An Easy Guide to the Golf Handicap System

An Easy Guide to the Golf Handicap System

“So, what’s your handicap?” Chances are, it’s the first question you’ll be asked when you tell someone that you play golf.  

But, for many golfers (especially those new to the game) handicaps can be the source of much bewilderment. How is a handicap calculated? How do reduce it? Why do I even need a handicap? These are all common questions in the golfing community.  

That’s why we’ve devised this easy-to-follow guide to dispel some of the confusion surrounding golf’s most popular performance metric. Keep reading for the answers to the most frequently asked handicap related questions, as well as some great tips for reducing yours! 

What is a golf handicap?  

If you’re new to golf, this is good place to start. Fundamentally, a handicap is one of the quickest ways to gauge a golfer’s skill level. Unlike in other sports, this system is designed to level the playing field between golfers of different abilities.  

Calculated based on your average score over several rounds (the exact number depends on which system is being used) in essence, the lower the handicap, the better the golfer.  

Why do we need a handicap?

While having a handicap is a prerequisite for most golfing competitions, it can also be beneficial for making your weekend bounce games more interesting.  

For example, if you’re frustrated by never winning against your more skilled golfing partners (or similarly by not feeling like you are not being challenged enough) incorporating handicaps means that worse players are ‘given’ extra strokes on certain holes so that they still have a realistic goal to aim for.  


By utilising the handicap system, golfers can measure how they played on any given day in relation to their own specific ability level. Additionally, a handicap is an easy way to track your golfing progress over time.  

It’s also worth noting that some more prestigious courses (such as the Old Course at St Andrews) require golfers to have an official handicap before being allowed to play.  

When were handicaps first introduced?  

As a term first coined in horse racing, handicaps were first applied to golf in the late 1600s in relation to the betting odds assigned to players in competitions. It wasn’t until 1911 when the first national handicap system (with the same meaning as it has today) was introduced.  

This early version of the handicap was essentially a derivative of the British 3 score average system and later evolved to include a par rating for every course. Such ratings were based on the average score of a scratch golfer on each course; which had the added benefit of making handicaps more accurate and relevant as golfers traveled from course to course.