Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

In golf, what is a handicap?

What is a handicap in golf? We'll break down if it's something you need to play a round

People playing a round of golf
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Have you been about to play a round of golf, and someone asked you, what’s your handicap? They aren’t implying you’re doing horribly, it’s actually a common thing to know. But in golf, what is a handicap? If you have no idea what yours is (or what it even means), rather than making it up, we’ll help you figure it out, and if you need to know yours.

What is a golf handicap?

Wouldn’t it be nice if at work when you had a bad day, the next day they gave you some slack and took it easy on you? Well, in golf, that happens. If you have a horrible, crappy, you can’t believe you sucked that hard round, you’ll be able to carry that over in the next round.

Handicap highlights

  • It’s a way to keep it fair for everyone, no matter their skill set, gender, or age.
  • It goes by a numeric system based on the course you play on.
  • You have to have played golf at least once to have one.
  • The higher the number, the bigger the handicap.
  • The lower the handicap, the better the golfer.

Say the course number is 72. Subtract how many strokes you needed to complete it, say 80, so your handicap would be 8. The next round of play, if you score an 88, take the handicap out, so you score an 80.

There are more elements that could factor in, but that’s a good starting point.

Why do golfers need a handicap?

If you’re going to play regularly with people who take the game seriously, even for fun, you should know your handicap. It’s also good to know if you play on different courses, to keep things fair in regard to the course difficulty. Using a handicap evens things out, as someone with a 19 handicap could still feel good playing with someone who has a handicap of 3.

But most importantly, if you want to join a club or play in tournaments, you have to have one.

Two people looking at each other while holding their golf clubs over their shoulders
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Do I need a handicap to go golfing?

If you are going to play with people who don’t care and don’t want to keep score, it wouldn’t matter if you had or knew your handicap. It’s not a must-have to be able to walk on the course. There isn’t someone going around asking you and then kicking you out if you don’t know it. You don’t need one to play golf, especially if you’re just starting out.

You need to know yours if you take it seriously enough to join a club, want to compete in a tournament, or if you think you want to make a career out of it. In those cases, yes, you need to have and know your handicap.

There are free apps to track your scores to find out your handicap, so you don’t have to use the old-school pencil and scorecard. Golfing is a sport that gets you outside and helps you relax. You don’t have to make it more complicated by figuring out your golf handicap, but if you want to, now you know the basics to get there.

Editors' Recommendations

Dannielle Beardsley
Dannielle has written for various websites, online magazines, and blogs. She loves everything celebrity and her favorite…
Going camping? You should take Irish Spring Soap with you, and there’s a really good (and weird) reason why
We bet it's not for the reason you think, either
Camping views through larch trees in the Enchantments during fall

Even if your mind has turned to colder times and the thought of hitting the slopes has you willing winter into existence, the reality is that we still have plenty of fall to come. Cooler weather and shorter days make fall an excellent camping season, with plenty of time for stargazing and getting cozy around your campfire. But it's not just us humans who like to get comfy as the weather turns.

Regular campers will be all too familiar with the ongoing challenge of keeping critters away from their tent or RV. Often, we focus on larger animals — after all, a bear trying to snag your lunch is more of an immediate danger than a swarm of bugs all after a bite of you — but there's one critter we often overlook. Around this time of year, mice and other small rodents are hunting for somewhere warm and cozy, and your sleeping bag or the inside of your RV is just the place they're looking for. Fortunately, there's a tried-and-tested camping hack to deter them, and the best news is that it's safe for pets and kids.

Read more
More people disappear in the Alaska Triangle than anywhere else
The mystery of the Alaska Triangle is solved. Well, sort of
Clouds surrounding a mountain in Alaska

If you’re into alien conspiracies, unsolved mysteries, high school geometry, and tropical islands, it doesn’t get more intriguing than the Bermuda Triangle (aka Devil’s Triangle). That was, of course, until the mystery of The Triangle was finally solved a few years ago! Well ... not really.

No matter, because we now know the Alaska Triangle exists and the mystery behind it is way, way more interesting. So much so that the Travel Channel even made a TV series out of it, where "[e]xperts and eyewitnesses attempt to unlock the mystery of the Alaska Triangle, a remote area infamous for alien abductions, Bigfoot sightings, paranormal phenomena, and vanishing airplanes." So, yeah, the Alaska Triangle has everything the Bermuda Triangle has, but with more mountains, better hiking, and a whole lot more crazy.

Read more
5 mountain biking habits everyone on a mountain bike must learn ASAP
Ride hard, stay safe, avoid injury
Pedaling a mountain bike up a hill is harder than going down. Riders coming down should stop.

If you have jumped into the world of mountain biking like so many over the past few years, you may find that it can be an overwhelming space. Even figuring out what type of mountain bike you need (or that there even were different types) can feel like a lot.

With the first step of actually purchasing a mountain bike behind you, there are quite a few other things you want to consider. What mountain bike helmet should you get? What should you bring on each ride?

Read more