How Are Golf Handicaps Adjusted?

Once you have a handicap, it is then adjusted for each handicap-counting round you complete.

golf handicaps adjusted

Once you have a handicap, it is then adjusted for each handicap-counting round you complete.

How Are Golf Handicaps Adjusted?

How golf handicaps are adjusted has been tinkered with recently, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Once you have a handicap, it is then adjusted for each handicap-counting round you complete.

When are golf handicaps left unchanged? If your score either equals your handicap or is only slightly worse than it (so that it still falls within the buffer zone above your handicap), then your handicap is not adjusted.

‘Worse than you handicap‘ in this context is judged not against par but the standard scratch score (SSS) or the competition scratch score (opens in new tab) (CSS).

How much worse than your handicap you are allowed to shoot before your handicap is increased depends upon your handicap category.

Related: What is a supplementary scorecard?

There are five categories, and the buffer zone is the same as the category number. Thus a category 1 golfer gets a buffer zone of 1 shot above handicap; a category 5 player a zone of 5 shots above handicap.

The five categories are - Category 1 playing handicaps of 5 or less; Category 2 handicaps of 6 to 12;  Category 3 handicaps 13 to 20; Category 4 , handicaps 21 to 28; Category 5 handicaps 29 to 36.

Worked example: A 15 handicapper (opens in new tab) shot 91 in a club competition for which the CSS was subsequently calculated as 73.

Whether their handicap is to be raised depends upon the ‘nett differential’ for the round. This is the difference between a player’s nett score (total shots minus playing handicap) and the CSS.

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In this example, the player’s nett score is total shots (91) minus CSS (73), which is 18, or three over the player’s handicap.

 As this 3 over handicap is within the Category 3 buffer zone, the player’s handicap is not raised.

When are golf handicaps adjusted upwards? A handicap is increased when the player shoots above handicap by such an amount that they also exceed the buffer zone for their handicap.

If this is the case the handicap is increased by 0.1 regardless of handicap category or how high a total was recorded.

Related: England Golf to crack down on bandit handicaps

When are golf handicaps adjusted down? A handicap is cut when the total score falls below the CSS (if applicable) or SSS for the round.

Handicaps are cut according to the formula: shots under CSS x 0.1 x handicap category.

Thus if a category 1 player shot 3 under CSS, his handicap is cut by 0.3 (3 x 0.1 x1). But if a Category 3 golfer does this, then their handicap would be cut by 0.9 (3 x 0.1 x3).

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Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he worked as contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around 20 countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.