Illustrated Definitions

In this page you will find key concepts and golf terms related to the golf handicap and its related formulas. (Updated in 2020)

Handicap | World Handicap System | Net Double Bogey | Playing Condition CalculationScratch Golfer | Bogey Golfer | Course Rating | Slope Rating | Handicap IndexScore Differential | Course Handicap | Playing Handicap

Handicap Definition

Procedure to calculate your Handicap Index in golfA golfer’s handicap is a number used to quickly give an indication of the golfer’s potential at a given point in time.

The higher the number, the more strokes a golfer is expected to require in finishing up a round, and therefore the worse he is. It is used in Net competitions as a way to level off the field and provide every golfer a chance at winning.

Grossly speaking, the handicap is calculated by taking a golfer’s best 8 rounds out of the last 20 and will take into account the course rating as well as slope rating of the course played. Although the general handicap term is used, there are actually two different numbers used to determine a player’s handicap, Handicap Index and Course Handicap.

Alternative meanings: Hole Handicap

The different holes of a golf course are also awarded handicap numbers. For more information on this meaning refer to the scorecard section.

World Handicap System

Rolled out from January 2020 across countries whose golf is governed in accordance with the R&A and the USGA the World Handicap System was introduced as a way to standardize handicap for golfers worldwide.

Notables Changes Introduced

  • In the previous handicap system the best 10 of your previous 20 rounds were used to calculate your handicap. The world handicap system now uses the 8 best of your last 20 rounds.
  • Equitable Stroke Index has now been replaced with Net Double Bogey as a measure of your maximum score allowed on each individual hole.
  • Safeguards were put in place to account for scores posted on days where the playing conditions were particularly difficult, or easy through the playing condition calculation.
  • For more information and all details go to the World Handicap System website.

What is Net Double Bogey?

Net Double Bogey Score Adjustment in golfNet double bogey was introduced as a replacement to the Equitable Stroke Index as the maximum score golfers can post on any individual hole throughout the round. 

Net Double Bogey = Double Bogey + any handicap strokes received on a hole

For example, if your course handicap is 10 and you play on stroke hole #11 – as indicated on the scorecard – it means that you would get a stroke on that hole. Net double bogey on that hole would therefore be 3 over par (i.e., 6 for a par-3, 7 for a par-4, 8 for a par-5).

What is Playing Condition Calculation?

A new factor introduced in the World Handicap System in 2020 to measure how difficult (or easy) it was to play on a particular day and to adjust score differentials as a result. Golfers are encouraged to enter in their score the day of the round because all daily scores on the course are compared daily and if needed a playing condition adjustment is made to account for abnormal course conditions.

A negative adjustment means the course played easier and a positive adjustment means the course played harder (between -1 and +3).

Scratch Golfer

Visual representation of the golf term Scratch GolferA golfer defined as being scratch is one that can post scores of even-par on any course, reliably. Such a golfer will have a handicap index of 0.

Bogey Golfer

Visual representation of the golf term 'Bogey Golfer'A golfer referred to as a bogey golfer is one that will on average require 1 stroke more than par on every hole.

Because he will require an extra 18 strokes more than the par for the course – 1 extra on each of the 18 holes – such a golfer will have a handicap of 18, generally speaking. For example, on a par-72 course a bogey golfer’s typical score should hover over 90.

Course Rating

Visual representation of the golf term Course RatingThe course rating is a one-decimal number assigned to a golf course as an indication of the course’s difficulty from the point of view of a scratch golfer, a very good golfer. More precisely, a course rating is awarded to each of the available tees, both for men and ladies.

Course rating numbers rise as a course’s difficulty increases and importantly the numbers should be interpreted as their relation – or distance – from the par number.

For example, a course rating of 72.5 awarded to a course that is a par-72 will be an indication of a difficult course but an easier one than a 72.5 rating for a course that is a par 71. Indeed, the first course rating is 0.5 over its par number whereas the second one’s is 1.5 over.

Slope Rating

Visual representation of the golf term Slope RatingThe slope rating is a number awarded to a golf course that is used to illustrate its relative difficulty from the point of view of bogey players, in contrast to that of scratch golfers.

Technically, the slope will take the form of a whole number between 55 and 155, with a higher number indicating a more difficult course to a bogey player than a lower number.

For example, a slope rating of 125 will indicate a course that will be more difficult for bogey golfers to do well on than one with a slope of 105. As is the case with the course rating, a slope rating is assigned to every sets of tees, for both men and ladies.

Handicap Index

Visual representation of the golf term Handicap IndexThe handicap index is a one-decimal number used to compare golfers regardless of where they play golf or which sets of tees they use.

A golfer with a low handicap index will be better than a golfer with a high one.

Very good golfers whose handicap index is better than 0 are assigned a + sign in front of their index number. For example, a golfer with a handicap of +2.0 should score better than one with a handicap index of 2.0, and much better than one with 10.0.


Step 1: Adjust Gross Scores using Net Double Bogey as Max Score

Net Double Bogey Score Adjustment in golfIn order to calculate a handicap index, a golfer needs to first make sure the scores inputted into the formula are adjusted using the Net Double Bogey maximum rule. This control limits the number of strokes that are allowed to count for any given hole.

For example, for a hole where you would not get a stroke (i.e., for a hole whose stroke index is lower than your course handicap) a net double bogey will be simply a double bogey. If you had a stroke on a given hole then the max score for that hole would be tripe bogey (double bogey + 1 stroke), and so on…

Step 2: Calculate the Score Differential

Score Differential Formula in golfThe adjusted scores for your round must then be converted into a score differential, rounded to one decimal.

This differential takes into account many factors such as the course rating, the slope rating and the new-since-2020 playing condition calculation.

Step 3: Calculate Handicap Index

Formula for Handicap Index in golfThe final step is to calculate the average of the 8 best differential out of the last 20 rounds.

This will give you your handicap index, which you can use to compare your skill level with anyone that plays in a country that uses the world handicap system.

Course Handicap

Course Handicap Formula in golfThe course handicap is a course-specific, whole number assigned to golfers who play at the same golf course and that is used to compare the skill levels of golfers. Tournaments that are held for members of a golf club will use the course handicap of the players instead of their handicap index.

A golfer with a low course handicap will be better than one with a high one. As with the handicap index, golfers who are better than a 0 are assigned a + sign in front of their handicap.

Also, golfers are assigned a different number for each of the tees available at the golf course in question.

Formula: The formula to convert a Handicap Index into a Course Handicap is detailed here.

Playing Handicap

A playing handicap is simply an adjustment made to your course handicap for the purpose of a local tournament. For example, the committee may rule that for a four ball competition 85% of a golfer’s course handicap be used instead of the full course handicap. That new number would then be your playing handicap for rounds played in that tournament.

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