Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

An Easy Guide to the Golf Handicap System

An Easy Guide to the Golf Handicap System

One inevitable question for every golfer is – what is your handicap? Although this is a highly used word in the golf community, many fans and beginner golfers struggle to comprehend what a golf handicap is and how it is calculated. Sit tight as we seek to demystify this seemingly ‘tough’ subject.

What is the Golf Handicap System?

This is a way of measuring a golfer’s ability in comparison to other players. The golf handicap system allows golfers of different skill levels to compete fairly in various formats. By applying this system, a novice golfer can compete against a pro like Tiger Woods on fair terms.

What is a Handicap?

This is a numerical representation of the playing ability of a specific golfer. Your handicap is used to adjust your score, allowing you to compete on an equal footing with other golfers, regardless of your skill level. Simply put, the lower your handicap, the better a golfer you are. For male players, handicaps are measured from 0 to 28, while female players are handicapped from 0 to 36.

A scratch golfer has a handicap of 0, and only 2% of golfers attain this fete. An average player is known as a bogey golfer, with a handicap of around 20. Beginner golfers start on the farthest end at 36 or 28 and work their way up. Low handicappers range from 9 and below, mid handicappers between 10 and 20, and high handicappers above 20.

Brief History of The Golf Handicap System

The earliest record of golf handicapping dates back to the late 17th century, in Edinburgh student Thomas Kincaid’s diary. However, the word handicap was applied in golf in the late 19th century when the sport gained traction in Britain. The British system involved a three-score average where a golfer’s top three scores during the year would be averaged and then the result subtracted from par.

In 1911, the USGA introduced its handicap system based on the British three-score average, but upon realizing the system was highly unfair, they set on establishing a better mechanism. From here the par rating system was born, calculated based on the scores of scratch golfers, the slope rating, and course handicap ratings. The par rating system measures a course’s difficulty based on the average scores of a bogey (average) golfer relative to a scratch golfer.

The USGA system was used across North America, but seeing that five other associations had their respective systems: Britain’s CONGU Unified Handicapping System, Europe’s EGA Handicap System, Golf Australia Handicap System, South African Handicap System, and Argentinian Handicap System, there was confusion, especially in international competitions.

This created the need for a universal single handicapping system for every golf course globally, and the World Handicap System was established in 2020. The WHS replaced all other foreign systems from the six worldwide golf associations and has since been adopted by over 119 countries in the world.