USGA Handicap Index - What is it & how is it calculated?

If you had a USGA Handicap Index, a par golfer, a golfer a bit better than you and one worse than you, you could all compete in a foursome on a level playing field on any set of tees on a given course. How does that work?




What's a golf index for?

There are two reasons for a golf index. The main reason is to provide a way for golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a relatively even basis at any course. A secondary reason is to provide a rating system that indicates a golfer's ability relative to other golfers.


Handicap System Solfware - USGA, RCGA & Custom handicaps Another real benefit of the USGA's golf index is that it is portable. Using your USGA Index, you can go to any course which has a course rating and a slope rating and calculate your handicap for that specific course and set of tees.

Our Handicap System software calculates your USGA Index as well as course handicaps and keeps track of your scoring history.


USGA Handicap Index history

From 1912 to 1987 the USGA had a "one-handicap-fits-all-courses" method of calculating a golfer's handicap. What this meant in practice was that whether you were at your 5,800 yard municipal course or the 6,800 yard championship tees at Pebble Beach, you received the same number of handicap strokes. In this way of calculating a handicap, a golfer was rated according to how many more/less strokes - on average - with which s/he would be expected to finish as compared to an expert golfer. So on a course where an expert golfer averaged 72 strokes, a golfer with a 10 handicap would be expected to shoot around 82.


With the change in 1987, golfers no longer had a "handicap," but a Handicap Index or just "Index." Calculating a USGA Handicap Index is a bit more complex than things used to be before 1987, but it's still not "rocket science." The golf index took into account the difficulty of the course.


Since 1987 there has been a course rating and a slope rating. Each set of tees at a course are rated for both a scratch golfer and a bogey golfer. The course rating - really a rating for a specific tee on a specific course - is what a scratch golfer would be expected to score on average. It is the measure of the difficulty of a course (and tee) for a scratch golfer under normal conditions. The larger the difference between the scores of a scratch golfer and a bogey golfer on a given course, the higher the slope rating for the course. The slope rating is an indication of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers. A course with a standard difficulty has a slope rating of 113. Why 113? Who knows... The range is from 55 to 155. Pebble Beach, for instance, has a slope rating of 144.


How to calculate a USGA Handicap Index

Calculating your USGA Handicap Index is not high math, but it can be high hassle. You definitely want to find software to do it for you. The math involves addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, rounding and truncating...none of which will stump you. You can try our free handicap calculator.

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Calculating it one time is not a hassle. Maintaining and updating it for one or more players definitely becomes a hassle. You must keep track of hole-by-hole gross scores, adjust those using Equitable Stroke Control, calculate a handicap differential for each score, pick the best differentials out of the most recent scores, average the best, reduce that by a percentage and truncate. That sounds like a job for someone else or a computer! If you're curious about the whole process, take a look at a plain-English explanation.


Who can issue an official USGA Handicap Index?

Although an individual could manually calculate an Index, use a spreadsheet or dedicated software, the resulting number, even if accurate, is not considered "official." The golf index - USGA Handicap Index - is official when issued by an authorized golf club or association which is licensed to use the USGA Handicap System. According to the USGA Handicap Manual, an authorized golf association "is a golf association that has jurisdiction and has been licensed by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System and/or the USGA Course Rating System in its district, region, or state through its golf clubs." A golf club is an "organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (especially a handicap committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review, and maintain the integrity of the USGA HandicapSystem. A golf club must be licensed by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System."'s Handicap System

Whether you want to calculate and maintain a USGA Handicap Index, RCGA Factor or a local custom (best 5 out of most recent 10 scores, for instance?), provides you with these capabilities in the Handicap System. Click for details about Handicap System.