Learn How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap Step by Step

how to calculate your golf handicap

Do you want to know how to calculate your golf handicap?

Figuring out your handicap can be a bit tricky, especially if you want to calculate it manually. But we’ve laid out a 6-steps process to make it easier. The formulas below are updated after the USGA’s changes back in 2020.

You’ll also see how to calculate it easily with the help of apps and handicap calculators.

And once you know your numbers, you’ll be able to understand what to do to improve your handicap and lower your scores.

So, if you’re ready to find out how to calculate your golf handicap, let’s get started!

What Your Golf Handicap Means

A handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential ability. The lower the handicap, the better the golfer is expected to perform in any golf match or round.

It is usually used to determine how a player performed compared to their average level as opposed to a direct head-to-head matchup.

Handicaps are calculated using a complicated formula that takes into account a player’s recent performance history. The USGA (United States Golf Association) progressively changed the minimum number of rounds required to calculate the Handicap Index Factor from 5 rounds to just 3.

A “par” is the number of strokes that a skilled golfer should take to complete a hole on a specific hole. This functions as a reference for experienced golfers to compare their scores against what’s expected. Most golf courses have Pars of 3,4 or 5 – So that would mean seasoned golfers should complete these holes in 3,4 or 5 shots respectively. This is just an example.

When a golfer has a handicap of zero, they are called a “scratch golfer” and are expected to complete most holes on the golf course within the expected Par define by the golf course.

On the other hand, a “bogey golfer” is someone who will typically shoot one or more strokes over par on any given hole. In fact, the USGA defines bogey golfers within this range:

“A player with a USGA Handicap Index of 17.5 to 22.4 strokes for men and 21.5 to 26.4 for women”

How does a golf handicap help when playing golf?

A handicap can help when playing golf by giving the golfer a clear goal to strive for, and by providing a way to compare one’s progress over time. Handicaps can also be used to fairly match players of different skill levels against each other in competitions.

Having a specific number gives you a picture of where you currently are with your golf game and allows you to take specific steps to lower the handicap and keep track of your progress too. This would be much harder to do without a handicap.

How and When Do You Use a Handicap?

Handicaps are used in order to make the game of golf more fair and balanced. When playing with others, each person’s handicap is used to determine how many strokes they get on average on each round. For example, if a golfer has a handicap of 10 that means the average of this golfer’s previous rounds has been 10 over par.

Handicap strokes are typically given out at the USGA and golf association sanctioned tournaments. In order to use your handicap, you must first post a score in a USGA or golf association event. Once you have done so, your handicap will be available to you on their website. You can then use it at any time to lower your score in relation to your handicap. This can be helpful when competing in a tournament against players with a lower handicap than yourself.

How to Calculate Your Golf Handicap after 2020? (Manually)

Today there are endless apps and software to easily calculate your handicap simply by providing some basic values. But still, if you want to know the process to manually calculate it, we detail it below.

But before you follow the steps to calculate your handicap, why do we reference 2020? Because that year the USGA made important updates to the way handicaps are calculated.

One of the biggest changes being that the minimum number of rounds required to calculate the Handicap Index Factor was lowered from five rounds to just three.

Another major change was introducing the course rating as a factor to compare one course handicap to another. Not all courses are equally complex.

This can be a helpful number to know because it gives you a reference point to compare your scores against and strive to improve upon.

Here’s the not-so-simple process to calculate your golf handicap manually.

Step 1. Change the gross scores into an adjusted total score

First of all, you’ll need to adjust gross scores to the USGA’s Equitable Stroke Control (ESC). This is to make sure that no one score unduly skews your average.

The ESC limits the maximum number of strokes per hole based on the player’s Course Handicap. For example, if your Course Handicap is 18, then the maximum score you can apply here is 7. Follow the table below.

Course HandicapMaximum Score
Nine or LessDouble Bogey

Step 2. Calculate the handicap differential for each score

After you have your ESC-adjusted total score, the next step is to calculate the score differential for each score.

The handicap differential follows this formula:

Handicap differential = (Adjusted Gross Score-rating of the course) X 113 / Course slope ratings.

