How Does a Golf Handicap Work?

By Steve Silverman

A golfer's handicap is calculated by determining his average score against par over a number of rounds. If par for a given course is 72 and the golfer has averaged a score of 85 over his last 10 rounds, he would have a handicap of 13. As he finishes more rounds at the course and turns in his official scores, his handicap can go up and down. However, once a handicap has been established, it is difficult for the score to go up more than a few shots in a given season

How It Works

A golfer's handicap is calculated by determining his average score against par over a number of rounds. If par for a given course is 72 and the golfer has averaged a score of 85 over his last 10 rounds, he would have a handicap of 13. As he finishes more rounds at the course and turns in his official scores, his handicap can go up and down. However, once a handicap has been established, it is difficult for the score to go up more than a few shots in a given season

How It's Used

Golfers often use their handicaps to even the competition when playing with other members of the same course. If a golfer with a 15 handicap is playing against a golfer with a 5, the second golfer is expected to beat the first by about 10 shots per round. To make the competition more even, the first golfer will be allowed to subtract 10 strokes from his final score. If he has shot an 83 on the round and the second golfer has shot a 75, the first golfer will win the match because his score with the handicap applied is 73.

How to Get a Handicap

A golfer gets an official handicap once he or she has completed at least 10 rounds at an official United States Golf Association course. Scores must be kept on an official scorecard and it needs to be signed by the golfer and one of his playing partners for his score to be considered official. Once you have sent in 10 official scores that have been recognized by the USGA, the organization will send you a handicap card. You can keep that card in your wallet and show it to your competitors when they want to know what your handicap is.

About the Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.

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