Golf Basics – Your Guide to Golf Handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

The beginner’s guide to golf handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

Whether you’re brand-new to golf, or have played the occasional social game with friends, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “Golf Handicaps” mentioned at some point .

But just what is a golf handicap? And why is it important?

What is a handicap?

In Brief: A number that shows a golfer's (general) skill level.

More Depth: Basically, a Handicap is a numerical rating (usually between 0-54 for amateurs) that indicates how many strokes “over par” you are likely to shoot in a round of golf. Most courses, for example, have a “par” of 72. A golfer with a handicap of 0 (also known as a “scratch” golfer) regularly shoots somewhere around 72 strokes in a round. A golfer with a handicap of 18, on the other hand, usually shoots in the vicinity of 90 shots (i.e. 18 shots more than the par of 72).  True beginners are given the maximum handicap (54), and this number goes down as the player improves.

How are Golf Handicaps calculated?

In Brief: An average of the 8 best scores from your last 20 rounds.

More Depth: Handicaps are essentially calculated by the computer looking at your last 20 rounds of golf, picking the eight lowest rounds, and the determining the “average” of those eight.

Your handicap is re-calculated after every round you play. It can go up or down depending on the average of those eight rounds. For example, if you play really well, the average will go down, and your handicap will reduce).

The beauty of the global handicapping system is that it is all automated via a sophisticated computer system managed by Golf Australia (The country’s national governing body). So, you don’t have to crunch any of the numbers yourself.

Why have a handicap?

In Brief: To compete against other golfers on an "even" playing field.

More Depth: One of the great things about golf is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Whether your age is 8 or 88, you can enjoy the great game of golf. But if you want to play against another golfer—especially one that is more experienced than you—then a handicap can effectively “level the playing field”. For example: An 18-handicapper who shoots 90 gets to subtract 18 shots off their final score following the round. Thus, they have a nett score of 72. If a scratch player shoots, say, a 73, then the 18-marker is the winner by one shot.

Is my handicap good at just one course, or any course?

In Brief: Any course on Earth.

More Depth: Once established, your handicap is valid at any course around the world. However, the number of strokes you get on the day will vary slightly from course to course. On easy courses, for example, an 18-handicapper may only get, say, 16 shots. Whereas on a very difficult course, that same player may get, say, 21 (or more) shots. You can also get more or fewer shots if you play from a different set of tees on a course. For example, while women traditionally play from the red-coloured tees, most courses these days are rated for women to play from the “longer” tees. These can be white, blue or even the extremely long black tees (also known as playing from “the tips”). If you play from a longer set of tees, you will get more handicap strokes for that that round.

How do I get a handicap:

In Brief: Click here

More Depth: There has never been an easier or better time to get a golf handicap. In the past, getting a handicap required you to become a member of a private club. Today, however, you simply need to apply for a handicap via an official, nationally-recognised handicap provider (like SGA) and pay your handicap fee. Then begin playing golf. After every round you play, your score will be submitted to Golf Australia’s GOLFLink system for calculation. Note: Just like getting your L plates for driving a car, to establish your handicap you’ll need to play golf with someone who already has a handicap, and they will mark your score. Once you have submitted your first three rounds (the minimum to get started), your introductory handicap will be calculated. It’s that simple.

For more information on the handicap system, visit the Golf Australia website:

For more information on getting an official handicap through Social Golf Australia, click here.