You can find the rating of the course on the scorecard. The course slope rating is a number that indicates the difficulty of a course for a golfer.

The average course has a slope rating of 113.

A course with a slope rating of 100 is relatively easy, while a course with a slope rating of 140 is fairly difficult.

Step 3. Picking the lowest handicap differential

Now that you have your handicap differential for each round, the next step is to select the lowest one.

This is because your handicap is meant to reflect your potential, not just your average score.

The best way to think of it is that your handicap is the score you’re capable of shooting on any given day, regardless of how you actually play.

Step 4. Calculating the average of the smallest value from the differentials

This step is about taking the number from Step Three and calculating the average of the smallest value from the differentials. When you have 10 handicap differentials (HD) available, you would calculate the average of the lowest 3 HD. If you have 15, you would of the same for the best or lowest 6 HD.

This number is then multiplied by 0.96 to get your final handicap index number (HIN).

Step 5. Truncating your final value

As complicated as it sounds, it simply means to take your final handicap index number and leave the number to the right if the comma.

This is following what the USGA states.

The highest Handicap Index in a round of golf should be 40.4 for women and 36.4 in the case of men for an 18-hole course.

It would be 20.2 and 18.2 for women and men respectively for a 9 hole course.

As an example, if your Handicap Index Value ends up being 17.563, truncating would result in 15.5

Step 6. Calculate the course handicap

This formula applies to a specific course. Each golf course will vary in conditions and difficulty so this is the step to calculate your course-specific handicap.

You start using this formula:

Course handicap = Handicap Index X Slope Rating/113 + (Course Rating-Par)

As previously explained, the Slope rating is calculated based on the USGA par rating of the course and the expected score of a high handicap golfer.

The Course Rating is the USGA’s assessment of the playing difficulty of a particular course for a scratch golfer under normal course and weather conditions.

You can find both the Course Rating and Slope Rating on the scorecard of the course you’re playing.

Online Handicap Calculators & Apps

If you would rather not calculate your average handicap manually, there are many handicap calculator apps available that can do it for you. All you need to do is input your scores and the app will take care of the rest.


One of the most powerful apps is the GHIN app, which is offered by the United States Golf Association (USGA). The GHIN app costs $39 per year and in addition to calculating handicaps, it also allows golfers to enjoy live GPS functions on the course, score history and many other features.

Download GHIN App Store

Download GHIN Google Play


Another very popular option is Diablo. You can input your last 5 round scores and the app will automatically offer you the Handicap Index. Similarly, Diablo also allows you to join official USGA-licensed golf clubs and track your score history. This app can be used for free and has extended features for $14.99 a year.

Download GHIN App Store

Download GHIN Google Play

The Grint

A third popular choice The Grint, an all-in-one app. Offering from GPS rangefinder features to score trackers and golf stats. Since this app is USGA-approved, you’ll be able to get your handicap score as well as keep your score card stores online. It’s got a fair price of about $19.99 per year.

Download The Grint App Store

Download The Grint Google Play

No matter which method you choose, having a handicap can be a helpful way to track your progress and improve your game. So take the time to calculate yours today and see how it can help you lower your scores on the course.

Do I need a USGA Handicap Index?

A USGA Handicap Index is a number that represents a golfer’s potential playing ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. By having a USGA Handicap Index, golfers can compete on an equal footing in tournaments, and calculate their scores more accurately on any golf course.

If you are a beginner golfer, or just play for fun, you may not need a USGA Handicap Index. However, if you are more serious about improving your game and want to compete in official tournaments, it is recommended that you get a USGA Handicap Index.

How Do I Improve My Golf Handicap Index?

If you’re a golfer, you know that knowing your average and maximum handicap is important. But what if you’re not satisfied with your current score? How can you lower it?

Of course, playing better golf isn’t always easy. But there are some things you should do to improve your game.

First, make sure you’re practicing regularly. Go to the driving range or putt around on the green every week if possible and get very familiar with your equipment and body motions. This will help you internalize the movements so it comes naturally on the course.

