Golf Handicap Guide


Are you new to the game and want to find out what golf handicaps are all about? Perhaps you are already a golfer but want to find out more about the handicapping system? Read our handicap guide for a simple explanation of golf handicaps, why they are used and how they are calculated.


What is a golf handicap?
A handicap is a system that enables players of all abilities to compete equally.

How do I get a handicap?
Handicaps can only be administered by a Golf Club that is affiliated to a Golf Union. A player must play a minimum of three, eighteen hole rounds of golf (usually with a playing partner who already holds a handicap), and submit these scores for their handicap to be calculated.

How are handicaps calculated?
Golf handicaps are calculated using an average of the three rounds a player submits. If a player has completed 18 holes in 80, 86, and 95 strokes, their average score would be 87 (80 + 86 + 95 = 261 / 3 = 87). The standard scratch score (SSS) for the course is then deducted from the average strokes taken. If the SSS is 70, the player would be allocated a starting handicap of 17 (87 – 70 = 17).

What is a Standard Scratch Score (SSS)?
The SSS for a golf course is the number of shots that a ‘scratch’ golfer is expected to take over 18 holes. This may differ from the par for the course. A scratch golfer is a player with a handicap of 0.

What is the maximum handicap a player can be assigned?
For men, the maximum golf handicap allowed is 28.
For ladies, the maximum golf handicap allowed is 36.

What is the difference between playing handicaps and exact handicaps?
Exact handicaps are calculated to one decimal place, according to returned scores from competitions. A playing handicap is a player’s exact handicap rounded to the nearest whole number, so if the exact handicap was 12.8, the playing handicap would be 13.

What are handicap categories?
Golf handicaps are split into five categories:
Category 1 – Handicaps of 5 or less (0.1)
Category 2 – Handicaps of 5.5 to 12.4 (0.2)
Category 3 – Handicaps of 12.5 to 20.4 (0.3)
Category 4 – Handicaps of 20.5 to 28 (0.4)
Category 5 – Handicaps of 28.1 to 36 (ladies only) (0.5)

How does a handicap get increased or decreased?
During competitions, if a player betters their handicap they will most likely get a reduction, or a ‘cut’ on that handicap. There are several factors that affect this such as Competition Scratch Scores (CSS) but put quite simply, if a player betters his handicap by two shots, his handicap will be reduced by 2 x the handicap category he is in.

For example: a player’s handicap is 20 and he completes a competition round in 15 over par, therefore is 5 shots better than his handicap. A handicap of 20 is in category 3, so they player will be cut 0.3 for every shot he bettered his handicap by. 5 shots better x 0.3 = 1.5 shots. His new handicap would be 18.5. When players complete competition rounds with a score worse than their current handicap, the maximum their handicap can be increased by is 0.1, and this is the same for every handicap category.