Since the term “handicap” has appeared so many times in my previous blog posts, I guess it is time to talk about what this term really means, why it is being used, and how to calculate it. In golf, the handicap system is a measure of how skillful a player is. The easiest (but informal) method to calculate a player’s handicap is to subtract a course’s par score from the total score. For example, if a course of 18 holes has par 72, and you shot a 92, then your handicap would be 92-70=20. From this calculation, it is easy to notice that the lower the handicap is, the better the golfer is.
A handicap system is a useful tool because it equalizes chances of winning when amateur players of different skill levels are competing with each other. For instance, if I were to consistently shoot around 75 (and I wish I will one day!), it would be extremely advantageous for me to play against my friend who only scored around 98. So, what should we do to make the match fair and fun? The answer is the handicap system. In order to make the match equitable, we would subtract our actual scores from our calculated handicaps.
In this case, my handicap would be 75-72=3 and my friend’s would be 98-72=26. If during the match, my friend scored a 95 and I ended up with a 74, the winner would be my friend (cheer!), because my match score would be actually higher than my friend’s (74-3=71 > 69= 95-26). As illustrated by this example, the handicap system enables golfers of all calibers to play against each other on a fair basis. However, the method of calculation mentioned above is limited, because it does not take other variables, such as the difficulty of different courses, into account. That is why the official handicapped system is employed.
Invented by the United States Golf Association (USGA) in 1911, USGA Handicap System is the formal method of measuring how skillful a player is. In this system, players are given Handicap Index and Course Handicap. Handicap Index indicates “a measurement of a player’s potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty.” Interestingly, as an incentive for amateur players to improve their game, this index only examines a golfer’s potential capability, because only a golfer’ best 3 scores are considered. Course Handicap, on the other hand, is a measurement of how difficult a course is. Therefore, as you might have guessed, the Course Handicap is different for every course. By using these two numbers, combined with a player’s actual score in a match, USGA Handicap System helps determine a player’s performance in each round.
There are some fascinating mathematics involved in the USGA Handicap System. If you are interested in learning more about it, here is a great video that illustrates how USGA Handicap System works.
“Handicap Manual.” United States Golf Association. Jan 1. 2012. Web. Nov 4th, 2015.