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What is a Handicap in Golf?

What is a Handicap in Golf?

What is a Handicap in Golf ? You would like to know exactly what the term handicap means in golf if you are new to this game. Or, maybe you are familiar with golf, but would like to learn more regarding the handicap system. Read this simple guide for an explanation of the term golf handicap. We will also explain why people use it commonly.


The Golf Teachers Federation in the United States defines handicap as a measure of a player’s existing ability over a complete golf round. Furthermore, they denote this by a number. The higher the number, the worse the player is. A golf handicap indicates the number of strokes below or above par a golf player has the ability to play.


The term handicapping originates from horse racing. As betting on your favorite horse is common practice, every jockey has his odds for a race. These odds were handed to a jockey on a paper in a cap. This was known as hand in cap.

In the middle of the 19th century, numerous professional golfers made a majority income by wagering on their excellent golf skills. Handicapping gave these top golfers the chance to set up matches with amateurs golfers.

Is there any Difference between Exact Handicaps and Playing Handicaps?

An exact handicap is calculated correct to a single decimal place. This is based on the returned scores from competitions. In contrast, playing handicaps are a golfer’s exact handicap, which they round to the closest whole number.

Although the term handicap is in wide use often in golf circles, for most novice golf players, the term is unfamiliar and seems foreign. Nonetheless, the fortunate part is that there is a strict definition for handicap. Furthermore, there are some easy ways of calculating it.

Quality Handicaps

As per the USGTF, a handicap is based on a pre-set difficulty rating or levels. To a large extent, this calculation depends on various courses you play on. For a male golfer, the highest handicap is 36. For females, the number is 40. Handicap scores depend on recent playing performances and can fluctuate with time.

Fair Play

The USGTF contends that handicaps provide golfers of different abilities and skills to compete in a fair match against one another, depending on the discrepancies in their respective handicaps. For example, a 15-handicapper can receive 5 strokes before a 10-handicapper starts his game. Hence, you can think of it as a head start in terms of stroke play, the golfer who earns the lowest net score, handicap subtracted from total strokes, wins the round.

Handicap Abuses

Although the handicapping system in golf is for keeping the game fair for all golfers, some golfers tend to manipulate or tinker with the system. They do this to improve their odds of defeating their opponent in a handicapped match.

Some golfers have the unscrupulous habit of regularly inflating their scores to achieve a better handicap index compared to what they had when they applied that index to a given tournament. This results in a better and more competitive score. This practice in golf is called sandbagging.

About Jay Westerlund

Jay Westerlund is a PGA Professional and has been in the golf world for most of his life. He has worked in the golf industry in many capacities, but most recently as the Director of Golf and Membership at the Club at Renaissance in Fort Myers, FL. Jay still loves playing golf at a high level and exploring the top golf courses all across Florida. In his downtime, Jay enjoy’s writing blog articles for FloridaGolfing.com. Having Jay’s input from a PGA level is invaluable and our readership loves reading top golf course recommendations from his perspective. Jay and his wife, Nicole, are the proud parents of two beautiful girls, Grace and Ruth. Jay grew up in Indiana, where he learned to love golf. He played on a scholarship at the University of California, Davis where he was recognized as an All-American and was inducted into the UC Davis Golf Hall of Fame. Jay’s is the co-founder of Snowbird Pro’s, where he is chasing his lifelong dream of combining his love of golf with his desire to help people find their perfect home on the perfect golf course.

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