Second, try to keep an accurate scorecard. This is important not only for calculating your handicap but also for helping you see where you need to improve. You can’t lower your scores if you don’t even know your numbers and see the progress.

Another very important action will be working on your mental game too. Golf is as more of a mental game so keep an eye on your attitude, focus, and routines while golfing. There are several professional caddies and coaches who emphasize the impact between solid routines and consistency in golf.

Lastly, you may consider being coached by a professional instructor who will shorten your learning curve and will also avoid bad habits.

No matter how you choose to improve, remember that it takes time and consistency to see results. But if you keep at it, your handicap will start to decrease and you’ll be playing the best golf of your life in due time. Get out there and start practicing.

What is the average golf handicap?

The average golf handicap in the United States is around 16 for men and 28 for women.

But don’t let that discourage you, because handicaps can range anywhere from 0 to 36 for men and 45 for women. Don’t worry too much about this because the best part is, with a little bit of effort, anyone can lower their golf handicap just like we saw before.

Does the Handicap update with GHIN automatically?

For most golfers, the answer is yes. If you are a member of a club that uses GHIN and you play in tournaments that report scores to GHIN, your handicap should update automatically. However, there are some cases where it might not update automatically.

If you have an inactive status with GHIN, your handicap will not update automatically. Inactive status can happen for a few reasons, such as if you have not reported any scores in the last 12 months or if your club has not uploaded any scores to GHIN in the last 30 days.

You can check your status on the GHIN website. If it says “inactive,” you’ll need to contact your club’s GHIN representative to have them upload scores or report any recent scores you’ve played.

Once your status is active again, your handicap should update automatically after you or your club reports any new scores.

If you are not a member of a club that uses GHIN, you can still get a handicap through GHIN by signing up for an Individual Membership. With this membership, you can post your scores to GHIN and receive a USGA Handicap Index that will update automatically.

You can sign up for an Individual Membership on the GHIN website. The cost is currently $39.99 per year.

How do I change my golf handicap if I move?

If you move to a new location, your GHIN number and USGA Handicap Index will stay the same, but your handicap will be re-calculated based on the different golf courses in your new area. To update your handicap, you’ll need to change the golf club that manages it and tell the new club to do a new handicap calculation.

In general, only one club can handle a golfer’s handicap.

How do I change my golf handicap for more challenging courses?

The answer to this question is twofold. On the one hand, you can simply play more difficult courses, which will in turn make your handicap more difficult. On the other hand, you can also use a different method to calculate your handicap that takes into account the difficulty of the course.

The first method is the one that most people are familiar with, and it’s the one used by the USGA. This method is called the “slope” method, and it takes into account the difference in difficulty between a course of standard playing conditions and the course that you’re playing on.

To use the slope method, you first need to find the Course Rating for the course you’re playing on. This is a number that represents the average score that a scratch golfer would make on the course. You can find the Course Rating for most courses online, or you can ask the golf pro at your course.

Once you have the Course Rating, you need to find the Slope Rating for the course. The Slope Rating is a number that represents the difference in difficulty between a course of standard playing conditions and the course you’re playing on. Again, you can find the Slope Rating for most courses online, or you can ask the golf pro at your course.

Once you have both the Course Rating and the Slope Rating, you can use them to calculate your handicap. The handicap formula is:

Handicap = (Course Rating – Slope Rating) * 113 / Slope Rating

So, for example, let’s say you’re playing on a course with a Course Rating of 70 and a Slope Rating of 120. Using the formula above, your handicap would be:

Handicap = (70 – 120) * 113 / 120

Handicap = -56.94

This means that, on a course of standard playing conditions, you would be expected to shoot 56.94 over par.

Final Thoughts

Calculating your golf handicap can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By following the steps in this guide, you can either manually calculate your handicap or calculate it with a handicap calculator app or software.

Knowing your handicap will make it easier for you to know where your level lies currently while keeping track of your progress. And remember, even if you’re not a scratch golfer, you can still lower your handicap with a bit of practice.

We hope this guide was helpful in explaining how to calculate your golf handicap. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach us out. Happy golfing!

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