I have never understood the handicapping system. How it works, where scores are kept, how they are officially determined, etc. etc. I see the GHIN site, but after a cursory glance, it seems quite confusing. Any simple explanation would be wonderful. I know you need an official handicap to play in certain amateur events and stuff like that… Also, many people are saying par is irrelevant, if that is in fact correct, where does that leave this system? On a serious note, is the system good, bad or otherwise for the game as a whole??


Here is a simple explanation:

Handicaps are not an average score, but a way to benchmark a player’s POTENTIAL score against par for a particular course. This is calculated with some basic math (there is where slope and course rating come in - look at its Wikipedia page for a full explanation).

Handicaps have and always will be good for the game. I have a couple of friends that played collegiate golf and they usually beat me by 15 - 20 shots. Not a lot of excitement for them unless we factor in my handicap. :smile:


I understand the concept; I don’t understand the logistics. So, you play a course, record your score somewhere and it will begin to calculate your handicap based on the difficulty of the course? And apparently you need to be a member of a club or course or register for the handicap through a local golf association? How do you register official scores? Do you need a playing partner to “sign” for your correct score, or is it an honor system? I guess these are the practical questions I have about keeping a handicap. It seems like it is slightly complicated and there are some high barriers to entry… But maybe the average golfer does not take the game seriously enough to warrant keeping an official handicap? Thoughts?


Yes, every course and each respective tee box will have their own slope and course rating. Generally, the higher the numbers, the harder the course.

To have an official one, yes. You can always keep it yourself, there are probably some apps out there that should be close enough.

You just post them on the website/app.

Technically… maybe. But in practice, no. A lot of this is an honor system. You don’t need a signature.

It should run you about $40 annually to get a USGA recognized handicap.

It really isn’t too complicated. The system does everything for you. You don’t have to do any math or anything. Just add up your total and post your score.

You only need 5 18-hole rounds to get an official handicap.

Nah everyone should get one, even if its an unofficial one. Find a free app and start posting scores. If you ever want to start playing in real events where you need one, spend the $40 to make it official, and you should be able to move all your old scores over that you have saved.


I get an official USGA Handicap via an App called The Grint. A pro membership costs $20/year, it has GPS and score tracking features, and keeps other stats like fairways hit, greens hit, putts, etc.


Here is how they are officially determined.

You post your score and it goes through this formula:

Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score - Course Rating) X 113 ÷ Slope Rating

That spits out a number. Your handicap is the average of the 10 best of those in your last 20 rounds.

Then multiply by .96

It’s a lot simpler than you might think. Explaining how course rating and slope rating are determined is more complicated


Go to the pro shop at almost any local golf course and they will be able to explain everything, but here are a few general answers.

  1. Register and pay a fee (under $50) at any almost any pro shop - find locations here:

  2. There should be a computer dedicated at the course to report scores

  3. I have always done the honor system for scores

  4. Handicaps can take awhile to establish because it requires so many rounds before they can accurately assess your game. If you plan on playing in local amateur tournaments, including things like member-guests, you will need a handicap. So, it is better to start one early in the season and keep it current.


Doesn’t help that the USGA made the formula appear as random and confusing as possible.

Why is 113 the baseline for slope? Why did they choose to multiply the average of your best 10 differentials by 96%?

And of course, this is all changing in a couple years. Soon it will best 8 out of 20, and somehow they are going to implement weather conditions as a variable.



Easiest answer I can possibly give: Statistics


This pretty much nails it. It’s really not hard at all. A couple things I’ll add.

  1. You don’t need to be a member at the course to have an official GHIN number. You just have to register through a course or local golf association. You can do this in person (just walk in to the pro shop and ask and they’ll help you out) and some courses allow you to register all online. This essentially just becomes your “Home” course but this doesn’t really mean anything.

  2. Posting a score is incredibly easy. I use the app on my phone. You can also use the website. Some courses still have a computer sitting in the pro shop where you can enter it in. Just needs your score and the tees you played from. You can also post 9 hole rounds as well.


Let me also address another one of your questions as to why you should keep a handicap…

…I didn’t use to have a real 'cap for a while when I got into golf but now that I have had one for the past 4 years I understand how easy it is.
Why should you have one? One, legitimacy. Two, if you want to play in any kind of game with any friend or new-contact and they carry a legit cap… they will totally find it annoying that you don’t carry a handicap b/c you make it impossible to setup a real game. Now, if you just “play to an 18 handicap” but you end up shooting a 110 every time, nobody will care. But If you “play to an 18” and shoot a 90… people will be annoyed by your lack of legit cap considering you just shot a respectable 90. And isn’t that the goal… to be a legit golfer and shoot respectable scores?
And everyone knows, the best part of golf is playing competitive games vs each other (aka, gambling).

