Golf Handicaps: Guide

A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer's potential ability. Learn all about them.

Andy Roberts's picture
Tue, 18 Apr 2017

Golf is one of very few sports where players can compete on a level playing field regardless of ability, and that is all down to handicaps. 

From working out handicaps and discovering how they change, to learning about stroke index and giving strokes in matchplay, there is much to take in when it comes to this often complex, yet characteristic feature of our game.

Let's take a closer look.


A golf handicap is a system that enables players of all abilities to compete equally. It represents the number of strokes you are typically going to take above those of a "scratch" golfer (someone who plays of a zero handicap).

It serves as the number of strokes needed to be deducted from the player's "gross" score (the actual score) so that when the golfer plays to their average ability, the "net" score (the score after the handicap has been deducted) equals a "standard score". 

The amount deducted (i.e. the player's handicap) is calculated so as to be representative of the player's current ability and potential at the point in time that they play in a competition.

Although handicaps are just for amateurs, Tour professionals still own handicaps at their home courses. For example, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson each play off a +6 handicap, meaning they have to go around their local track in six shots under the par of the course in order to play to to their "handicap".