How to calculate a USGA golf handicap

There are many moving parts to a golf handicap. To say the least, it is something very complicated, which is why very few people get it right. Ask around what handicap your friend plays off, and they’d give you an answer. Dig deeper, and you’d find out they might just be shooting off a number that they ‘think’ is their handicap, with nothing true to back it up.

We’ll keep things as straightforward as possible so that, after reading this, you’re super clear on how a golf handicap is calculated. 

First, there are various types of golf handicap systems out there, since different countries in the world wanted to have their own systems. Most use the USGA (United States Golf Association), but there’s also the EGA, SSS, CSS, CONGU, etc. From 2020 onwards, with a two-year transition period, the world will be transitioning to a World Handicap System (WHS) governed by both the USGA and R&A – using the USGA system with a few adjustments which will make handicaps easier to be obtained by everyone.

For this article, we will focus on how the USGA handicap system is calculated, which is the one the Malaysian Golf Association is using. 


Two numbers associated with each tee box of the golf course. It’s usually available on your scorecard and dictates the difficulty of the course and tee box you’re playing off.

Example from Kinrara Golf Club would be:

  Blue Tee (men) White Tee (men) Red Tee (women)
Course Rating 71.7 68.9 71.4
Slope Rating 132 127 127



Most people get this confused. They’re like, “what’s the difference?”.

Handicap index is an index that you have to adjust based on the difficulty of the course (slope rating) in order to get your course handicap. The course handicap is what you deduct from your gross score to get your net score.

For example, if your gross score is 88 and your course handicap is 18, then your net score is 70.

Gross score – course handicap = net score.

Course handicap is usually the handicap you declare at the competition.

How do you calculate your course handicap?

Course handicap = Slope rating / 113* handicap index

Round off to the nearest whole number.

How do I calculate the handicap index?!

OK, calm down now. Pay very close attention.

Your handicap index is an average of the lowest 10 handicap differentials of your last 20 games x 0.96. That’s if you have 20 games. If you have less, you use different amounts of handicap differentials, as per this table:

Number of games Number of lowest handicap differentials to use for handicap calculation
5-6 1
7-8 2
9-10 3
11-12 4
13-14 5
15-16 6
17 7
18 8
19 9
20 10


Handicap Index = average of the lowest handicap differentials (as table above) * 0.96

Remove (delete) decimal points after the tenth. For example, if you get 15.79, you do not round up but remove (delete) decimal points to the tenth = 15.7.

OK … how do I calculate the handicap differential of each game?

Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating) * 113 / Slope Rating

Round off to the nearest tenth, eg 11.47 = 11.5, 14.82 = 14.8.

What?? What is adjusted gross score?? Why is it not just gross score? What’s the difference?

Adjusted gross score takes into account equitable stroke control (ESC), where a maximum allowable score per hole for handicapping purposes is dependent on the course handicap. Table as follows:

Course handicap Maximum allowable score per hole (for handicapping purposes only)
9 or better Double Bogey
10-19 7
20-29 8
30-39 9
40 or more 10

So basically if I’m an 18 handicap, and my gross score was 90, but I had two holes that I got an 8, I’d have to adjust and my adjusted gross score would be 88.

My gross score still remains at 90 for tournament score submission, but for handicapping purposes my adjusted gross score is 88.

Why? Why do we have to adjust the gross score for handicapping purposes?

The main reason is to make sure a player’s handicap represents their potential, and not include the occasional high score into handicap calculations. We’ll give you two scenarios that you might be able to relate to:

  1. In a stroke play competition where from the tee box to clear the water the golfer has to carry his drive 170m, and the golfer is a senior golfer who will physically never be able to carry that 170m, and never finish that hole. 
  2. A true single handicapper who wants to nurse his handicap that plays really well in the first 16 holes, and then purposely blows the last two holes with consecutive 12s. 

Including any of the above scores for handicapping purposes would not be a good representation of the potential ability for the mentioned golfers; hence those scores are adjusted based on Equitable Stroke Control.

What if I don’t have a handicap yet, then what do I adjust my gross score to? 

Assume you’re a new golfer of 40 handicap, and cap your score per hole (for handicapping purposes only) to 10. Once you get five scores in and you have a handicap index, you’d be able to adjust based on the correct course handicap.

OMG that’s a lot to know about golf handicaps. Is there no easier way to do this? 

There sure is … for a hassle free solution, the Deemples app only requires you to submit three variables:

  • Course rating
  • Slope rating
  • Adjusted gross score

The rest will be calculated by the app. The added benefit is that your friends cannot submit their own scores (otherwise who knows what they might submit!). A minimum of two people must submit similar data for their game before that score is shown or calculated for their handicaps. 

If you want to learn more about golf handicaps, Deemples organises a handicap workshop once a month in and around Kuala Lumpur, which you can join via the Deemples app.

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