How To Get A Golf Handicap

How to get a golf handicap is one of the first questions many new golfers ask. Here's how

get a golf handicap
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How To Get A Golf Handicap

How to get a golf handicap is often among of the first questions new golfers would ask. (Just as, when you tell someone you golf, a typical stock response is ‘what is your handicap?’)

Getting a handicap has become easier of late. This is a consequence of the golfing world moving to one system of awarding handicaps, whereas before different territories had their own ways of calculating and allotting handicaps. This new system is called the World Handicapping System, (WHS) and applies across 80 countries.

One of the joys of golf is that players of differing abilities can compete against each other as equals. This is entirely down to the handicap system. In theory, in a handicap competition, every competitor should have an equal chance of winning. (Hey, we did say ‘in theory!)

A handicap gives a player a number of shots to adjust their score by. One of the simplest forms of competition is the medal, or strokeplay competition, whereby the lowest nett score wins. To get the nett score you take a player’s actual (gross) score and adjust it for handicap. So if Alex shoots 93 and has a handicap of 18, Alex’s nett score is 93-18 = 75. Handicaps are used in other forms of competition such as the ever-popular Stableford.

The WHS System rather than allocate a handicap, in the strictest sense of the word, allocates instead a handicap index, which is “a measurement of a player's potential ability on a course of standard playing difficulty.” This Handicap Index (based upon the average of the best eight scores from your last 20 rounds) is then used to calculate the number of shots that a golfer gets around a particular course according to that course’s playing difficulty.

This number of shots is the Course Handicap that a golfer gets for that round. A Handicap Index can go up to a maximum of 54, but the maximum golf handicap a player can get can be higher than this on difficult course. (For example, if a player with a 54 Handicap Index took on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island from the Championship tees, they will, be a. mad to do so; and b. get 81shots as their Course Handicap.)

So how do you acquire a Handicap Index under WHS? Well the good news is that you do not have to wait until you have played 20 rounds. You can get one as soon as you have played 54 holes – either as 9-hole rounds, or 18-hole ones, or a mix of both – and submit your scores. If it is a social game, you have to register in advance that the round will be for handicap purposes – so no waiting until you see what you have scored before you decide whether you want that score included or not.

Do this and you can obtain an initial Handicap Index. This will then get adjusted as you play more and start to fill out your 20 rounds.

It used to be that to get a handicap you had to be a member of a club. But no longer in some countries. Now nomadic golfers can a get official handicaps, too, under various schemes. For example, England Golf, the governing body of the amateur game in England, have the iGolf scheme, whereby for an annual subscription of £40 a year, golfers can obtain and maintain an up-to-date official handicap index; Scottish Golf have OpenPlay (£5.99 a month) and in the US you can join an online golf club.

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How do I get a handicap? 

In order to be allocated a CONGU handicap you have to be a member of a Golf Club or another organisation that is affiliated to one of the eight aforementioned Unions/Associations.

Then you must submit a number of cards, completing 54 holes. The cards can be a mix of 9 and 18-hole rounds, but 3 x 18 holes is the preferred option. The cards must be completed and signed by someone the Club or organisation deems responsible. The home club or organisation will then allot a handicap based on the best of these three cards.

How do I get my handicap down? First you must complete a “handicap qualifying” round (the club or organisation’s handicap committee are responsible for stipulating when a round is qualifying) and return a nett score (gross score minus handicap) that is less than the competition standard scratch score (CSS). CSS is a score calculated for each handicap qualifying round. It gives a benchmark, or target, nett score. If you beat CSS by a stroke or more your handicap will be cut.

What about going up? If your nett score matches CSS or falls within the “buffer zone,” your handicap will remain constant. If you return a higher nett score than this your handicap will increase by 0.1. No matter how high your score is, or even if you fail to return a score, your handicap will only go up by 0.1.

Can I lose my handicap? If you fail to comply with the obligations and responsibilities of the UHS (repeatedly), or conduct yourself in a manner that is not in the best interests of the game of golf your handicap can be suspended. If you fail to complete three or more qualifying rounds in a year your handicap will lapse.

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Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?