A USGA Handicap Index serves as a snapshot of a player’s scoring potential based on recent performance. It is the number attached to a player’s potential scoring ability in relation to a very skilled player. The lower the USGA Handicap Index, the better the golfer.
Handicaps allow players of different skill levels to compete on relatively even terms on any course. Think of a handicap as a way for a less skilled player to be compensated when competing against a more skilled golfer.
Contrary to common belief, a handicap is not meant to show your average score. It’s actually meant to be a measure of your potential score on a “good day.” Handicaps are revised on the 1st and 15th of each month to track changes in your performance and to reflect your most current potential scoring ability.
Handicap Index vs. Course Handicap
Your golf handicap, or USGA Handicap Index, shouldn’t be confused with a Course Handicap. A Course Handicap represents the number of strokes you’re granted to play to scratch on a specific course and set of tees, while your USGA Handicap Index is the number that follows you to every course and represents your skill level.
Course Handicap is not a static number assigned to a course. Since not all courses are created equal, this will give you the extra strokes you’ll need on a more challenging course, while trimming the strokes you’re allowed on an easier one.
How to Calculate a USGA Handicap Index
A USGA Handicap Index is determined using a method that’s universally recognized. Players don’t often need to do their own calculations, but it’s a good idea to have a fundamental understanding of the formula used.
How a USGA Handicap Index is Calculated
The things you will need:
- Adjusted gross scores (A minimum of 5 scores and a maximum of 20)
- The Course Rating and Slope Rating of each course these rounds were played on
Step 1: Use the table to determine the number of Handicap Differential(s) to use
Step 2: Determine the Handicap Differential for each acceptable score.
A Handicap Differential is computed from four elements: adjusted gross score, USGA Course Rating, Slope Rating, and 113 (the Slope Rating of a course of standard difficulty). To determine the Handicap Differential, subtract the USGA Course Rating from the adjusted gross score; multiply the difference by 113; and divide the resulting number by the Slope Rating. Round the final number to the nearest tenth.
Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score - USGA Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating
Step 3: Average the Handicap Differential(s) being used
Step 4: Multiply the average by .96 (96%).
Step 5: Delete all numbers after the tenths's digit (truncate). Do not round to the nearest tenth. The resulting figure is your Handicap Index.