How To Calculate A Golf Handicap

Golf is unusual because the handicap system allows players of wildly differing abilities to compete against one another.

Would you like to know how to calculate a golf handicap? Let’s look at a simple way before showing you how an official Handicap Index is calculated under the World Handicap System (WHS).

As someone who ran the competitions and handicaps at a golf club for several years and also had software to calculate handicaps ratified by CONGU (Council Of National Golf Unions), I think I’m probably qualified on this topic.

How To Calculate A Golf Handicap

How To Calculate A Simple Golf Handicap

If you’re just looking for a basic handicap to use amongst friends when you’re not a member of a golf club then it’s pretty easy.

Collect some recent scores

The more scores you have the more accurate your “handicap” will be. I would suggest at least three 18-hole scores or six 9-hole scores as a minimum.

Adjust the hole scores

On any hole where you scored more than double bogey, reduce your score to a double bogey. For juniors and ladies, you might want to use triple bogey or worse.

Calculate the new totals

Work out what your new 18-hole totals would be after you’ve adjusted for any really bad holes.

Calculate The differential

Work out how many over (or under) par you were for each round.

Calculate the average

Work out of the average (mean) of your scores to give you your handicap.

Worked Example

Let’s say you played the following 3 rounds of golf. 

Round 1


Round 2


Round 3


Adjust the scores to remove higher than double bogey.

Round 1: Hole 14 becomes a 6 making the total 89

Round 2: Holes 5, 8 and 13 become sixes making the total 86

Round 3: Holes 1 becomes a six and hole 17 becomes a five making the total 86

So the differentials are 89-71 = 18, 86-71 = 15 and 86-71 = 15.

So the handicap is (18 + 15 + 15) / 3 = 16

How would you adjust your handicap?

Under the old CONGU system, your handicap would adjust based on how many above or below your handicap you had managed to shoot.

To keep things simple I would suggest if you shoot more than 2 over your handicap then you should add 0.1 to your handicap.

If you shoot below your handicap then deduct (0.2 * the number of shots under your handicap).

The other option if you don’t play often would be to just recalculate your average using all your scores.

How To Calculate Your Golf Handicap Index Using The World Handicap System

The World Handicap System was introduced in an effort to standardize the way handicaps are calculated in different golfing jurisdictions. It hasn’t quite worked however since different areas choose to apply certain aspects slightly differently as Dean Knuth points out in his article on the WHS. As someone who was deeply involved in developing the handicap system on which the WHS is largely based he should know!

The fundamental principles however are the same wherever you play your golf.

The system is based for the most part on the USGA system that was used for a number of years in the United States.

Before delving into the calculations let’s clear up the meaning of various terms used in the system.

Handicap Index: The figure that has been calculated to represent your handicap. This is the basis for the number of shots you will receive during your round of golf. When people talk about handicaps this is the number they will use.

Course Handicap: This is the number of strokes you will receive calculated from your Handicap index and Slope Rating of the course you are about to play. Course Handicap = Handicap Index x Slope Rating / 113

Course Rating: Every golf course will have been visited by an assessor from the local golfing authority to give the course a rating based on a wide variety of factors such as length, the number of obstacles etc. A Course Rating will be issued for each set of tees. The Course Rating will be assessed based on the score a scratch golfer would be expected to take (Handicap Index 0.0). This is the equivalent of the Standard Scratch Score under the old CONGU system.

Slope Rating: This is a number that represents the relative difficulty of a course between a scratch player and all other players. The higher the slope rating of a course the more strokes a high handicap player would need to compete with a scratch player on that course.

Bogey Rating: The score that a bogey player (Index of 20.0 to 24.0) would be expected to take. This is used to calculate the Slope Rating for each set of tees.

PCC Adjustment: Weather and course setup can affect the difficulty of a golf course from day to day so the Playing Conditions Calculation addresses this by adjusting scores up or down based on the number of scores that are above or below what players might be expected to attain.

Score Differential: Your score differentials are used to calculate your Handicap Index. For simplicity, I will just use the 18-hole score differential calculation.

Score Differential = (113 / Slope Rating) * (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – PCC Adjustment)

Calculating a WHS Handicap Index

To be honest, the simplest way to calculate your handicap under the new system is to let your golf club work it out every time you post a score.

Most now offer some form of an app that allows you to double-check your Index without needing to check with the club or use a calculator!

If you want to know how the club works out your handicap then these are the rules the computer software at your club is using.

In order to calculate your current handicap index, you need to take an average of the best eight score differentials out of the last 20 that you have played.

If you have fewer than 20 scores on your handicap record then your handicap will be calculated on the following basis.

The number of score differentials
in scoring record
Score differentials to be used
in calculation of Handicap Index
3Lowest 1-2.0
4Lowest 1-1.0
5Lowest 10
6Average of lowest 2-1.0
7 or 8Average of lowest 20
9 to 11Average of lowest 30
12 to 14Average of lowest 40
15 or 16Average of lowest 50
17 or 18Average of lowest 60
19Average of lowest 70
20Average of lowest 80

So let’s assume you have handed in your first 3 cards.

Mr. A. Player Handicap Record

Course RatingSlope RatingAdjusted GrossScore Differential

Based on these scores the player would receive a Handicap Index of 6.7.

Mr. A. Player Handicap Record

Course RatingSlope RatingAdjusted GrossScore Differential

Based on these scores the player would now have an index of 8.1.

Under the new system, a player with fewer than 20 rounds will probably see their handicap bounce around a bit.

Did you know that handicaps can go below zero!

Click here to see an example of an old CONGU handicap record. It was my own from 2004-2006 using the software I developed for the club I was a member of at the time which was approved by CONGU.

How To Calculate A Golf Handicap: Conclusion

So now you know how to calculate a golf handicap index yourself!

Personally, I’m not a fan of the World Handicap System and much preferred the old CONGU one.

Do you wonder how good your handicap is?

Calculate your handicap here.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]

What would my handicap be if I shoot 90?

Depending on the specific course you are playing on you would expect to have a handicap of around 18. If you are shooting 90 on a really difficult or long course then you might have an index around 16-17. If you are scoring 90 at an easy or short golf course then your index might be 19-21.

What is a handicap differential?

A handicap differential is the number of strokes over the course rating after any adjustments have been made.

What is a decent golf handicap?

Compared to non-golfers 18 might be considered a decent golf handicap. 

What is a good golf handicap?

A good golf handicap is anything below 10.  If you can play to this standard then you have reasonable control of the golf ball and can perform most different types of shots quite well.

How do I improve my golf handicap?

To improve your golf handicap you need to shoot lower scores more consistently. In order to shoot lower scores more often you will need to improve your swing to hit the ball straighter and farther. Your short game and putting will have to improve and you will need to make better decisions about what shot to play and when.

What is the maximum Handicap Index?

Under the World Handicap System the maximum handicap index is 54.

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