How Do I Get A Golf Handicap?

In golf, your ability is measured in terms of your handicap index. Having one allows you to play in competitions against other golfers. It also allows you to measure your success and level of improvement as you work on your game. Some clubs may even ask to see proof of your handicap before allowing you to play on their course.

If you’re new to the game or have been away for a while then you might be wondering what you need to do in order to obtain a handicap.

There are two ways of obtaining and maintaining a golf handicap:

  • Join a club
  • Join an online scheme
how do i get a golf handicap

Join A Golf Club

These days, golf clubs offer a number of different options for membership so you don’t necessarily have to become a full member in order to get a handicap.

Once you are part of the setup you can then think about getting a handicap. One thing that hasn’t changed with the advent of the World Handicap System (WHS) is the need to submit three scores to get an initial handicap. These can be either three rounds of 18 holes or six 9-hole rounds or some combination of the two.

The scorecards need to be marked by another player who essentially acts as the referee to make sure that you are adhering to the rules of golf.

Once you have submitted the requisite number of scores, the handicap committee of the club will issue you with your handicap index. Each subsequent competition round or supplementary score will then be used to adjust your handicap accordingly.

Under the WHS your index is calculated from the best eight scores out of your last twenty rounds. If you haven’t completed twenty rounds yet then a smaller number of rounds are used to calculate the average.

This could mean quite large swings in your handicap in the short term until you have submitted at least twenty scores to the club. If you don’t post scores very often then your handicap index may not keep up with changes in the standard of your play.

In order to allocate official handicaps the club will need to be part of the local golf association. In the US that will usually mean a state golf association. In England, clubs that are affiliated to the local county organization will be able to award official handicaps. 

Most people will join a local golf course in order to get an index. This index is used to calculate your course handicap based on the course rating.

Let’s say you are a member at one particular course which is really difficult and you get an index of 10. If you go to play in a tournament at a much easier course then the rating for that course will be applied to your index and your course handicap will likely be lower, say 8. On the other hand you might be a member at a relatively easy course. If you were to go to a course with a higher course rating you would receive a few more shots to compensate for the difficulty.

If you are in the United States then you will be able to use the Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN) to access information on your handicap and scores. In the UK your club will let you know if there is an app you can use that links to their system so you can check your handicap record.

Join An “Online” Club

Both England Golf (iGolf) and Scottish Golf (OpenPlay) have ways of obtaining a handicap without joining a traditional golf club. The handicap works exactly the same though. You need to submit three 18-hole scores (or six 9-hole scores).

iGolf costs £40 per year but does include personal liability insurance as well. England Golf sees this initiative as a way to get some of the 2.3 million golfers that currently don’t belong to a club on the road to becoming club members.

Since starting in the summer of 2021 they have managed to recruit about 14,500 people to the scheme. The money raised will help England Golf continue its work of growing the game and supporting its affiliated clubs.

A similar scheme exists in Scotland called OpenPlay. It will cost participants £5.99 per month but in addition to the benefit of a handicap, you also have access to a GPS app that covers 36000 courses worldwide.

Golf Canada now has an online community that allows you to obtain an official handicap index along with other benefits such as insurance and a GPS app. If you are a nomadic Canadian golfer then you can take a look at what they have to offer here. It will cost you CAD$59.95 per year.

Fortunately, American golfers haven’t been left out of this new era with the USGA allowing you to sign up for a handicap index via their website. Costs vary depending on where you live and start from around $50 for 12 months.

In the lucky country, you can get a handicap recognized by Golf Australia if you sign up to Social Golf Australia. Prices start from AUS$98 for a 12-month membership.

How Do I Get A Golf Handicap: Summary

Times have changed. You no longer have to be a club member to get an official handicap although there are many other benefits to joining a golf club if you have the time to take advantage of them.

There’s no reason for you not to have a handicap! If you don’t know how handicapping works then I’ve written a short guide on how to calculate a golf handicap.

Still undecided on whether you need a handicap?

Would you like to calculate your golf handicap?

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]

How do I get a handicap without joining a club in the UK?

England Golf started an online membership called iGolf which allows you to obtain an officially recognized WHS handicap for £40 per year.

Can I play golf without a handicap?

Yes, although some courses may ask to see a handicap certificate before letting you play the majority do not.

Can I get a golf handicap online?

If the thought of an official handicap through one of the recognized bodies doesn’t appeal then there are a few “free” online handicaps such as the one provided by

How many rounds do I need to establish a handicap?

The minimum number of rounds you will need to play to obtain a handicap is three 18-hole rounds or six 9-hole rounds.

What is a GHIN Number?

A GHIN Number is an ID for the Golf Handicap and Information Network that allows you to access your handicap and score information online. GHIN is a service run by the USGA and is actually available to golf associations worldwide.

What is a gross score?

Your gross score is the number of shots you actually took to complete the hole or round rather than your net (nett) score which is after the deduction of your course handicap.

What is a USGA Handicap?

Prior to handicaps being standardized under the WHS each territory ran its own handicapping system. A USGA handicap was administered by the USGA using their own version of handicapping and is in large part what the World Handicap System is based on.

What is Course Rating?

Course Rating is a measure of the difficulty of a measured golf course from a particular set of tees for a scratch golfer.

What Are Handicap Services?

Handicap services are systems for administering golf handicaps. The most popular and well-known one is GHIN. runs one and in England iGolf has been created by England Golf.

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