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Not an expert yet? Read on:

### Beginner

*Photo: Associated Press*

#### What is a Handicap Index?

Your Handicap Index is designed to allow you to compete with golfers of all skill levels. The Handicap Index is used to determine your Course Handicap, which varies depending on the course and set of tees you play from. The Course Handicap is the number of strokes subtracted from your gross score to give a net score. The strokes are allocated on specific holes, based on their difficulty. To learn more about the Handicap Index and how to use it, read our post here.

**Why do I need a Handicap Index?**

By playing with a Handicap Index, you can compete with golfers of any skill level without having to give out strokes arbitrarily. By using a Handicap Index, you can compete against your own potential scoring ability instead of other golfer’s scores. For example, let’s say you shoot a gross score of 94 with a Course Handicap of 24, and your friend shoots 86 with a Course Handicap of 14. Even though your friend shot a lower gross score (which, based on the handicap differences, they will almost every time), your net score is lower (70 vs. 72).

If that’s not enough, check out the Top 10 Reasons to Have a Handicap.

**What’s a GHIN?**

GHIN stands for “Golf Handicap and Information Network” and is the service established by the United States Golf Association (USGA) to provide handicaps for players that belong to golf clubs affiliated with their regional golf association. For example, if you join a golf club that is affiliated with the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA), one of the benefits you’ll receive as a member is a GHIN number. A GHIN number is the unique ID provided to you to keep your Handicap Index. GHIN is the most widely accepted Handicap Index, and is often the ONLY Handicap Index you can use to enter specific golf tournaments or events.

**How do I get a GHIN Number?**

To get a GHIN number, join a golf club affiliated with your local golf association, like the SCGA.

#### Do I have to join a golf club to get a Handicap Index?

Yes, to maintain a valid GHIN Handicap Index, you must be a member of a certified USGA “golf club”. This is because the Handicap System is founded on the concept of peer review, meaning you need to have an assigned Handicap Chair to ensure the scores you’re posting are correct. Don’t worry! We make the process easy by automating the process of finding a club near you (Associate Membership) or by helping your find a local group that fits your personality, ability level and style of play (Club Finder Tool). You can also start your own golf club if that’s more your style!

**Does my GHIN number make me USGA Member?**

Your GHIN number is tied to your regional association, which has been authorized to provide a GHIN Handicap Index by the USGA. The USGA does offer a separate membership, which does not include a GHIN Handicap Index.

#### What makes a USGA/GHIN different from any other handicap?

While there are different ways to get your Handicap Index, the USGA/GHIN Handicap Index is the most widely trusted and accepted version. Whether you’re trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, play in a local club event, or participate in a charity tournament, a USGA/GHIN Handicap Index will always be accepted (and other handicap providers likely won’t be).

### Intermediate

**What is score posting?**

You’ll need to record your scores to GHIN account, otherwise known as “posting scores”, in order to establish a Handicap Index. To post a score, you’ll need to know your final gross score, the name of the course you played, and the tees from which you played.

#### What kind of rounds can I post?

You can post both 9-hole and 18-hole rounds from any course that has an official Course Rating. You can post any scores you have saved, regardless of when you played. The only requirement is that your round is not played alone so that someone can verify your score.

#### How do I post a score?

You can post a score on the SCGA website, on the USGA’s GHIN mobile app, or posting computer found in the golf shop at your local golf course. For more information and videos, check out our Quick Start Guide. To post, you’ll need to enter the course, set of tees, and your score.

#### How many scores do I need to establish my Handicap Index?

You need to post five 18-holes scores (or ten 9-hole scores) in order to establish your handicap.

#### How long does it take to get my Handicap Index?

You’ll receive Handicap Revision emails on the 1st and 15th of every month. As soon you have posted five scores, your Handicap Index will appear on the next revision date.

#### Do I have to post every score?

Yes, your Handicap Index is meant to give the most accurate representation of your playing potential. In order to do that, you need to post your all your best and worst rounds.

