By Shawn McConnon

January 10, 2023

If you're looking to calculate your golf handicap we have you covered. 

Calculating your handicap allows you to evaluate your performance and improvement as a golfer. Having a golf handicap also provides you with an objective way to measure your ability against other players.

By the end of this article you will understand more about how to calculate a golf handicap than 95% of golfers. 

If you want a calculator already done for you... we built a FREE Golf Handicap Calculator

Let's get started...

Step 1: Use Adjusted Gross Score

In order to get your correct handicap you need to use your adjusted gross score. 

If you do not have an established handicap this means the maximum score you can get on any hole is: PAR + 5.

After you've established a handicap the maximum score you can receive on any hole is: NET DOUBLE BOGEY. 


Here's an example:

how adjusted gross score works

Even though "No Handicap" scored a 10 they have to use an adjusted score of 9 as they are only allowed PAR + 5 for handicap purposes.

"15 Handicap" does get a stroke on hole 1 because it's the 15th hardest hole. So the highest score they can take is: DOUBLE BOGEY + 1 (stroke they get) = 7 (NET DOUBLE BOGEY).

Let's say "15 Handicap" was "14 Handicap" the highest score they could take is 6 because they would not get a stroke on 15th hardest hole since their handicap is 14.

If your handicap was 19, you would get 2 strokes on the hardest hole (hole 7, Handicap 1). So the highest score you could take is: DOUBLE BOGEY + 2 (strokes you get) = 8.

Step 2: Use Course Handicap

The Course Handicap is a measure of the number of strokes required to play to the par of the course, taking into account the difficulty of the tees being played.

This determines your net double bogey and net par scoring for that particular course and tees played. So you need your Course Handicap to get the correct Adjusted Scoring.

Here's the formula to determine your Course Handicap:

Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating / 113) + (Course Rating - Par)

The USGA has a calculator to get your Course Handicap...

Course Handicap Calculation

Your "Target Score" for your playing ability is: Par + Course Handicap = Target Score.

Most golfers will shoot a few shots higher than their "Target Score" as a Handicap measures your potential, not your average. 

Step 3: Get Your Score Differentials

Your Score Differential is your performance on the course for that round. Think of it as your handicap for that round. 

(113 / Slope Rating) x (Adjusted Gross Score - Course Rating - PCC Adjustment)

Score Differential Calculation

Key Definitios for Calculating Your Golf Handicap

  • Slope Rating: The measure of difficulty of a course for a bogey golfer.
  • Adjusted Gross Score: A golfer's gross score and adjusted when a golfer exceeds the maximum hole score (we talked about this earlier). Also accounts for when a hole is not played or finished.
  • Course Rating: The measure of difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer.
  • Playing Conditions Calculation (PPC): If scores on the course were significantly lower or higher than a PPC adjustment between -1 and +3 will be applied to the Scoring Differentials for that day.

Step 4: You Need at Least 3 Rounds of Golf

Per the World Handicap System a golfer must have at least 3 rounds of golf to register a handicap.

So make sure you have at least 3 rounds of golf to calculate your handicap.

Step 5: Calculation of Handicap Index

The calculation of your handicap is based on your 8 lowest scoring differentials in your last 20 rounds. If you have fewer than 20 rounds some adjustments need to be made. 

This is to ensure an accurate assessment of your potential is being reported. 

Here is the table/calculation to use based on how many rounds you have recorded:

Use score differentials to calculate golf handicap

If you have 3 rounds played you would use your lowest Scoring Differential and minus it by 2. 

Example: I have score differentials of: 10,11 and 12. I would take my lowest one which is 10 and minus it by 2. So my Handicap Index would be 8. 

If you have 6 scoring differentials I would take the average of the lowest 2 and minus it by 1.

Example: I have scoring differentials of: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. I would take the average of 10 and 11 (lowest 2) which is 10.5 and minus it by 1. So my Handicap Index would be 9.5

Considerations When Calculating Your Golf Handicap

There are a few considerations you need to take into consideration when you calculate your handicap...

Soft and Hard Caps

There is a limit on upward movement of your handicap. These are called Soft and Hard Caps

To minimize sudden increases in a player's handicap, the Handicap Index has both a soft cap and a hard cap.

  • If the Handicap Index climbs by 3.0 strokes within a year, the soft cap cuts the pace of future growth in the index by 50%.
  • Regardless of the player's performance, the hard cap restricts the overall increase in the Handicap Index to 5.0 strokes within a year. 

This is due to the fact that a golfer's ability rarely alters considerably over a brief period of time.

Soft and hard cap on handicap index

Playing Conditions Calculation (PCC)

The PCC is a calculation that adjusts scores based on the difficulty of course set up and weather conditions.

It can range from -1 to +3, with a negative adjustment indicating the course played easier and a positive adjustment indicating the course played difficult.

The PCC only takes place if at least 8 scores were posted on the given day and considers both 9-hole and 18-hole scores. No action is required by the club/course staff or golfers except for posting scores.

This is automatically calculated for golfers with an official handicap. So it's almost impossible for you to know whether or not your round would qualify for a PPC and the amount of strokes given or taken.

However, over the course of a year, this would likely have minimal impact on your overall handicap. So you can still calculate your handicap with a fair amount of accuracy. 

Maximum Handicap

The maximum Handicap Index for any golfer is 54.

Calculating Your Golf Handicap Summary

Now you know how to calculate your own golf handicap. While you may not be able to include an accurate Playing Conditions Calculation you can still get a fairly accurate Handicap Index.

Calculating your Handicap Index can help you understand your golf game and track your progress. It can also level the playing field when playing other golfers. 

The key to calculating correctly is to use Adjusted Gross Scoring, get your Course Handicap and then calculating your Score Differentials. 

Once you have your Scoring Differentials its just a matter of getting at least 3 rounds in and using the appropriate calculation based on how many rounds/Score Differentials you have. 

Below is a cheat sheet of how you can calculate your handicap. 

Calculate your golf handicap cheat sheet
About the author

Shawn is the founder of UpGlove. He started UpGlove to solve his own problem of getting an affordable player's glove. Shawn is a single-digit Handicap and loves to play different courses throughout Tampa Bay. He also enjoys taking his two doggies Brutus & Champi for long walks.

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