Handicap Vs Index – What Are They And How Do They Differ

I believe the handicap system is the best thing that happened to golf, the handicap system was introduced in the 17th century, however details on the system are limited. The handicap system that we know today was introduced in 1912 in the US and 1924 in Europe. It has changed over the years, but the base of it is the same.

The handicap system lets any age, gender and ability compete against each other fairly, unlike other major sports such as American Football, Baseball, Soccer, Hockey etc, these sports can only be played in their relevant age, gender and ability.

This makes golf a global sport bringing people together like no other sport does.

I will be explaining what a course handicap and handicap index are and explaining the difference between the two. Hopefully it will help you understand it more, as being an outsider, it can be confusing.

What Is A Handicap Index

Your handicap index is your average score over par, over a certain number of rounds, each country calculates this slightly differently. This will indicate your skill level. Your handicap index is shown to one decimal point i.e (12.7)

Here’s the official explanation from the USGA Handicap System Manual:

A Handicap Index compares a player’s scoring ability to the scoring ability of a scratch golfer on a course of standard difficulty. A player posts scores along with the appropriate USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating, and date of each score to make up the scoring record. A Handicap Index is computed from no more than 20 scores plus any Eligible Tournament Scores. It reflects the player’s potential because it is based upon the best Handicap Differential(s) posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.

The lower the handicap the more skilled the golfer. This system has been put in place so you can play at other courses around the world with a fair handicap on any given day.

What Is A Golf Course Handicap

Each course has a difficulty rating called a ‘Slope Rating’. The harder the course the higher the slope rating.

Your course handicap is your handicap index combined with the slope rating of the course.

The reason for this is, some courses are harder than others, so if your local course is easy and you go play a harder course, your handicap will not reflect correctly, the handicap index and slope rating give you a fair course handicap on the day no matter where you play.

Your course handicap represents the number of shots you need to play to the par of the course. E.g. If the par of the course is 72 and your handicap is 15 on the day, you would need to shoot 87 to play level with your handicap.

How do you convert an index to a handicap?

Before playing a golf course you need to find out what your handicap will be for the day. Most handicap apps will allow you to do this, or most courses will have a table either at reception, the pro shop or on the first tee.

To see what you are playing off, you will choose your tee, from there you will find your index, the table will then tell you what you are playing off.

For example, at course X off the blue tee if your handicap is between 9.2 and 10.1 you will be playing off an 11.

What this will indicate is that course X is harder than the courses you have been playing as your handicap is higher than your index, if it is below the courses you have been playing have been easier.

Why Does Each Hole Have An Index In Golf, And What Is Stableford Points?

Each hole is ranked in difficulty from 1 to 18. This is used for when you are playing a format that uses stableford points, or in competition your net score.

You still count your score on eveyhole, however you also count points. This is how the point system works.

Double bogey = 0, bogey = 1, par = 2, birdie = 3, eagle = 4

Now this is where golf is incredible, depending on your handicap your points are adjusted. Depending on your handicap you adjusted your score to get a net score, from there you calculate your points. Depending on your handicap you might get to change your net score for the hole.

For example, if a 9 handicap makes a par (4) on the 5th hole which is a index 6, he/she then gets a net 3, which is 3 points, however if he makes a par (4) on the 15th hole which is a index 13, then he/she gets a net 4, which is 2 points. If the index of the hole is equal to or lower than your handicap you must adjust your net score, if it is higher your net score stays the same.

So if you are an 18 handicap you adjust your net score on every hole, if you are a 25 handicap you adjust your next score by 2 on holes that have an index from 1 to 7 and by 1 from holes 8 to 18.

But remember you need to enter your actual score which is called your gross score, into the system, not your net score. The net scoring system is just there to get your stableford points.

Whats A Handicap Differential

A handicap differential shows how well you played on the day, it accounts for your score with regards to the difficulty of the course and the tee you played off.

Here is an explanation of the rule from the USGA

A Handicap Differential is the difference between a player’s adjusted gross score and the USGA Course Rating of the course on which the score was made, multiplied by 113, then divided by the Slope Rating from the tees played and rounded to the nearest tenth, e.g., 12.8.


The world handicap system is an incredible way to allow all levels of players to play together in a competitive way. This brings all ages, abilities, genders and levels of golfer together.

It allows you to play all over the world. It is what sets golf apart from all other sports.