Do You Have to Join a Club to Get a USGA Handicap Index?

Golf Course near Sedona
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So you'd like to get a USGA Handicap Index, but you've heard that you have to belong to a golf club to get one. Is that true?

  • The bad news: Yes, you do have to join a club to get a USGA Handicap Index.
  • The good news: That's not as big a deal as it sounds.

It's Club As in Association, Not As in 'Country Club'

When the USGA says you must belong to a club to get an official handicap index, they mean club as in association or group - not as in "country club" or "private golf course."

The USGA requires a membership-based club to have at least 10 members and a handicapping committee before it can apply to become part of the USGA Handicapping System. Such a club can apply directly to the USGA or through a state or regional association that is already part of the USGA Handicap System.

Most clubs are based at courses; e.g., the Podunk Municipal Men's (or Women's) Golf Association.

How do you find such a club? Start by asking the pro shop staff on your next golf course visit. Tell them you want to establish a handicap and are looking for a club to join. They should be able to help, at least by pointing you in the right direction.

Or try searching your local area for USGA-authorized clubs that provide handicapping services. Use this form to enter your city and state and conduct a search.

If you live outside the United States but in an area that uses the USGA Handicap System, check the list of International associations.

Can You Start Your Own Club?

You bet. If your home course does not have a golf association, you can organize and start one. Form a handicapping committee and then, following guidelines set down by the USGA, your club can take part in the USGA Handicapping System.

See "Forming Your Own Golf Club" on

Even if you don't have a home course, and your "club" would exist on paper only (not housed at a golf course or golf facility, in other words), you can still create one. Such a club is called a "golf club without real estate," and the same parameters apply: It must consist of at least 10 members, have a handicap committee, and apply to the USGA for recognition.

What about getting a GHIN number? GHIN is the online reporting system used by golfers who carry USGA handicaps to record their scores and get their handicap indexes. But it's really asking the same question: Only clubs (groups, associations) that are authorized by the USGA to run its handicap system are also able to give out GHIN numbers that get golfers into the system. So to get a GHIN number, join a club.