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How to Establish a Golf Handicap

In golf, a handicap index is a calculated number that measures your skill level. Very basically, the lower your handicap, the better golfer you are.

There are two ways to figure out your golf handicap: Officially, through the governing body of golf, or unofficially, using math to estimate it.

For many tournaments and leagues, you’ll need an official golf handicap index, so this guide will start there.

Establishing an Official Golf Handicap

Having an official handicap index is the way to go if you plan on playing regularly in any sort of organized golf league, tournament, or event. In fact, some golf events require you to have an official handicap index, so having one established is a good idea.

The process involves a few steps, but isn’t difficult. Here’s what you need to do to establish an official handicap index:

Join or Create a Club

The first step in attaining an official handicap index is joining a golf club. Types of clubs you’ll be able to join include:

  • Men’s club
  • Women’s club
  • Country Club

Check with your local golf courses for handicap-authorized clubs. If you join an existing club that’s already been registered for handicap indexing, you can skip to the third step.

If you don’t have an authorized club to join, don’t worry. You can also choose to create a club. All you need is a group of ten golfers who play together often. Gather ten friends, play together regularly, and call it a club. Then you’ll be ready for step two.

Register with the Governing Body

Once you’ve created a new golf club, it’s time to register with the organization that controls the handicap system for your country. In the United States, it is the governing body of golf, the United States Golf Association (USGA). You’ll need to visit the USGA’s website. There, a licensing program for clubs is available, and you can enroll yours rather easily.

Play Golf & Submit Scores

This is the fun part.

As a member of an authorized golf club, you’ll now be able to register your scores. Your scores, along with the difficulty of the course(s) you play (which is determined using statistics including course rating and slope rating), will determine your handicap. After five scores have been submitted, you’ll establish an official golf handicap index.

The more golf you play, the more scores you’ll have to submit. As you improve, you’ll see your handicap index drop. Eventually, if you really put the time and effort in, you can get to a handicap index of zero, making you what’s known as a scratch golfer.

Estimating Your Golf Handicap

For those of you who aren’t as involved in organized golf, you may just be curious to see an estimate of your handicap. In that case, you can figure it out using some good old-fashioned mathematics.

Here’s what you need:

  • Your five most recent scores
  • The course rating(s) for the course(s) you played (located on the scorecard)
  • The slope rating(s) for the course(s) you played (located on the scorecard)

Once you’ve gathered that information, follow these steps for each of your scores:

  1. Starting with one score, subtract the course rating.
  2. Multiply that number by 113.
  3. Divide that number by the slope of the course.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for the remaining four scores.
  5. Select the lowest of those numbers (this is called the differential).
  6. Multiply that number by 0.96.
  7. Cut off that number after the first decimal place.

Now you have an estimated calculation of your handicap!

Hot Tip: Skip Most of the Math

If you want a more basic way to estimate your handicap, don't bother with such a complicated equation. Instead, take the average of your last five to ten scores, subtract the average par, and take 80 percent of that.

Example: Imagine that your average score is 92 on a par 72 course. The difference is 20, and 80 percent of 20 is 16. In this example, your handicap is roughly 16.

Remember, this is just a general idea of what your handicap is. For an official golf handicap index, read the first section of this guide.

Keeping Track Matters

Establishing an official golf handicap may or may not be required, depending on your situation. But having it – or at least a good estimate of it – definitely matters.

Keeping track of your handicap ensures that golfers of different skill levels compete on an even playing field. Plus, knowing and updating your handicap is a great way to set goals and see your progress. Now that you know what’s involved, you’ll be able to do just that.

A golf handicap lets you and your playing partners know your skill level. Getting an official handicap index or estimating your handicap is simple with this guide.
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