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How is Your Golf Handicap Calculated in 2020?

Competing against your friends is one of the most fun parts of golf. However, it's important to set up the game in a fair manner that gives everyone a chance to win. Cue golf handicaps! Let's take a look at how your golf handicap is calculated in 2020.

What is a Golf Handicap?

A golf handicap measures a player's strength based on previous scores and courses played. This allows players of different abilities to compete against one another. Handicaps are common in amateur play to provide an even playing field for everyone involved. While handicaps can technically be used in professional play, they are typically omitted in favor of a fair tournament. Your golf handicap is not static. As you accumulate more rounds and experience on a variety of courses, your handicap changes accordingly. It is often used as a representation of your skill level and can be used as a conversation started in the clubhouse.

How Handicap Calculations Have Changed For 2020

Until now, there have been many different forms and systems for handicaps. As you might imagine, this has been confusing when players from various countries come to compete. One handicap might not be as strong as another, and making conversions is very controversial on its own. Fortunately, a better system is now in place. On January 1st, 2020, the USGA switched to the World Handicap System. This new system won't hurt advanced or novice golfers in particular. Instead, its objective is to unify the previous policies by the USGA and other associations.

The World Handicap System essentially combines all previous handicap systems. It unifies golfers regardless of their country of origin, course selection, or tournament history. This system accounts for the par and stroke count of each hole in the golfer's resume. It also differentiates between 9-hole and 18-hole courses that could produce different results. The WHS officially debuted in January, but will likely see some adjustments as the year progresses. Due to COVID-19, the frequency of play will likely be reduced to less than expected, and some of the changes might have to roll over into 2021. Nevertheless, golfers around the world are considering the WHS the next time they step onto the course.

Steps To Calculate Your Course Handicap

Calculating your course handicap is a process with multiple steps that your average golfer isn’t familiar with. You use your handicap to determine your Course handicap for any particular course. While you can omit some of these steps to estimate your CH in a pinch, it's important to follow them all when trying to be accurate. Pull out your trusty calculator and crunch the numbers carefully.

  1. Convert gross scores to adjusted gross scores

This is simply converting your raw scores to adjusted scores that are easier for calculations. Use your Equitable Score Control, which is known to be a good estimator for your playing ability. In essence, these numbers provide a good starting point to make further calculations.

  1. Calculate handicap differentials

Here, you'll want to use each course rating and slope rating to calculate the handicap differentials. This is a simple formula that can be copied and pasted into your calculator. The point of a differential is that it exists relative to other metrics. A good variety of courses leads to meaningful handicap differentials.

  1. Select and average lowest handicap differentials

There's no need for all of the handicap differentials at once. Depending on the number of differentials available, you'll select an appropriate amount. Then, average these to arrive at a single number. Again, this is saying how well you perform relative to an average player when all the factors are considered.

  1. Multiply average handicap differentials by a factor

In 2020, this factor is 0.96. Multiply this average handicap differential by 0.96 to prepare for the next step. This is part of the modern system.

  1. Calculate handicap index by truncation

The number you have on hand might have an absurd number of decimal places. Truncate all digits after the tenths place to arrive at a more manageable number. You should round up or down as appropriate.

  1. Calculate course handicap

Finally, calculate your course handicap with another straightforward formula. Here, you'll want to use the slope rating of the course to account for its specific difficulty. This handicap represents how well you are expected to fair on the course you are about to play.

Handicap Etiquette & Tips

As mentioned before, it is really important to be careful with these calculations. If one of your numbers is off in the first few steps, it will cause a snowball effect and incorrect numbers all the way through. There's no shame in using a calculator. Alternatively, there are programs online that can compute the hard parts for you; all you have to do is enter the right statistics. Keep in mind that out on the course, you won't have access to these tools and will have to do it manually.

Once you've calculated your handicap, it's a good habit to communicate it with everyone in your playing group. Explicitly tell them what handicap you are working with and see if others will disclose their handicaps as well. Golf is a game of civility, and it's a good idea to be transparent about handicaps out of sheer respect. If you have any questions, bring them up before you leave the clubhouse. There's nothing worse than closing out the course and wondering why a certain player has a score much lower than expected.

Finally, handicaps have a shorter shelf life than you might expect. Suppose you calculated your handicap a few months ago and have played multiple rounds since. In your next round of golf, it's not ideal to use this outdated handicap. You've likely improved in the meantime and deserve a smaller handicap than before. Maybe you’ve worked on new chipping drills or added 10 yards to your drive. All of the above formulas are very sensitive to small changes in variables. Even the smallest improvements can change your index and change your handicap overall. If in doubt, it's always best to recalculate your handicap with the latest info. Not only will it be more accurate, but you will also be constantly challenging yourself as a player to get better.

Your golf handicap is one of the defining features of your golf game. Take care to calculate it properly and ensure a competitive game for everyone involved. In 2020 and beyond, the World Handicap System is the new standard for golf handicaps and should be followed as rigorously as possible.