How To Build An Honest GHIN Handicap

If you play golf on a regular basis you should be building towards your golf handicap each time you play. Recently I posted a question in a linkedin discussion forum and the resulting comments (to date over 45 comments and growing!) made it clear there is a lot of disagreement and misunderstanding about the golf handicap system, how to build a handicap—which rounds to count, which rounds to ignore, etc.

Marking Your Golf Score CardHere is my original question: Re: Your Golf Handicap. Do you include every score of every round you play? – even the really bad ones? And if you don’t, why not?

Here is a sample of the more interesting answers:

I try to include every score I play. The only scores I did not include the past years were rounds where I did not have enough time to get an official scorecard before play. Or rounds where I only managed to play 9 holes. ~ J.B.

Handicaps aren’t meant to be played to on a regular basis but I believe its hard to maintain a completely accurate one… My official handicap I would say is where it should be for the amount of golf I play, I choose to cut the shots with my friends to test myself and make it interesting but playing once or twice a month I 100% believe I shouldn’t be judged by each and every game I play.~ S.G.

Those who keep a handicap, but do not post all of their scores are cheating just as much as kicking their ball out from behind a tree. In the scenario of not posting really bad rounds, you are only hurting yourself. Even though that round will likely not be included in the calculation, it avoids having another round with a likely lower score being eliminated. If more than 13 holes are played, the player must post an 18 hole score. If 7 to 12 holes are played, you must post a 9 hole score. Also, don’t forget to use equitable stroke control… ~ D.M.

Golf is a game of rules. The handicap system is to make it fair to compete against all levels. If you just play for fun, why even have a handicap? However, if you do maintain one, please follow the rules so it is as accurate as possible and post every round you play where 13 holes were holed! simple. ~ S.M.

Yes, if you follow the rules of golf, then by all means add all your scores. You are only cheating yourself if you don’t. My humbling experience has just happened over my last 4 rounds. I was a 17 handicap and over my last 4 rounds my HC has gone up to 20.  Without this honest feedback I would still be thinking I am a 17. Something I need to work on. ~ V.V.

This last comment really focuses on the purpose of having an honest handicap. HONEST FEEDBACK that lets both you and your fellow players know your ability to play the game of golf.

Clearly there is a lot of misunderstanding among amateur golfers about handicaps. Here are some answers that hopefully will help clarify some of the questions.

What is a golf handicap? It is a number that reflects a golfer’s playing ability. The lower the number, the better the golfer is. A golfer with a handicap of 4 is a better golfer than one with a 10 handicap.

What does a golf handicap mean? – The handicap number is not simply an average of a golfer’s scores. It represents a golfer’s potential.

Is there a difference between having a handicap you calculate yourself or having an official handicap through a USGA club or directly with the GHIN network online? – There are many free online handicap calculators you can use to develop your own handicap number. (Read a previous post on golfgurls: but if you are playing with golfers of different abilities, you really should have an “official” GHIN handicap. This is called a “handicap index” and will help you determine how many strokes you are allowed to take on a particular golf course you are playing. Every golf course has a course handicap which is usually posted in the pro shop. Having this course handicap allows you to compete on an equitable basis with players of varying abilities. Without it, you are in the dark and playing a guessing game.

How do you build an “official” handicap? – First you need to establish an account through your USGA affiliated club, usually for a small fee. Alternatively, you can go directly to the GHIN (Golf Handicap Index Network) online and pay for an account. You need to submit a minimum of 5 rounds of golf (score, plus the course rating and slope rating of the golf course on which the round was played.) The course and slope rating numbers are usually found on the score card for the club. Eventually, as you continue to submit scores, your handicap index will be based on the ten best rounds of your most recent 20 rounds of golf. It’s very important that you submit all your scores, no matter whether high or low, in order to keep the system honest.

If your round of golf is cut short by weather or darkness, do you still submit scores? – In order to post a score for an 18 hole round you must play a minimum of 13 holes. To post a score for a 9 hole round, you must have completed 7 holes. The score for the unplayed holes is your best guestimate of the score you would have made had you been able to continue the game.

How often does the GHIN system update the handicap index? – If you have established an index, you should receive updates once a month.

What happens if you decide not to post a certain score? – The only loser in the handicap system is you. Golf is a game that demands integrity. You are the only referee to your game. If you choose to ignore the high scoring rounds or inflate the low rounds, you are skewing the system. Eventually your game and handicap will not “match” and other players will take note. And word will get around. The last thing you want to happen is to be know as a “sandbagger.”

Bottom line: Post all your scores. It’s your game. Your handicap. Your reputation.

What do you think? Do you post all your scores? If not, why not?

  21 comments for “How To Build An Honest GHIN Handicap

  1. Madison Ward
    April 24, 2015 at 9:27 am

    If you scores are higher than your handicap allows and your index keeps going down, what does that mean?