#### Do I lose my scores if my membership lapsed?

If your membership lapses, your GHIN number and score history will remain saved for 2 years. After that, your GHIN number may be reassigned.

#### Who can change my posted scores?

If you need to change an incorrect score on your file, you’ll need to contact your club’s Handicap Chair.

#### Is there a maximum Handicap Index?

The maximum Handicap Index is 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women.

#### What’s a Course Handicap?

Your Handicap Index is a generic standard that is not tied to any course or tees. In order to get the right value for a particular round, you need to convert the Handicap Index into what is called a Course Handicap for playing purposes each time you play. There are many ways to determine your Course Handicap for the tees you will be playing; all you need is the Slope Rating for those tees:

- There are often charts near golf course computers used for score posting where you can look up the Course Handicap based on your Handicap Index
- The score posting computers will convert your Index under “Handicap Lookup”
- If you use the GHIN Mobile App, choose the C. H. Calculator
- Use the scga.org Handicap Index lookup and, after entering your SCGA/GHIN number and bringing up your scoring record, choose the C.H. Calculator tab and enter the Slope Rating for the tees being played.
- Use this handy Course Handicap Calculator:

In general, a player’s Course Handicap will be equal to or greater than the Handicap Index when playing a tee with a Slope Rating of 113 or more, and less than the Handicap Index when playing a tee with a Slope Rating of less than 113.

#### What’s the difference between gross and net scores?

Your gross score is the total number of strokes you took. Your net score is the total strokes subtracted by the number of handicap strokes your receive according to your Course Handicap. For example, if you shot 82 and have a Course Handicap of 12, your gross score would be 82 and your net score would be 70.

#### Do I just subtract my adjusted strokes from my final gross score or do I apply adjusted strokes on specific holes?

If you’re just playing a normal round of golf, it’s usually enough to just know your final net score. However, there are plenty of times when you’ll need to know exactly on which holes to apply extra strokes, such as match play, stableford, or even just playing for skins with your friends. Also, when playing in a handicapped tournament or event, you may see dots on different holes on your scorecard. Each dot represents how many extra strokes you’ll receive on a given hole.

Each hole on the course is given a number based on the difficulty, with 1 being the most difficult hole and 18 being the easiest. For each hole with a number less than or equal to your Course Handicap, you’ll subtract a stroke from your net score for that hole. For example, if you have a Course Handicap of 12 score a 5 on a hole numbered 1-12, your net score will be 4. If your Course Handicap is greater than 18, you’ll subtract 1 stroke for every hole, then continue to subtract additional strokes restarting with 1 until you reach your Course Handicap. For example, a Course Handicap of 20 would subtract 2 strokes on holes rated 1 and 2, and 1 stroke on every other hole. You can find the rating for each hole on the course scorecard.

#### What is Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)?

ESC is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes, in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap.

As an example, a player with a Course Handicap of 19 would have a maximum hole score of 7 for handicap purposes. So if this person scored 102 and had an 11 on the sixth hole (a par 5) and had a 9 on hole 14 (a par 4), they would need to deduct four strokes for the sixth hole (11 – 7 = 4) and two on hole 14 (9 – 7 = 2) for a total of six strokes deducted from the 102 gross score. This results in an adjusted gross score of 96 (102 – 4 – 2 = 96). The individual would post a 96 for handicap purposes. Below is a chart to determine a golfer’s Equitable Stroke Control maximum:

Course Handicap |
Maximum Number |

9 or less | Double Bogey |

10-19 | 7 |

20-29 | 8 |

30-39 | 9 |

40 and above | 10 |

#### What do I do if I don’t finish a round?

For handicap purposes, the player must record a score of par plus any handicap strokes normally received for the holes not played or holes not played in accordance with the Rules of Golf. For example, let’s say you’re not able to play holes 16, 17, and 18 due to darkness. Your Course Handicap is 12 and holes 16, 17, 18 are a par 5, 3, 4, and are allocated as the number 4, 16, 10 handicap holes, respectively. That means you receive one handicap stroke on holes 16 and 18 and no strokes on hole 17. Therefore, you will record an 6, 3, 5 on holes 16, 17, and 18, respectively.

