How to Calculate a USGA Handicap

By Mike Camunas

The handicap system in golf is used with specific arithmetic formulas to approximate how many strokes more than par a player should be able to play during a round. It's the same system the United States Golf Association uses for golfers to figure out their handicaps. It's a fairly simple process, but it might take some time and patience with the mathematics. Still, it's a process a golfer should learn to improve their game.


Difficulty: Moderate
Step 1
Calculate the handicap differential for each round by using the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating for the courses played. That formula is Handicap Differential = (Score minus the Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating. For example, the score is 75, the course rating is 71.2 and the slope is 130, so the formula will look like (75 - 71.2) x 113/130. Repeat this step for each round. The answer to this equation is referred to as a differential. 
Step 2
Figure out how many differentials one must use to calculate your handicap. Use only the lowest differentials according to how many rounds you've entered. This is important because handicaps refelect an average of the best of a golfer's abilities. 
- For five to six rounds, use the lowest differentials
- For seven to eight rounds, use the two lowest differentials
- For nine to 10 rounds, use the three lowest differentials
- For 11 to 12 rounds, use the four lowest differentials
- For 13 to 14 rounds use the five lowest differentials
- For 15 to 16 rounds, use the six lowest differentials
- For 17 rounds, use the seven lowest differentials
- For 18 rounds, use the eight lowest differentials
- For 19 rounds, use the nine lowest differentials
- For 20 rounds, use the 10 lowest differentials
Step 3
Find the average of the differentials used to get the Handicap Index. For example, if you use the five lowest, add those together and divide it by five. Then multiply the answer by 0.96, and the digits after the tenths are dropped in the result.

The formula reads like this: Handicap Index = (sum of differentials/number of differentials) x 0.96.
Step 4
Use the Handicap Index to find the Course Handicap. You do this because course difficulty varies, and your handicap on one course may not be the same as your handicap on another.
Step 5
To find the Course Handicap, use your Handicap Index and the Slope Rating of the tees played divided by the average slope rating of 113.

The Course Handicap formula: Handicap Index x Slope Rating of Tees Played/113. For example, your Handicap Index is 16.7 and tee box slope is 127. So 16.7 x 127/113 = 19, meaning the course played was harder than the average course and made the course handicap higher than the Handicap Index.

Tips & Warnings

When you finally have your Handicap Index, it's important to remember it doesn't reflect your average score, but your best potential for a round.
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the system put in place by the USGA to eliminate "disaster holes" on the scorecard. ESC is also put into place to eliminate sandbaggers who intentionally play a hole poorly to raise their handicaps and does so by putting a limit on the number of strokes per hole, which is based on the course handicap. Taking a high score on a hole would mean the Handicap Index would not reflect accurately.

About The Author

Mike Camunas is also reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, covering local golf in the Tampa Bay area, from events to golfers hitting hole in ones, to even covering the professional events that hit town. He has been playing golf for about 11 years and has not seen his handicap lower. Maybe one day, but he'll stick to his day job for now.


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