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Handicap, Rating, and Slope
Frequently Asked Questions

What is a golf handicap?

A golf handicap is a numerical measurement of your game over a recent period of time. It is much more than an average of strokes over/under par, but also considers the difficulty of the course, and furthermore, the difficulty of the tees your choose to play. Having a handicap allows you to measure yourself against other players. The Game Tracker makes it easy to do the complex calculations required to figure out your handicap. Just enter your scores, and the Game Tracker will handle the math.

A high handicap index is considered a player of less skill and a handicap index closer to 0 is considered very good. A "scratch" golfer is one with a 0 handicap index.

What is a course rating?

Course rating is the number that tells scratch golfers (also called "par golfers") how difficult a set of tees on a course are. So a single course may have multiple ratings for each of the tees. The course rating is primarily determined by the length of the course. Unlike the slope for a course, course rating is much easier to relate to because it is represented in strokes and is normally very close to par. For example a course could have a rating of 70.1. Course rating is determined by what a scratch golfer would shoot in the better half of his rounds playing that set of tees. With a course rating of 70.0, a scratch golfer could expect to shoot 70 in at least half the scores he recorded at the course. The course rating is a key factor in determining your handicap index because it helps to level the playing field for golfers that typically play on more or less difficult courses than others.

Distribution of USGA Ratings for Men's Tees

What is a course slope?

In short, the slope of the course is a number that tells bogey golfers how much more difficult a set of tees should be for them than for a scratch golfer. For example, a course with many hazards may be much more difficult for a bogey golfer to avoid than a scatch golfer. The USGA needed a way to measure how obstacles affect golfers without the skill to properly avoid them. Just like course rating, each tee within the course can have a different slope. Minimum slope is 55 and the maximum is 155. It is also used the calculate your handicap index.

Distribution of USGA Slope for Men's Tees

How do I compare my overall ability to a friends?

Your handicap index is a perfect method to compare your overall game against your friends. Just sign up to get started using the Game Tracker to record your scores and calculate your handicap index. The more scores you and your friends enter, the more accurate the comparison between each of your skill levels. Please note, when comparing rounds from a specific course with a partner, you should use your course handicap that takes the difficulty of the course into account instead of your overall handicap index. This is a more accurate measurement. See below.

How many strokes should I give my partner when comparing individual rounds?

This can be an easy one to get confused on because your handicap index and course handicap are not the same thing.

First of all, when taking or handing out strokes before a round, your handicap index is not an adequate comparison. Why not use your handicap index? Because it doesn't take into account the difficulty of the course you are getting ready to play relative to the kind of golfer you are. Remember how the slope of the course helps determine how scores vary based on the skill level of the golfers? Your course handicap takes the difficulty of the course as measured by the slope into consideration. Determining the course handicap truly levels the playing field.

The Game Tracker does all of the math for you. In short, it takes your gross score, which is the total of all strokes you actually hit, and subtracts your course handicap to get your net score. Net score is the number that you would use to compare to your partner's net score. For example, if a player shot an 85 and has a course handicap of 9, their net score will be 76.

So, what is an easy way to figure out how many strokes you should hand out before the round? Let's use an example.

Your handicap index: 9.2
Your friend's handicap index: 13.5
You are playing a set of tees with a slope of 126.

To determine your course handicap, simply multiply your handicap by the slope and divide by 113. Here is the equation.

Your course handicap: 9.2 x 126 / 113 = 10.2
Your friend's course handicap: 13.5 x 126 / 113 = 15

Because of the difficulty of the course, you are now giving up 5 strokes instead of 4.

How is a golf handicap index calculated?

The actual formula is quite complicated and is several pages long. For the adventurous reader, you can see the USGA rule book that describes the official calculation.

How is the handicap index different from an offical USGA Handicap?

The handicap is our measurement of your game as closely to an official USGA handicap as possible. Although, you cannot use the handicap as an official USGA handicap or to enter into a USGA event, it closely mimics the calculation for your own personal use. Best of all, it's FREE! You can have your own handicap calculator simply by joining

Your handicap is automatically calculated once you start entering scores into Game Tracker.

Differences in calculation from the USGA:

  • The USGA requires five rounds before calculating a golfer's handicap. only requires a single round to help you get started as soon as possible. Your first round will show a course handicap of zero and your actual handicap index will become more accurate as you play more rounds.
  • Our course rating database does not have 9 hole ratings, therefore, must take the 18 hole rating and divide it in half for 9 hole calculations
  • Tees without a specific rating and slope for the appropriate gender can be estimated from another tee with the appropriate rating and slope using a table to adjust the values. At this time, does not perform this estimation.
  • Rounds that are incomplete aren't counted even though the USGA has certain rules about how to include these rounds in your handicap

Other Differences:

  • The USGA uses revision dates to post their updated calculation. uses what the USGA defines as a "Trend Handicap". This is a running average updated with each score to give you the most up to date calculation possible.
  • Club Membership & Peer Review as deemed by the USGA are not administered under's Handicap Index requirements. These require a golf club to issue the handicap index, require all members to live within 50 miles of the club, define a set of bylaws for the club, require members to play at least 3 scores with other members, etc. Since is not an official USGA club or handicap index, we do not participate in these requirements.

What rounds are used to calculate my handicap?

The last 20 sets of 18 holes are used in the calculation. Rounds with 9 holes have to be paired up with another 9 hole round to be counted. Your most recent 9 hole score, if not paired, will not be used to calculate your handicap index. Practice and Team Tournament scores are not calculated.

Can one bad hole ruin my handicap?

The handicap system uses what is called equitable stroke control (ESC) which has the purpose of solving this exact issue. Your handicap should be a representation of your normal playing ability. Equitable stroke control is the USGA's answer to minimizing the damage of a "blow-up" hole. A "blow-up" hole being one where you score higher than what is normal for your skill level. The one caveat is that in order to calculate ESC, you must enter hole-by-hole stats. If you are only entering your total score, we don't have the information needed to know whether you had one really bad hole.

Please note, this calculation should not be performed before entering scores. The handicap system is built to apply the maximum stroke total you can have on one hole based on your handicap.

Based on your Course Handicap, the USGA has created a table of maximum scores you can take for a particular hole.

Course Handicap Maximum Score
0-9 Double Bogey
10-19 7
20-29 8
30-39 9
40+ 10

Using the table above, if you have a course handicap of 15, the maximum score you can take is a 7 on any one hole.

What about the USGA Handicap Index (N) that is used for 9 holes?

The USGA Handicap Index (N) is only used for official USGA competitions with only 9 holes. The USGA does allow a player to use their Handicap Index for a 9 hole competition using the following formula:

Course Handicap = round to nearest hole number:((round upward to the nearest 10th:(Handicap Index / 2) * Course Rating / 113))

Because the handicaps displayed by aren't official handicaps and the 18 hole handicap can be used in place of the 9 hole handicap, we do not provide USGA Handicap Index (N).

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
- Top 50 LPGA Instructors in the World
- A Golf Digest Top 10 Teacher in Illinois
- A Golf Magazine Top Teacher in the Midwest
- More about Maria
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