If you’re reading this, you’ve probably looked into getting a Handicap Index only to be met by a sea of options. And when it comes to your golf game, you don’t just jump at the first offer that comes your way without figuring out what’s the best option for you. Just like you would when you’re looking for new clubs, shoes, or golf balls, you want to do your research before selecting the right Handicap Index. There are plenty of handicap providers that offer similar products, so you want to find the one that you can actually use and will fit how you play golf. If this sounds like you, then here’s the bottom line: the Handicap Index offered through the USGA/your local golf association (you may know it as GHIN) is the most trusted and widely-used Handicap Index available.
A Handicap Index is a number used to represent your potential scoring ability, which is always expressed as a number taken to one decimal place (e.g. 10.4). This number is used to calculate how many strokes you would potentially need to adjust your score back to par, and allows golfers of all skill levels to compete on an even playing field. For example, if you have a Handicap Index of 21.3, it means you generally shoot about 21 strokes over par on an average course. The number of strokes you actually receive in a given round will vary based on the difficulty of the course and set of tees you play from.
To learn more about the Handicap Index, check out our blog here.
The foundation for calculating a Handicap Index is the Course Rating, which assigns a numerical value to represent the difficulty of any given course and set of tees. To determine the Course Rating, a team of experts from state and regional golf associations (like the SCGA) takes thousands of measurements and evaluations into consideration to arrive at the values for the Course and Slope Ratings (read more about Course Rating here). These ratings factor heavily into the formula developed by the USGA to calculate the handicap differential used in the GHIN Handicap Index:
Score differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – Playing Conditions Calculation Adjustment) x (113 Standard Slope/Slope Rating of Tees played)
This formula is used not only by GHIN, but by basically every handicap service operating in the United States.
Golf is a sport build upon honesty. Unfortunately, that means there are those that will try to take advantage of this, including when it comes to their Handicap Index. Players have been known to post incorrect scores to artificially inflate their Handicap Index, more commonly known as “sandbagging”.
Because of this, the Handicap System only works if there is peer review of the scores you’re posting. One of the requirements to offering a USGA compliant Handicap Index is that players must belong to a golf club for the “oversight of golf activities”. In other words, if you play somewhat regularly with a group, they’ll be able to spot whether your Handicap Index is accurate or not and can adjust it if necessary.
There are services online that offer a free Handicap Index through their site/app that may place you in a “golf club” based on your location. However, these “clubs” are nothing more than internet holding tanks used to check the box. They very rarely offer any opportunities to play with other club members and therefore provide very little in actually verifying that a Handicap Index is correct.
On the other hand, clubs that offer a Handicap Index through GHIN must be affiliated with a state or regional golf association. The vast majority of the clubs that fall within this category consist of either members of a particular course where they host events, or are a group of friends, coworkers, colleagues, etc. that play together on a regular basis. Since these groups often play with other members, they have a much better sense of their fellow members’ playing abilities and can more easily monitor Handicap Indexes. For that reason, this is the only accepted Handicap Index when playing with these clubs, as well as in most net tournaments and events.
We’ve all been through the dark days of starting some friendly competition by arbitrarily giving strokes to your partner who claims they struggle to break 90, only to watch them smoke you after shooting even par. Playing with someone whose Handicap Index has never been verified is basically the same thing. If you actually want to use your Handicap Index, whether that’s playing in a golf league, your local club tournament, or even just a skins game with your foursome, GHIN is the most-widely, and often only, accepted option. Just like you wouldn’t step up to your ball with the wrong club in your hands, don’t get caught on the first tee with the wrong Handicap Index. Join the 170,000+ golfers in Southern California who trust GHIN as the most reliable Handicap Index for their game.