How the Handicap System Works in Golf

March 17, 2021

When you’re first learning to play golf, one of the most confusing aspects is the handicap system.

The good news is, most beginners don’t know what their handicap is anyway! It takes some time and a few rounds of golf with your friends to get there, so it’s nothing to fret about. Below, we break down the basics…


What is a handicap in golf?

Handicaps were first developed in Scotland in the 1800s. For new players, Scottish golfers coined the terms “third-one” or “half-one,” which essentially means that the newer player would get a stroke every three or two holes compared to their more seasoned counterparts. 

It wasn’t until later that the United States Golf Association developed a formula that involved course ratings, slope computing and how that averages out with a golfers stroke. The complicated system determines how many strokes a player should get on each hole compared to the national average. 

Confusing, right? There’s a lot to remember. But the system was designed to even the playing field based on the natural ability of the golfers. So, understanding how it works can actually help you.

Now onto the good stuff. Let’s take a look at how to determine your handicap — if you have one.


Okay, here’s how handicaps are calculated…

Like most math problems, a handicap is a formula. First, you need to gather information like your adjusted score, the course rating and the actual rating for the set of tees you played. Once you have all that, you can plug it into the below formula. 

(Your Adjusted Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Actual Rating for Selected Set of Tees

Some things to note:

  • For new golfers, a triple bogey is a maximum on each hole 
  • 113 is the average course difficulty, so if you know the course rating for where you played, use that instead

You can calculate as few as five scores, but the lowest is used to figure out your individual handicap. So, you want to enter all your scores to get the most accurate number. 

But really, the first step to figuring out your handicap is to start golfing. Grab a friend and head to an 18-hole golf course. Both of you will need to carefully track the numbers during the game, and at the end, you and your friend will sign your scorecard and turn it in. 

If you have a handicap, you’ll sign-up for one with your home course or register with a golf association. They’ll keep that on file for every time you join a game.


Come play with CA

CA provides a great golf experience for all ages and skill levels. Our two courses, Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club and Fairway Hills Golf Club, offer different experiences and options for play. Plus, you don’t have to be a CA member or even live in Columbia to enjoy our state-of-the-art courses. Learn more here.

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