A Handicap Primer
Handicap golf is the best system ever devised in any sport to allow players of widely differing abilities to actually compete against each other. The USGA Handicap System is generally accepted throughout the United States. The system is based upon the ten best scores from a player's last twenty rounds. To keep it simple, here's the formula used to determine handicap:
The average of the ten best scores over the last twenty rounds, minus the USGA course rating for the course played, times the USGA Slope Rating, divided by 113, equals the USGA Handicap.
Say you take your last ten rounds on your home course and divide that total by ten to get the average score of 90. The scorecard at the club will indicate the USGA Course Rating (which is based on the difficulty of a given course for “scratch” golfers—those who don't require a handicap, such as professionals—and determined by the USGA), which we'll say is 68. The USGA Slope Rating indicates the difficulty of the course for players with a handicap; that is, those who play above-par golf. For our purposes, we'll say the Slope Rating is 100. Hence: [(90 – 68) / 113] ˘ 100 = 9.5 handicap.
What if I haven't played enough rounds to have a handicap?
If you've never played before and find yourself in a tournament setting, the committee will probably assign thirty-six strokes for a man, and forty strokes for a woman. This method is not a substitute for a USGA handicap, but can be very helpful in an emergency.
Okay, so that's more than you wanted to know about handicap. The value of the handicap is that in stroke play it eliminates strokes from your gross score and yields a very competitive net score. Take a look at the scorecard we showed you earlier.