Golf Handicap FAQ

Questions and Answers about the USGA Golf Handicap System

Male scratch golfer in silhouette
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

This golf handicap FAQ covers the USGA Handicap System. If you run into terms you don't understand, check the Golf Handicap Glossary. To compute your unofficial handicap index, there are free handicap index calculators. To get a course handicap, use a free course handicap calculator

(The USGA Handicap System is used in that part of the world governed by the USGA, many other places. The list of countries using USGA handicaps is viewable here. Other countries may use their own handicapping systems, such as the CONGU system used in Great Britain and Ireland. If you have questions about other handicapping systems, please consult your local golf association.)

  • Related: An overview of the USGA Handicap System

Answers to Common Questions About USGA Handicaps

Here is the list of questions we've compiled - questions that golfers most commonly have about handicaps and the USGA Handicap System. Click on a question to read the answer:

  • What is a scratch golfer?
  • Are "handicap" and "handicap index" the same thing?
  • How do I establish a handicap index?
  • How is handicap index calculated?
  • Is having a handicap index required?
  • What is course handicap?
  • How do I use my handicap index on the golf course?
  • If you play golf alone, can you still post that score for your handicap?
  • Do I have to join a golf club to get an official handicap?
  • What is course rating?
  • What is slope rating?
  • How are course rating and slope rating determined?
  • How do I know on which holes to take strokes?
  • How are strokes determined in a match between a man and a woman?
  • How are strokes allocated in singles match play?
  • Why is my score usually higher than my handicap?
  • Can I turn in a score that includes incomplete holes?
  • Can I turn in incomplete or 9-hole rounds?
  • What is the highest handicap a golfer can have?
  • What is Equitable Stroke Control?
  • How do I know my ESC limits if I don't yet have a handicap index?
  • What is handicap differential?
  • How many rounds are required to establish a USGA Handicap Index?
  • What is GHIN?

... and More Golf Handicap FAQs

Why Is 'Slope Rating' Called 'Slope'?
Slope. It doesn't make much sense, given what it means. But, hey, they had to call it something!

There is an actual reason why slope rating is called that, though. Slope rating accounts for the fact that the more difficult a golf course is, the greater the descrepancy is between the scores of stronger and weaker players.

If you take the data that backs up that observation (name, scores and course ratings) and plot that data on a graph, you'll get a line that slopes ever more sharply upward. Slopes upward.

Hey, why not call it slope!

Can I Play in a Tournament Without an Official Handicap?
If you're an amateur or recreational golfer and you want to play a tournament, but the tournament requires you to provide a handicap number, can you enter? In many cases no, but in some cases yes - depending on who's running the tournament and what type of tournament it is.

If it's, for example, a city championship flighted by handicap, you'll probably need proof of a handicap index.

But if it's something more along the lines of a charity tournament, a corporate outing, a golf association playday, it's best to check with tournament organizers and ask. There are multiple methods of providing golfers an ex-post-facto, 1-day handicap equivalent, things such as Peoria System, Callaway System and System 36.

  • What Are Golf Handicaps, Anyway?

  • Friends playing golf.

    Easy Ways to Calculate Golf Handicap Index

  • old golf scorecards

    These Golf Calculators Estimate Your Handicap

  • Slope rating is part of the USGA's handicap system

    What is Slope Rating at Golf Courses?

  • Golf Scorecard with Ball and Tees

    Learn to Use the Course Handicap In Your Next Golf Game

  • Woman golfer putting the ball into the hole

    Here's the Formula for Calculating Your Golf Handicap

  • Old golf scorecards

    Explaining Handicap Differential in Golf (and Do You Need to Care?)

  • golf scorecard with ball and tees

    Are 'Handicap' and 'Handicap Index' the Same Thing in Golf?

  • golfer trying to play out of tall grass

    What Is the Highest Handicap a Golfer Can Have?

  • A building on a gold course.

    How to Find Clubs and Get a Golf Handicap

  • General view of a golf course bunker and green

    Do You Know What USGA Course Ratings Are and What They're Used For?

  • A single golfer teeing off

    How Many Golf Scores Does It Take to Establish a Handicap?

  • Woman writing down her golf score on the scorecard

    Do You Know What a Golf Handicap Is?

  • man vs. woman golf match

    Handicap Battle of the Sexes? Strokes in Man vs. Woman Golf Match

  • Male scratch golfer in silhouette

    Do You Know What It Means to Be a Scratch Golfer?

  • A golfer pencils in his scores on a golf scorecard

    What Is Adjusted Gross Score in Golf...and Do You Need to Care?