Does Your Golf Handicap Matter To You?

The Golf Monthly forum explains its views on whether handicap actually matters...

Does Your Golf Handicap Matter To You
(Image credit: Getty Images Creative)

The Golf Monthly forum explains its views on whether handicap actually matters...

Does Your Golf Handicap Matter To You?

For some it doesn’t matter at all, for others it can mean everything.

We can now put cards in whenever we play or we can pay no attention to it whatsoever.

We asked our forum members, who have a wide range of handicaps, ages and outlook, how they view the number next to their name…

Does Your Golf Handicap Matter To You?


I do care about it and want to get it lower. But as I've only had a handicap for five years or so I still have that feeling that I have the potential of getting lower. I can understand players of 20-30 years stopping caring about it when they've plateaued and it will just hover around the same sort of numbers. My feeling is that will happen to me when I get to around 12, as I don't practise enough to get any lower than that - so once I managed to get there I think I'll be happy and stop caring unless it creeps too high again. On the flip side though, I've started caring less and less since we moved to the WHS because it now seems more random and it's less clear what I have to do to get it down.


I don't play golf to win credit in the pro shop or get my name on a board, I play to reduce my handicap. When I reach a stage where it is going up and up, I will quit. I don't really play matchplay or pairs because the handicap is not affected.


It matters to me when playing competitions in the respect that I want it to reflect my chances/ability of doing ok, so if it’s 9, I want to play to a couple of shots either side of that, if it’s 15, I still want the same thing, but what I don’t want is to enter a competition not knowing how I’ll play and go out and play 10-15 shots above my handicap (whatever that may be) every time. Apart from the odd car crash we can all suffer. So working on it and practising keeps me focussed. Social golf I’m there for the laughs and score is irrelevant.


Yes it does matter to me because I want to gain greater respectability. I suspect those who say they are not bothered already have a decent handicap and can happily shout it out loud . I don't lie awake worrying about it, I don't fixate each round, but I would like to be lower.

Lord Tyrion

It matters to me but a lot less than it did. I'd like it to go down but if it goes up then so be it. My first handicap was 15. I had 3 0.1s before starting down.

I'm not sure how I'll feel when and if I start getting 16 shots but it won't stop me playing. After my latest round I might just be, for the first time since I can remember, getting 10 shots next time out....quite looking forward to it.


I'm currently at my lowest ever handicap index of 12.4 and I'm pleased with the improvements I've made, I would like to get it down to around 10. I won't lie, partly it matters because it's nice to tell people you're off a low handicap and within my circle of friends, to try and be the lowest index would be nice.


My handicap matters as a reflection of my ability and something to aim for each round, however - and this is something I've noticed more this year, possibly due to WHS - to get close to some of the scores that are winning the handicap prizes I need to shoot a lower gross than I'm probably capable of. That leaves the scratch prizes to aim for, which kinda negates the point of a handicap in the first place.


I care about my own handicap but don’t care about anyone else’s, I am also aware that no one else cares about my own handicap. As long as I feel it vaguely reflects my current ability, then I am happy. I went from 6.2 to 8.5 without a single cut once and it was awful, turning up and playing comps knowing I wouldn’t break 30 points/Nett 80.


Yes it's important to me, as it's a barometer of how well I can play. Getting to Cat' 1 was a very proud day for me. When out on my own I can hit every shot in the book and hole putts for fun. But it's similar to marking your own answers when studying for an exam, you are a little too lenient on yourself. How you score with a card in your hand, in competition golf, is the true measure of your golf, and that should be reflected in your handicap. Even if the new system is a little weird and inconsistent.


It does, as I want to be as good a golfer I can be. With that I find it, rightly or not, to be very embarrassing when you play with others and you cannot remotely play to the standard of which your stated handicap says you should be able to, even though I know that when we sit with a pint afterwards no-one could care less. Current handicap index is 5.0, which has gone up from 3.5 this year. I've most definitely reached my natural ability of how good I can be without doing some serious practice regime, so I'm at a cross road really as I know myself, and if I don't see any improvement I'm gonna lose interest in the game eventually - no matter how many people tell me it's just a hobby and that I should just enjoy it.


It matters to me and no-one else. Most people don’t know, care or understand what it is, only golfers and we’re a bunch of lunatics. I always want to be lower but accept that without putting in a lot more effort that probably won’t happen. So for now, happy with whatever it is as long as I’m still picked for the scratch team. If I went up too much for that I’d have been dropped regardless on obviously poor performance week in, week out, the captain wouldn’t need to see my number to know.


