to do some research on the course you’re playing at. You’ll need to get both the course rating and slope rating. Course rating is a number figure of how many strokes it should take to complete the course, while slope rating is a figure comparing the number of bogeys golfers receive.

Both the course rating and slope rating are difficult to calculate on your own, so we won’t go over that here. You should be able to get these scores from the golf course’s website or by calling their front desk. Since everyone wants to know how to calculate golf handicap, the staff should be used to giving out these numbers.

The first thing you need to do is subtract course rating from your adjusted gross score. So, if your adjusted gross score is 71 and the course rating is 60, then you end up with 11. Multiply this number by 113. This number is always the same, so it doesn’t change regardless of where you are playing. You now have 1,243.

Now you’ll be dividing this number of the slope rating. If the slope rating is 100, then you’ll now have 12.43. Round this number to make it easier to work with to the closest tenth. In this case, that leaves us with 12.4.

Step 3: Figuring the Handicap Index

You can now use your handicap differential to figure out your handicap index. This formula gets longer the more you play, as you will soon see, but it’s relatively easy regardless of how many scores that you use.

The first thing to do is averaging your handicap differentials. This just involves adding up all the differentials and then dividing them by how many differentials that you’re using. For newer players, just use the one differential and move on to the next part of this formula.

The number of differentials you’ll be using depends on how many rounds will be played. If you’re playing five to ten rounds, then use one differential. If you’re playing 11 to 19 rounds, then use the last three to five differentials. Lastly, if playing 20 rounds, then use the last ten differentials. For most, you’ll only be using one differential in this equation.

Multiply this average number by 0.96. This number represents a bonus for excellence according to the USGA. From here, round down the number to the nearest tenth. In this example, multiply 12.4 by 0.96 to get 11.904. After rounding, your index comes to 11.9.

Step 4: Calculating the Course Handicap

You’re almost finished, now you just need to figure out the course handicap. This is the handicap that you’ll be using for the whole game and it’s the number you’ll be giving out when people ask what your handicap is.

You’ll need the slope rating again for the course you’re playing, so have that handy. Once again, you can typically get this number from the golf course itself from their website or by calling in. Each course is different, so many sure that you’re getting the right one.

Multiply your handicap index, in this case we have 11.9, by the slope rating, which we set as 100. This gives you 1,190. Divide this number by 113. This is the standard slope rating according to the USGA and will be used regardless of your skill level or where you play.

After all this, we end up with a course handicap of 10.5. According to most statistics, this would be an amazing handicap. The USGA says that the average golfer has a handicap of 15 while other sources say that 20 is common for an average golfer.

Ask around at your favorite golf course to see what everyone else is. If everyone is a golf veteran, then you might see a lower handicap, while those with newer or unskilled players might have a higher handicap.

This seems like a lot of math, and it will be a little confusing the first few times, but the equations are very simple and can be done with a calculator or paper and pencil. Once you get the swing of it, you’ll have no problem figuring out your course handicap within a few minutes.

Step 5: Improving your Handicap

While a high handicap gives you an advantage in terms of scoring, it’s also the mark that you’re a newer or unskilled player. There’s no special or secret way to lower your handicap, you just must get more skilled and practice your golf game. We’ll give you a few handy tips that can help you sink balls in fewer strokes. That’s the only surefire way to improve your handicap.

You must improve the ball’s flight path. Most new golfers focus on hitting the ball as far as possible. Distance is important, but not as important as angle. A straight path will always be better than a hook or slice, even if the hook or slice has more distance. This can lead you to going out of bounds, severely missing your target and various other issues.

Slow down your stroke and use less power until the ball goes straight. Your form must be impeccable for the best shots. Once you get used to hitting the ball straight, then you can start adding more power to your shots for longer distance. Not only will you have an easier time sinking balls, but you won’t have to worry about penalty strokes for balls that go out of bounds.

Understand your golfing capabilities. Be cognizant of your shortcomings and abilities, how far you can hit the ball and normal problems you have on the course. For example, can you easily clear obstacles, or do you constantly find yourself in the sand pit?

Apply this information when you’re playing. If you have a hard time with obstacles, then hit under and take the extra stroke to get on the green. Or if distance is your problem, it may not be an issue with power or form, but with club selection. Choosing the right club can often be the difference between a terrible shot and a great one.

While driving is the most impressive shot as you send the ball soaring for 100 or more yards, putting is arguably the most important skill for a good score. Bad putting skills can force you to take an extra one or more strokes for every hole, which can destroy your score.

Most of putting is about form. Position the ball center to your body for the best hit. When going for the backswing, transition 75% of your weight to your lead foot. This reduces roll while giving you the best amount of power and focus. Remember to keep your arms straight and only swing at the shoulders.

If you do all this, then your overall score should improve, and your handicap will go down. Soon you’ll be on par with the best players at your favorite golf course.


Learning how to calculate golf handicap isn’t a difficult process, but it does require a fair amount of math. All of this can be done with a calculator or paper and pencil, and you should be able to get many of the numbers from your favorite golf course. Just go online or give them a call for slope and course rating information. Aside from that, just get down to work and soon you’ll know your handicap.

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