Low, Mid and High Golf Handicap – What’s The Difference?

If you are new to the game of golf, one term that you will get to know quickly is the word “handicap.” The handicap system was created in 1911 by the United States Golf Association (USGA) as a way to allow golfers with a wide gap in skill or golfing abilities to play together fairly during a 9- or 18-hole game.

A handicap refers to how many strokes, over or under par, a player scores during their game of golf.  A golfer who shoots 80 on a course rated 70 is a 10 handicap, meaning it takes 10 more strokes to play the course than par.  A golfer who shoots 100 on a course that is rated 80 is a 20 handicap, again, meaning it takes 20 more strokes over par. The lower the number of a handicap, the better the golfer is.

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How to Calculate a Handicap

To figure your handicap, start by collecting your score, the course rating and the slope of the course that you played on. You want to do this for a minimum of five games and a maximum of 20. Many websites offer a calculator where the information can be entered and automatically calculated. If you want to manually figure out your handicap, you will subtract the course rating from your score, multiple by 113 and then divide by the slope:

(Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

Once you figure out your handicap, the number is then broken down into three levels to see where your handicap ranks:

  • Low: Handicaps 8 and under (typically shooting in 70s)
  • Mid: Handicaps 9-24 (low 80s to mid-90s)
  • High: Handicaps 25+ (high 90s and up)

I Know My Handicap – Now What?

As a beginning player, the rule of thumb is to play with players in the same handicap range until you gain experience and your handicap improves. If you are playing with a group of players that have a variety of handicaps, the handicap allows for a better paired game.

When starting a game where two individual handicaps will be considered, the two handicap scores determines that the player who has the lowest handicap will receive no additional handicap strokes while the person with the highest receives the difference between the two. If the first player has a 5 handicap and the second has a 7, the second player receives 2 strokes. The same concept applies for no matter the number of golfers playing in your match.

When the player who has the lowest handicap receives no additional strokes, this is called “playing at scratch.” What this means is that this golfer is usually a low-handicap player and golfs at or better than par.

Figuring out your handicap level allows for a more enjoyable golf game, as well as gives a starting point of what to work toward in improving as you progress in ability and strength on different courses.

Adam Jenkins

I’m certainly no expert on the game of golf, but I am someone who knows what it’s like to start out completely overwhelmed. From one beginner to the next, here's to a better golf game!

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