Yes it does, I still believe I can improve and my handicap is a good indication of that, once I peak and start going up then it will probably matter less.


It matters to me although I’ve been playing for over 30 years I still hope to go lower. Hope and reality are two different things though, been around 17/18 h/c for years but I’m 16.6 at the moment and put my first general play round in today had a net 69 so hoping I might get a cut. Still love competitive golf and never lost my enthusiasm for the game.


Yes, it matters to me. I don't have much chance of winning medals and am not really good enough to win scratch events. So, my personal achievements are about keeping my handicap down.


I care about my handicap, but it's changing so quickly now that part of the 'interest' of being able to track it easily is gone.


Yes it matters quite a bit, but on a round-by-round basis much less so than under the previous system. My exact handicap used to come down as a result of a few good rounds a year, but I’d go up an almost balancing amount through +0.1s. As I tried to keep my playing handicap to 8 I was always very aware of my exact and so when playing a qualifier I knew if I was between say 8.1 and 8.4 I’d try very hard to avoid a +0.1. Doesn’t seem to matter to me in the same way under the new system. I’ve drifted up to 10.1 but have four fairly high counting scores in a row coming soon and so know that if I play my decent game I will be able to lower my HI quite quickly.


Yes, but that’s only a small part. Covid helped emphasise that. It’s getting out and meeting other golfers. Fresh air, me time, recharge batteries. The wild life. Don’t get me wrong, I won £28 in my last round plus what the club winnings are. But dropping 0.3 was massive for me. What is also important is at times playing well. Hitting good shots, shots that bring me back. Seeing PPs playing well.


Under WHS I still have the desire to reduce my handicap, but the reliance on competition rounds is much diminished, with access to the EG app and the ability to make every round a scoring round. There is also the added bonus that while in the past the opportunities to reduce a handicap weere restricted to the competition season (summer), the opportunity is now year long, although in practical terms the course condition and weather conditions during the depth of winter would almost certainly result in nothing other than an upward trend.


It matters to me but I wish it didn’t. When I play with my friends or whatever I usually play to it or under but when I play in a medal or competition and it actually matters I can’t play to it.


I'm absolutely fed up with my golf. I've gone up up up since the WHS and have obviously deserved to, but, I went up .6 in two rounds last week and two much better rounds dropped out, and whilst I agree if I now score, say a 93, and its replacing an 83 then that reflects my current playing level but last year our course was in much better condition because of leatherjacket damage and grass damage due to heavy rain in spring and then no sun and warmth it's been poor this year, and the second cut was much lower so it was easier to find a ball and to play it so increases in handicap are not exactly like for like of the ones coming out.


I've always been quite obsessed with numbers in sport, particularly from my cricket playing days as a youngster. Maybe being a maths geek has something to do with it as well. So on that basis, it matters to me, and I think it helps having a target in mind when it comes to trying to improve my game.


Having a handicap is a reasonably objective way of telling me where my golf is so I find it useful but would be more so if I submitted more cards. I'm a bit lazy about submitting cards and haven't played any comps for a while. Also think handicaps are great for informal games with folk you don't play with regularly. Bottom line is I'm glad we have them, I would like mine to be better because I would like to be able to play the game better but I'm not particularly obsessed with where it is at any particular moment in time.


Related: World Handicap System: 6 Things you've already forgotten


It used to, it doesn't any more. It used to be testament to years or hard work. It's now a reflection of the last six weeks' form.

sweaty sock

I play golf for fun, so handicap is just whatever it is. I think the EG app/WHS is great, I've entered more cards this year, then probably in total over my golfing life, at a guess (certainly for this year it will be for certain, as will probably do 40ish scoring rounds).


Nope. And never have been, even when down to mid single figures. My only concern is what I am able to shoot gross, as that is the true measure of my ability.


All that is important is that my current handicap reflects my ability (one of the things I love about the WHS). I started to dislike the game when I could no longer play to a 6 handicap as I thought it a waste of time to enter comps - going up 0.1 at time when I needed to go up three shots. When I play in comps I am playing to win but do not get upset when I do not.