So don’t be that guy that loves golf and plays fairly often but has no idea what a real handicap is or refuses to carry a real handicap. You can do it!


As I look to play more “serious” golf, I know that these issues will be the bigger ones, namely adequately representing my game to other people (and to get a game or two). I certainly do not refuse to carry a handicap; I would say not coming from a background of golfers and learning the game completely on my own, I have never really run in circles that have shown me the ropes when it comes to setting one up or why I should carry one. I want to take my game to the next level, or at least my approach to playing the game, and think this is the best place to start. I appreciate all the answers here, thank you.


You’re on the right track, LJP. Its a lot at first. I was in your same shoes 5 years ago.
Name of the game:
Keeping a legit handicap, understanding what a course handicap is, understanding the rules of the gambling-games/tournament formats and then making sure you keep pace and dont slow people down in the group. Understand when you are stroking and Understanding when your ball still matters on that hole and when it doesn’t, etc. That makes you a desirable partner - regardless as to what you shoot.
Oh, and if you carry a 16 handicap and regularly shoot a 98… dont get all furious on the golf course and do the “damnit!! I never do this! Last time I played I was crushing it straight with this club!! WTF!!!” routine. That annoys people too.


What is everyone’s thoughts on only posting 18-hole scores for your handicap? i always post my scores, 9 or 18 holes. But a few playing buddies refuse to post 9 hole scores. Since the handicap system (i think anyway) combines two 9 hole scores to make an 18 hole score, they are of the opinion that you’re not playing the same level of golf - whether you’re playing well, okay, or horrible - on those two days so the scores are skewed…they say i could play 9 holes really bad and throw up a 50 and the next 9 i could play well and put down 42. I guess this system has never made sense to me anyway so i just always put down all scores.

One more question…

how do you attest scores when you play with people who don’t have a handicap? is that considered “playing by yourself” which they now don’t take into consideration for handicaps? i mean, they could always sign the scorecard but it’s not like you have to turn in the card since you can just enter scores on the website or the app…


I think the 9-hole posting is a huge flaw in the system that can really screw people over.

Lets say you are a 10 index. In April you go out and play 9 holes, play really well, and shoot a 38. In May you play 4 times, and shoot 85 every time. (with your 9 hole scores ranging from a 38-48). In June, you go play another 9 holes and shoot 38, and all of a sudden you have a 76 posted which lowers your index significantly. It doesn’t seem right.


I post everything when I am dedicated to playing one ball properly - 9 or 18 holes. Hell, if I get through 15 holes and know I am coming back tomorrow, I may even run out to whatever holes I missed and finish that up to post. My thinking is - how is this any different then the pro’s getting rained out and having to play the next morning? If I shoot 34 on one nine and come out a week later and shoot a 35, it goes down as a 69 as it should. Each individual 9 is rated/slopped differently, so it is a true representation of your abilities on those 9 (18) holes. #play9post9

When it comes to posting, its all about being honest with yourself. Did you take a mully or breakfast ball and not count it? That is your prerogative. I generally only play gross events, so not sure on people sandbagging.

Just my two cents on the deal.


I would use The Grint app as other people have mentioned in this thread. It’s super easy to use, gives you a “home course,” and you can follow along all of your golf buddies that you have/will meet!

It’s a free app, but I pay the $20 for the upgraded version solely because I want to support their cause.


This is no different from saying “I had an uncharacteristically bad day so I’m not going to post it” or vice versa. If you shot 38, you shot 38. If you shot 58, you shot 58. Anything else is just excuses to fudge your index.

This would only significantly lower your index if you have a low number of total rounds submitted. Otherwise, it mostly evens out eventually as you play more and submit more scores. It may not reflect that you often shoot 85’s but it’s showing that you have the ability and potential to go lower, as evidenced by shooting 38 twice during a three month span (and also during your 18 holes rounds in between when you have 9 hole scores as low as 38). In practice, this is protecting your opponents from you claiming more strokes than you probably deserve.

Ultimately, I don’t really care because the entire system relies on people being honest and truthful, which humans are inherently not, and unfortunately, it’s full of sandbaggers of all types on all points of the spectrum. I tend to never trust anyone’s claimed index unless I’ve seen them play.


Heard about a nifty little trick. If you add your handicap to the course par and add 3 it should roughly be your average score.


Holy shit man. Handicap 1.9. Added 17 rounds up to a total stroke count of 1275 (home course par 70) - 75 on the dot. Awesome.