What Does A Golf Handicap REALLY Mean?

If you play a lot of golf, then you probably have a handicap index calculated by the GHIN system (Golf Handicap and Information Network). It’s a complicated calculation that is determined by course rating/slope and your score and the math is best left to the computers.

But what does the handicap number really represent for you, the golfer?

To get an official handicap number you must first play at least 20 rounds of golf and post those scores to the GHIN.com network, either at your club or on your computer. (There is a fee for this service, $37 in 2010.) Note: you can play as many rounds as you wish and post those scores, but the calculation is only made on the most recent 20 rounds. If you played a great round of golf 30 rounds ago, it won’t affect your score — only the most recent are calculated — an incentive to keep improving, I guess.)

For each of those 20 rounds of golf, your score is compared with the actual rating of the course you played. What is a rating? The rating is determined by the USGA committee and indicates what a scratch golfer would average on that particular course. And what is a scratch golfer? Here’s the official definition from the USGA: “An amateur player who plays to the standard of the stroke play qualifiers competing in the United States Amateur Championship. The male scratch golfer hits his tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots. The female scratch golfer can hit her tee shots an average of 210 yards and can reach a 400-yard hole in two shots.”

So, you play 20 rounds of golf, submit your scores and they are compared to the “rating” for the course and for the tees from which you played your round.

But that’s not the end of the story. Another factor that’s involved is the “slope” of the course. This is a measurement of the difficulty of the course relative to the course rating. The slope number tells a bogey golfer how difficult the course will be and is used in the calculation of your handicap. And what is a bogey golfer? Here’s the USGA definitiaon: A player with a USGA Handicap Index of 17.5 to 22.4 strokes for men and 21.5 to 26.4 for women. Under normal situations the male bogey golfer can hit his tee shot 200 yards and can reach a 370-yard hole in two shots. Likewise, the female bogey golfer can hit her tee shot 150 yards and can reach a 280-yard hole in two shots.

To recap: you play 20 rounds of golf, submit your scores, the final number is based on the comparison between your scores and those of a “scratch” golfer (the rating number), and the difficulty of the course for a bogey golfer (the slope number).

Bottom Line: The GHIN rating is actually quite kind. Once you’ve submitted those 20 scores it actually calculates your index number by taking the top 10 scores, and then reduces that by another 5%. That final number actually represents your potential of what you can shoot most of the time.

It’s a number that should give you hope! No matter what your handicap index is, you are always on the road to improvement!

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