I used to start every comp with the thought, “I want to beat my handicap.” When that wasn’t possible it was, “I want to buffer.” As for what my handicap was, I wanted it to be as low as I could get it - note, that doesn’t mean as low as is physically possible. As low as I could get it. Does it matter now? I’ve accepted that age and health have taken my best game away from me and, in truth, as much as I love the game I am frustrated by it. I can’t play enough to maintain a level of competency I’m happy with, and it physically hurts too much to play once a week. Mmm, not so bothered about the handicap but very bothered about the quality of ball striking.


Never worried about my handicap, just saw it as a marker showing how my game had improved or got worse. It was always nice to see the number come down but if it went up, never worried me. I am a casual golfer, one or two rounds a week tops, no practice, little in the way of warm up, no lessons so really had no reason to expect any real improvements


Not bothered by it, I am interested in it and like to track what I need to do to maintain it or go lower. Finished 2019 on 12.6, dropping into Cat 3 for the first time in years, which I knew was too high. Currently at my lowest which is better than I think I am. I just try to play well, and if if the handicap is high I might win.


Used to matter, I was an achievement to get to Cat 1, some even lied about it too to be the big I am! But now I couldn’t care less, even though I'm at my lowest of 2.6, but with the new system I could be off 9 in a few weeks


I have never really been obsessed with my H/C but always tried to (and still do) get it lower, however I now have arthritis, scoliosis and cataracts in both eyes so my H/C is going in the wrong direction. I have never been more than an 18h/c and have always said I will stop when I am offered more than one shot per hole as for me that is not something any man should accept, just my own view of course.


Used to be, used to mean everything, sweated at the very thought of a cut, sleepless nights waiting to see how much I’d get cut, counting the rounds down hoping to trigger an ESR, Wouldn’t play in comps if I wasn’t hitting well, practiced all the time. I reached my goal of single figures and that was that. Back up to 11 and I care not no more, I seldom look for lost balls, I don’t get upset, I don’t get down. If I’m playing badly I’ll just pick up and play hole by hole. Go for the scenery and banter and couldn’t care if I was off 28.


Less than it used to. I hung onto single figures by the skin of my teeth until I was 70 but I don't think I'll see 9 again, short of a miracle. Unlike some others, I think the WHS makes it easy to see where your handicap is heading. If, for example, you've got a low, counting, score about to drop out of the 20, you know you need to return an average or below average score to stand still. Looking at my own, my 11.2 should be safe for a while because a good number of my counting scores have a long way to go before they drop out. Handicaps certainly reflect current play more under the WHS.


I used to be really focused on it and felt in some ways it defined what sort of a golfer you were. Over the last 5 or 6 years due to a combination of shanks, chipping yips and health issues I've gone from 8 to 17. Playing with old clubs gave me a whole new interest in the game and I thought I was no longer too concerned about my handicap, but now I think about it I still get very nervy with a card in hand as I want to score as well as I can, which usually results in a bad round as my golf has deteriorated so much!


It is what it is for me, I couldn't care less. I can't stand vanity handicaps.


I thought it mattered to me but when I think on it more it really doesn’t …

•I always want it lower… but when I think on it, that’s just to show personal improvement but there’s plenty other ways to measure improvement than using handicap

•Its nice to have something to use for giving everyone a chance in social games… but again there’s plenty alternatives we could use. It doesn’t matter if we use something completely different to the social games at other courses or even other social games at our own course, as long as its fair/fun

•If I want to play a comp I need a handicap, so it matters then otherwise I couldn’t play that event… but it doesn’t matter what that handicap is, just that it exists & is accurate

I’m playing an Open handicap comp on Saturday but with a gammy knee I have zero chance of playing to handicap, so I’ll shell out knowing in advance I’ll be in a fair bit of pain during and after, at a course I just played last week, with no hope of winning even the side bets… will my handicap matter to me… not much, should be some good craic though. Bottom line, if it didn't exist would I still play golf? Hell yeah! ... So I'll say no, my handicap doesn't matter to me


When I first started playing, I was handicap obsessed, wanting to get down as low as I could. Managed to get down to 10, but then left the club and didn't play regularly for a good few years. Started up again after the break and obtained a 13 handicap, and have been hovering around that ever since, although truth be known I should be a few higher nowadays. I get frustrated that I'm not hitting the ball as far as I used to, but if I'm playing with old friends who I played with 20 or 30 years ago, it's a good leveller as we are all affected the same way, so I don't feel disadvantaged. My handicap chasing days are long gone, but as long as I can still knock it around at a reasonable pace it doesn't bother me that much.


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Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.