### Advanced

**What is Adjusted Gross Score?**

**What is differential?**

The differential determines which of your scores are actually the best scores, taking into account the course difficulty (USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating are both important).The formula is:Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross score – USGA/SCGA Course Rating) x 113 / USGA/SCGA Slope RatingExample: Adjusted Gross Score was 95 at a course with 73.5/130 (USGA Course Rating/Slope Rating)

- Adjusted Gross Score (95)

Minus the course rating (73.5) - Result = 21.5
- Multiply Result by standard Slope (113) of a golf course: 21.5 X 113 = 2429.5
- Divide by the slope of the tees played: 2429.5/130 = 18.688 Handicap Differential = 18.7 (rounded)

**How is a Handicap Index calculated?**

For each score posted, a handicap differential is calculated. This is to determine which scores are the best scores, taking into account the course difficulty (USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating are both important).The formula is:

Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross score – USGA/SCGA Course Rating) x 113 / USGA/SCGA Slope Rating

Once your score file consists of 20 scores, your ten lowest differentials are added together, divided by ten and then multiplied by 96%, the result being your Handicap Index. You do not round the result. Your ten lowest differentials are used, not necessarily the ten lowest scores in your score file.

A player needs a minimum of five scores to calculate a Handicap Index. If a player has at least five but fewer than 20 differentials available, the Handicap Index will be computed as follows:

Scores Posted |
Differentials Used |

5-6 | Lowest 1 |

7-8 | Lowest 2 |

9-10 | Lowest 3 |

11-12 | Lowest 4 |

13-14 | Lowest 5 |

15-16 | Lowest 6 |

17 | Lowest 7 |

18 | Lowest 8 |

19 | Lowest 9 |

20 | Lowest 10 |

#### Are all my scores used to calculate my Handicap Index?

Only your 20 most recent scores are considered when calculating your Handicap Index, with the 10 lowest differentials of those 20 scores being used. If you have less than 20 scores posted, the number of differentials used varies (see table in “How is a Handicap Index calculated?”).

**I have an “R” next to my Handicap Index? What does that mean?**

The “R” indicates that a golfer is being reduced due to exceptional tournament scores. The reduction is an automatic part of the Index calculation each revision. Eligible tournament scores stay in a stored tournament file for a year from the date of the score or remain as part of the most recent twenty scores within the scoring record. Each revision, the formula looks at what the golfer’s traditionally calculated (Section 10-2) Handicap Index is, then checks to see if there are at least two tournament differentials in the tournament file of at least 3.0 below the calculated Index value, which causes a formula (Section 10-3) to determine whether the golfer will be reduced. The calculation also considers the total number of eligible tournament scores (number of tournament scores with a T designation in the last twelve months) in the record, as well as the spread between the normal Index calculation and the average of the best two tournament score differentials).

The reduction is checked for at each revision for every golfer, because it is part of the USGA formula. This is not a penalty, just part of the formula’s effort in identifying potential ability, recognizing that a player has to have scored at least 3.0 better than the normal calculation at least twice for this to even be considered. Because this is checked for at each revision, this value is not locked in as the Handicap Index for any specific duration. An individual impacted by this portion of the formula who believes that it is inappropriate can contact their club’s Handicap Committee to discuss. The SCGA is not authorized to change a member’s Handicap Index and will not recommend that a club do so based on more recent poor play/performance, given that the value is based on potential ability.

For greater detail on this portion of the USGA Handicap System formula (Section 10-3), please click here.

**What is the Low Handicap Index (Low H.I.) and how is it calculated?**

The Low Handicap Index is the lowest Handicap Index value that an individual has had in the last 24 revisions/12 months. It is not calculated; it just looks at each of the issued Handicap Index values that a golfer has on record during the time period.