    • April 24, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      I’m not sure I understand what you are asking. Can you give an example? It could be that you are playing on tougher courses than you usually do. Scoring a 90 on a course that has a slope rating of 135 would give you a lower index than scoring a 90 on a course that has a slope rating of 110. Slope rating is a measurement of the difficulty of a golf course for bogey golfers realtive to the course rating which tells scratch golfers how difficult the course will be. Slope rating is a factor in the calculation of handicap index, and is also used to determine the course handicap. Read more about this here:

  2. george martin
    October 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    How do i correct an incorrect posting ? An extra or duplicate posting ?

    • October 8, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Unfortunately you cannot correct an extra or duplicate posting on the GHIN posting site yourself. The only thing you can do is go to the club where you are registered and ask the pro to correct the posting for you. It has to come from their side. I think it’s a pretty dumb method for correcting, but the GHIN gods have their reasons.

  3. Lou
    July 2, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Just got my index. Trend 9.7L.
    What does this mean??

    • Pat Mullaly
      July 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      I am not familiar with the term: “Trend 9.7L” but if I were to take a guess, I imagine it refers to the fact that your handicap trend is going down! Congrats.

    • Jeanne
      July 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      A “trend” Index is an unofficial Index that indicates what your Index would be if it was calculated in real time with the scores in your record. Official Indexes are only calculated twice a month, but since scores are added between those dates, your Trend gives you an idea of which way your Index is going – up or down. The “L” means that it is a “local” Index only and can only be used for events within your club. Your Trend would generally not be allowed in a a competition with people outside of y our club.

      • Pat Mullaly
        July 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm

        Thanks Jeanne for the clarification. Very helpful.

  4. Martin Pennington
    October 26, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I only post scores on rounds that I play for “the Score”. Meaning when I am working on my swing and have taken it to the course I can and have shot 20 strokes over my average scores. Because I am diligent in my belief that to get better when practicing YOU CAN NOT BE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR SCORE! I won’t abandon what I am working on because my score isn’t good. Having said that when I am playing for score all of those scores go in and that has been extremely accurate as to what GHIN data says my range of scores should be for my index. As an experiment I kept a side index with all my practice rounds and my index was 8.7 strokes higher. So for the vast majority of golfers who just go out and play they SHOULD post all scores because nothing happens different to skew their indexs. But for those who practice in such a fashion like I do, I STRONGLY feel that only rounds that you are trying to shoot the score should be posted.

    • Pat
      October 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm

      Martin – I agree, if you are playing a round and it is definitely a practice, i.e. you are hitting several balls, or testing new equipment and distances, you certainly don’t want to count the score, but if you playing a regular round with your friends, even if it is not a tournament, you should post your score.

      • Martin Pennington
        December 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm

        Yes Maam!

        Simply put, when I a play a round I post, score goes in good or bad. When I am not playing for the “score” I don’t keep score.
        Play well Pat.

  5. Jeanne B.
    October 9, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Great topic! One thing I would add to the “you are only hurting yourself” comment is that is you ever play in a team event with an inaccurate handicap, you could also hurt your team. If your handicap doesn’t reflect your true potential then you may be getting more or less strokes than you deserve. It’s never fun to enter a competition with a team member who’s handicap is lower than it should be. It can become painfully obvious during play!

    • Pat Mullaly
      October 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

      The opposite happened to me. The other day I played in a tournament representing my league and I played better than I have in a long time. I have a handicap that is on the high side and had been awarded a lot of strokes by the golf pro who was running the tournament. So I was playing better than my handicap would indicate. The women I was playing against were really annoyed. No matter how well they played I beat them on almost every hole. Made for some tension! But what was I to do?

      • Martin Pennington
        December 5, 2010 at 9:19 pm

        Hey Pat,
        Well congradulations in the fact that at some point you beat your potential(A.K.A. handicap). It should not happen all the time so DO NOT BE ASHAMED on the 15 to 25% chance that you beat your handicap. Enjoy the fact that that was your stellar round.


        • Pat
          December 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm

          Thanks Martin for your words of encouragement! I’ve been told that as you get better and your handicap goes down, those “magical” rounds decrease in frequency, as you are given fewer and fewer strokes. So I should enjoy them while I can. 🙂

  6. Candy Heath
    September 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    In Mass. we get our change in the Ghin Handicap Index twice a month, also Ct and Fla. It is always good to promote putting in every score. Every player should be reminded. I love your postings. Keep it up. Thanks, Candy

    • Pat Mullaly
      September 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks Candy. I generally keep score of all my drives that land on the fairway, my shots into sand and my putts as well as final score. Those stats really help me figure out where I need to improve. (Right now, it’s just about my total game needs a makeover. 🙂 )

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