How Do You Use a Handicap in Golf?

What is the use of a handicap? How do you get one?

Woman writing down her golf score on the scorecard
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A golf "handicap" is a numerical representation of a golfer's playing ability. The lower a golfer's handicap, the better the golfer is. A 2-handicapper is better than a 10-handicapper who is better than a 20-handicapper.

Handicaps are used by golfers to produce net scores - a golfer's gross score minus his "handicap strokes" (a number of strokes roughly equivalent to but not necessarily exactly the same as his handicap) - so that golfers of different playing abilities can compete fairly against one another. A golfer whose average score is 95 will never beat a golfer whose average score is 75, for example, but using handicaps levels the playing field. The 95-scorer has a higher handicap than the 75-scorer and, therefore, will get more "handicap strokes."

What's An 'Official Handicap'?

Any golfer can claim to have a handicap, and any golfer can average out her scores, subtract 72 (the average par of a golf course) from that average, and claim the difference is her handicap. (There are websites and apps that do this for you, too.)

But there are various bodies in golf that govern and administer official handicaps in different parts of the world. In the United States, for example, you don't have an "official handicap" unless you join a golf club (club as in association) and begin using the USGA Handicap System.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, official handicaps are administered by CONGU. In Australia, by Golf Australia. In Canada, by the RCGA. Just to give a few examples.

Go In-Depth on Golf Handicaps

Want to know much, much more about handicaps and the USGA Handicap System? We have much, much more. See:

And for still more, see our Handicaps FAQ.