What is a Golf Handicap and do I need one?

For those that are new to the game of golf, you will often hear the term ‘handicap’ thrown around on the course. Whilst it’s not essential to have a handicap to play golf, we’ve put together this handy guide to help you better understand what a golf handicap is.

So, what is a golf handicap?

A golf handicap is a numerical measure that can be used to level the playing field when players of varying abilities compete against each other on the golf course.  While it all may seem complicated, there will only be two main things for you to focus on – your score and your handicap.

Before we get into more detail about handicaps, it is important to understand how a course par is set up.

Course Par

Every golf hole is ranked with a par score.  A par score is the expected number of shots it should take to complete the hole, normally defined by length of the hole.  While there are slight variances from course to course, the table below is a general guide:

  Hole Type   General Length
  Par 3   Up to 200 metres
  Par 4   Between 200 – 400 metres
  Par 5   Over 400 metres

All of these par scores added together give a total par score for the 9 or 18-hole round.  Centenary Park Golf Course is an 18-hole golf course and totals as a Par 72, which means it should take you 72 strokes (a stroke is what it’s called when you hit the ball) in total to complete a round at that course.

This is where handicaps come in.

They give more or less strokes to players to allow them to make par for the course.  In golf, the lower your handicap is, the better you are. Thus, if your handicap is 6 and your friend’s is 10, you’re a better player than they are. On average, four strokes better, to be exact.

If someone (Player A) holds a handicap of 16, they are expected to be able to play Centenary Park Golf Course in 88 strokes (Par 72 plus 16 extra strokes), or 16 over par.  Someone deemed a very good golfer may have a handicap of three, for example.  They would be expected to complete a round at Centenary Park Golf Course in 75 strokes (Par 72 plus 3 extra strokes), or 3 over par.  The table below shows this in some detail for a Par 72 course:

  Player   Handicap   Equivalent Par Score
  (based on Course Par of 70)
  Alex   3   75
  Bianca   16   88
  Charlie   27   99


Equality in competing against others

Handicaps provide golf with a very unique opportunity to allow people of all standards to play each other on an equalised basis.  All players’ performances are judged against their own skill levels.  For example, how their score compared to what their equivalent par score should be.

What is the average handicap score for males and females in Australia?

The maximum Golf Australia (GA) Handicap under the World Handicap System is 54.0 for both men and women.  According to GA, the average for males is 16.93, while the average for female golfers is 26.73.

Do I need a handicap?

A handicap is not essential to playing a round of golf.  The most important thing is to play golf and enjoy it.  If you would like to track your performance and skill level or compete socially a handicap is a great way to enable this.  If you are keen to join in official competitions, then a handicap is required.

How do I get a handicap?

Players can obtain an official GA handicap through their local golf course or club, or through an approved virtual handicap provider. Once the application is made, golfers provide scores for three 18-hole rounds. These scores are then calculated, and a golfing handicap is provided.

Players’ handicaps will vary over time dependent on performance.  Consistent improvement in scoring will lead to the handicap number reducing and vice versa.

At a private golf club your handicap is included in your membership fee, while at other facilities or through virtual providers these need to be purchased individually.

Speak to our staff at The Pro Shop about the best options to get your own handicap.

Fun fact: When Tiger Woods was only 13 years old, he had a golf handicap of ZERO!!