How to Work Out Your Golf Handicap

Posted 20/04/18

man plays golf on a sunny day

In January of this year, changes to the handicap system were introduced. The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) announced that the changes are to prepare for the proposed World Handicap System (WHS). While there aren’t any changes to the way handicaps are calculated, it’s still useful to know how the changes could affect you. [1]

How to Calculate Your Starting Handicap [2]

To obtain a golf handicap, you have to be a member of an affiliated club and submit a required number of cards from either 9- or 18-hole rounds as long as the total number of holes played is at least 54.

Your allotted handicap will then be the best 18-hole card from those submitted after certain adjustments (anything worse than a double bogey will be rounded down to a double bogey for initial handicap purposes).

You handicap is assessed against the Standard Scratch Score (SSS) of the course rather than its par, and it’s worth noting that there is quite often a difference between these two figures.

Range of Handicaps

Maximum permitted handicaps previously differed for men and women, but from 1st January 2018 both men and women are able to hold handicaps of up to 54 in a move to encourage less experienced golfers to get more fully involved in club life.

‘Exact Handicaps’ are calculated to one decimal point and are generally only based on scores from competition rounds. However ‘Playing Handicaps’ are rounded to the nearest whole number so if your exact handicap is 14.7 then your playing handicap is 15 (0.5 and above rounds up; 0.4 and below rounds down).

Improving Your Handicap

Your handicap changes when you participate in official competitions so there’s no need to worry about your practice rounds.

Players are divided into six different categories depending on your handicap, with handicaps then adjusting by different amounts according to handicap category when you play below your existing handicap.

The categories are as follows (adjustment rate per stroke better than your existing handicap in brackets):

Category 1 – Handicaps of 5.4 or less (0.1 adjustment)

Category 2 – Handicaps of 5.5 to 12.4 (0.2 adjustment)

Category 3 – Handicaps of 12.5 to 20.4 (0.3 adjustment)

Category 4 – Handicaps of 20.5 to 28.4 (0.4 adjustment)

Category 5 – Handicaps of 28.5 to 36.4 (0.5 adjustment)

Category 6 – Handicaps of 36.5 to 54.0 (0.6 adjustment)

Improvements in your handicap are calculated by assessing your gross score for the round (or Stableford points total) against your current handicap in relation to the Competition Scratch Score (CSS).

For example, if your handicap is 25 and your competition gross score is 15 over the CSS on the day, you have played 10 shots better than your handicap. As 25 falls into category 4, your handicap will be cut by 0.4 for every stroke that you have beaten your handicap by (this can vary a little if the resulting handicap cut also takes you down into a lower handicap category). As 10 x 0.4 = 4, your new handicap would be 21.

If you perform worse than your handicap (and its ‘Buffer Zone’ which varies with handicap category), it can only ever increase by 0.1 regardless of how much over your handicap you were.

The new changes also mean that most players can now submit an unlimited number of ‘Supplementary Scores’ per year – additional scores outside of Qualifying Competitions that can be used to maintain and adjust handicaps. Previously these were limited to a maximum of one per week. However, Category 1 players will still only be able to submit such scores from September 1st to December 31st, and their ‘Supplementary Scores’ must be over 18 holes.

Have you figured out your handicap? Start playing in competitions at your home club to improve it!

More information about the changes to the handicap system can be found here.




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