When you first get involved with the game of golf, you will most likely start by hitting balls at the driving range or playing 9 holes with some friends. As you improve, you will advance to playing 18 holes and may want to start tracking if you are getting better.
The best way to measure your skill is to get a golf handicap and the lower your handicap the better. Not only does it give you something to aim for, but it is also a great equalizer when playing golf with far better (or worse) players.
What is a good handicap for a beginner?
It is possible that elite amateur golfers have a “plus” handicap, but playing golf as a beginner, you can expect your handicap to start around 30 or higher. If you dedicate some practice time most weeks and play a couple of times a month, you could come down to a 20 or slightly lower in a year, but that will not be easy. Golf is a hard sport to start, so be patient. You will improve, but there are no naturals in golf – it takes time.
If you want to reduce your golf handicap, spend at least 50% of your practice time on your short game. Learn how to chip and putt and your handicap will improve.
Oh, you can also read some of our great golf tips posts of course.
How is your golf handicap calculated?
This topic is often confused. The easiest way to explain your golf handicap is the number is how many over par you will most likely shoot. For example, if you are a 25 handicap, you will most likely shoot a gross score of 97 on a par 72 golf course. The idea is that you can take your gross score, remove your handicap and you’ll then be left with a net score.
This gives you an idea of what people mean when they tell you their handicap, but it is not quite this simple.
The handicap system is designed to demonstrate your potential, not your average golf score. The calculation considers your last 20 rounds and works out the average score from the best 8. The average of your “best 8 scores” is your handicap. In other words, if you are a 5 handicap, you should shoot 5 over par 8 out 20 times or 40% of the time. This is why many golfers think their handicap is too low. If a player shoots 12 95s and 8 80s, they are an 8 handicap (assuming the courses they are playing are par 72).
The other critical piece to consider is the difficulty of the course you played. Some courses are much more challenging than others, so that is factored into your handicap. All golf courses have a “course rating” and this rating is used to determine how many over or under par you shot. For example, you might play an easy par 72 course that has a rating of 69 or a hard course that has a rating of 74. The rating is used to calculate your handicap. You can find the course rating on your scorecard.
To add to the confusion, there is also a slope rating. While it is similar, there is a slight difference. While the course rating applies to a scratch handicap, the slope rating accounts for variances in golf course playing difficulty for golfers of different abilities.
If you are talking handicap with friends a couple terms to keep in mind. If someone says they are “scratch” they mean they are a zero handicap. They shoot even par 40% of the time. If someone says they are a “plus” handicap, it means they shoot under par.
Interestingly, your handicap may actually change between countries due to the inconsistencies each organization uses to work it out. However, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and The Royal and Ancient (R&A), working with the various existing handicapping authorities, devised a new World Handicap System (WHS) which is in the process of being introduced globally and sees the end of Equitable Stroke Control.
You can find out the course handicap and course slope for USGA golf course in their database by clicking here.
How can you get a golf handicap?
The easiest way to get a golf handicap is to sign-up through local golf clubs or country clubs. They will enter you in the system and you can start posting scores immediately. If you want your handicap to be accurate, you need to post every score you shoot. You can post via a phone app.
If you do not want to sign-up at a golf club, there are online options as well. If you want it to be an official handicap, you need to make sure it is managed by the USGA or the R&A. They are the two primary organizations that manage the sport of golf.
How do you use a golf handicap?
There are three primary ways that you will use your golf handicap.
- Track Your Game – if you are going to invest time and money don’t you want to know if you are improving? A golf handicap is the best way to track your progress over time. The calculation considers your most recent twenty scores and you will quickly be able to see a trend of how you are playing.
- Side Wager with Your Friends – if you enjoy competing against your friends and playing partners, the handicap system is the perfect way to create a level playing field. Maybe you want to play for a few bucks or for who pays for beverages in the 19th hole, but your friend has been playing for years and you are just getting started. Use the handicap system. If you are a 25 handicap and he or she is a 10, they should give you 15 strokes or just work out the adjusted score after a round.
- Compete in Net Tournaments – a “net” tournament uses handicaps to determine the winner. Basically, you get to subtract your handicap from your final score. If you are a 20 handicap and you shoot 88, your score for a net tournament would be 68. These tournaments allow players of all skill levels to play against each other. For your reference, a tournament that is played without handicaps is called “gross”. In other words, all events on the PGA Tour are gross tournaments.
Final thoughts -what is a good handicap for a beginner?
If you are serious about the game of golf and are focused on improving and getting faster, getting a handicap is a must. It is inexpensive to sign-up for one, typically ~$25 per year. You will know if you are improving and it will allow you to fairly compete with your friends on the course.
As a beginner, your first handicap will be in the 30s, but with the right practice, you can quickly improve. Set a goal for yourself. Decrease your handicap index by 5 the first year or the first 6 months. Now practice, get better, and enjoy your afternoons on the course.