How to Get a Golf Handicap

A building on a gold course.
The New Jersey Golf Country Club. 'iShootPhotos, LLC'/E+/Getty Images

Establishing a USGA Handicap Index is not difficult. You simply need to be a member of a golf club that is licensed to use the USGA Handicap System and begin reporting your scores.

You may be thinking, "isn't it expensive to be a member of a golf club?" We're not talking about that kind of club (a private golf course), we're talking about the kind that is comprised of members--such as an association or group. The Men's Golf Association or Women's Golf Association at your local golf course, for example ("Golf club" also can mean a private country club, however).

Any such association that has at least 10 members, has bylaws and a handicapping committee, can apply to be part of the USGA Handicap System, begin accepting members, and issuing handicaps to those members.

The Benefits of a Golf Handicap

Golfers who have a handicap index can play a match against any other golfer and have a chance to win. If a golfer whose average score is 75 plays a golfer whose average score is 100 without handicaps, the 100-shooter will never win. But golf's handicap systems allow those two golfers to compete on a level playing field. If those two golfers have handicaps, the 100-shooter has a chance to win that match. And having a chance to win is fun!

Having a handicap is not required and, in fact, most recreational golfers do not have official handicaps. But getting one has its benefit. And if you want to be a serious golfer, especially one who sometimes plays in club tournaments, you should definitely get a handicap index (note that some golf clubs, particularly in the U.K., require proof of handicap for guests to play their course).

Joining a 'Golf Club' to and Get a Handicap

Many golf clubs--meaning country clubs, private clubs or otherwise--have their own handicapping committees. But many public courses and even municipal courses will be able to help you establish your handicap. Next time you're at one, ask if they provide handicapping services. They might tell you that the Men's Golf Association, or Women's Golf Association, are based at the course, do. Then, it's just a matter of joining that club.

According to the USGA, there are nearly 20,000 clubs (as in associations or groups) in the United States that are licensed by the USGA to use its handicapping system. And if asking around at your favorite golf course(s) doesn't get you anywhere, you can search those nearly 20,000 associations on the USGA website to find one nearby.

You can also contact the state or regional golf association that governs your local area.

Getting a Handicap Outside of the United States

We've been talking specifically about the USGA Handicap System, but that is used mostly in parts of the world governed by the USGA (although its handicap system continues to extend beyond the USGA's governing area).

If you live somewhere where the USGA Handicap System isn't used, then you'll need to contact your state, provincial, regional or national golf association, which should point you in the right direction. In Great Britain and Ireland, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) administers the Unified Handicapping System (UHS), for example. If you're not sure who to contact, ask the pro next time you're at your local golf course.

Getting a Handicap Directly from the USGA

There is no way for an individual golfer, on his or her own, to establish an official USGA Handicap Index directly from the USGA or without joining a golf club or association licensed by the USGA.

There are websites and golf companies out there that purport to offer a handicap or to allow you to calculate a handicap. Those can be fun and informative, but they are "unofficial"--meaning they don't count as USGA handicaps. You won't be able to use an unofficial handicap in any competitions conducted under USGA rules.

The USGA has an online handicap posting/lookup service called GHIN, but, you can't join GHIN as an individual, you must go through an authorized golf club.

Once you're in a club that is part of the system, you simply turn in your scores after each round to the handicap committee. This may be done manually by handing over your scorecard to someone. Or you can do it electronically--signing on to a computer in the pro shop or 19th hole, entering your ID number and password, and entering your score, or logging into the GHIN system.