Course Handicap vs. Handicap Index

Handicap is a term bandied about an awful lot at golf courses around the country, but do we all have a solid grasp of what it really means and how to calcuate it? This is certainly a hot topic at this time of year because of the U.S. Open and in particular U.S. Open qualifying.

To be eligible for U.S. Open qualifying, a player must have a Handicap Index of 1.4 or lower or be a professional. 

Of course, a lot of players fudge their number but be careful, a bad score will reflect poorly on your game and your honesty.

Often if a player doesn't return a score within eight shots of the course rating (usually a stroke or two higher than par), he gets a letter from the USGA that says he's no longer eligible to compete in USGA events unless he has a good explanation for the high score.

So in case you were wondering, here is the difference between Course Handicap and Handicap Index and how you calculate both.

A Handicap Index is a portable number that can be converted to Course Handicap from any set of tees rated for a players gender so the game will be equitable no matter what tees are played.

A "Handicap Index" is the USGA's service mark used to indicate a measurement of a player's potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty. It is expressed as a number taken to one decimal place (e.g., 10.4) and is used for conversion to a Course Handicap.

To determine your Handicap Index, you'll need your last five scores and information from the courses you shot those scores on, namely slope and course rating. has a easy and efficient Handicap Index Calculator you can use. Just have your scores, course rating and slope ready.

Once you've got your Handicap Index, you can easily transfer it from your home course to any USGA course in the country.

A Course Handicap represents the number of strokes needed to play to the level of a scratch golfer - or the Course Rating of a particular set of tees. A Course Handicap is expressed as a whole number (e.g. 10).

To get your Course Handicap, take the Handicap Index and multiply it by the slope rating of the tees played. Once you have that number, divide it by Standard Slope Rating (113) to get your answer (rounded to the nearest whole number, .4 rounds down and .5 rounds up).

This might sound a bit complicated and we all don't carry our calculators to the golf course, so this Course Handicap Calculator designed by the USGA is a good starting point.

Let's take a look at what all this means with a real life example. Let's say I played five courses in the Hilton Head area, all with slope ratings from about 120-130 and course ratings in the low 70s and shot anywhere from 95-103. Once I put all of those numbers in the Handicap Index Calculator, I'd come out with an Index, whether it's respectable or not, of 16.7.

Ok now with my Handicap Index, I can get a Course Handicap. I'm taking a trip to TPC Scottsdale, home of the FBR Open every February. I'll plan to play from the white tees, which have a slope of 120. So now I have my Handicap Index (16.7), my slope (120) and my Standard Slope (113) and I punch those numbers in to find my Course Handicap. After crunching the numbers, my Course Handicap would be 18.

If you'd like more information, you can get it by visiting the USGA's Web site on Handicaps which is the most authoritative and informative source on this subject available online.

Now that we know how to calculate these numbers, let's try to bring them down! 


Please Share