USGA Handicap FAQ

Q. What is a golf handicap?

A. To be technically correct, the term is ‘handicap index’. It is simply a mathematical computation using your 10 best scores in the 20 most recent rounds. This final number represents your potential as a golfer at your current skill level and approximates how many strokes more than par you should be able to play.

Q. How do I establish a handicap?

A. As a EWGA member, a free handicapping service is provided with your EWGA membership. This is called GN21. Go to the EWGA national website,, and login. Then go Handicap listed on the left side of the home page and you will automatically be logged into your handicap record. Using the GN21 system, you may only post your scores via the internet.

Some EWGA members are also members of other licensed golf clubs and use the GHIN handicapping service for an additional fee.

Handicap Indices issued through either system are valid for EWGA tournaments.

Q. Why do I need to establish a handicap, i.e. index?

A. First of all, an index gives you your own gage of whether you are improving your game or taking a step backwards. Additionally, an index enables you to participate in the games (and resulting prizes) in EWGA events. And, finally, an index allows you to compete in events of other organizations/golf clubs. An index provides a way for golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a relatively even basis at any course.

Q. How many rounds of golf does it take to establish a handicap?

A. You need to post at least 5 18-hole rounds of golf to establish a handicap index. Your index is ultimately based on the best 10 of the last 20 rounds.

Q. Can I post 9-hole rounds in order to establish a handicap?

A. Yes, 9-hole rounds can be posted and used for handicapping. When another 9 hole round is played, it will be combined with your last 9 hole round to form an 18 hole score.

Q. What is the difference between Handicap Index and Course Handicap?

A. We’ve already explained your Handicap Index (the best 10 out of your last 20 scores). However, this index will be adjusted either up or down depending upon the difficulty of the course you are playing. You can find your course handicap by using the USGA Course Handicap Calculator. To do this, however, you will need to know the Slope of the tee box from which you will play. Additionally, each course will have conversion charts in the pro shop from which you can obtain this information. Basically, the Course Handicap is an indicator of how many strokes over par you will score on that course.

Q. How do I know what the difficulty of the course is?

A. There are 2 very important numbers that each course has – the Rating and the Slope. The Rating is the USGA’s mark that indicates the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for a scratch golfer (higher than 0 handicap) under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as strokes taken to one decimal place, and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of a scratch golfer. For example, the Crystal Springs Quarry has a Rating of 66.7 from the white tees and Aberdeen has a Rating of 69.3 from the silver tees.

The Slope is the USGA’s mark that indicates the measurement of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers compared to the Course Rating. The lowest Slope is 55 and the highest is 155. A golf course of standard playing difficulty has a Slope of 113. For example, Crystal Springs Quarry has a Slope of 106 from the white tees and Aberdeen has a Slope of 112 from the silver tees. From these numbers, you can tell that Aberdeen is more difficult than Crystal Springs Quarry.

The Rating and Slope for each tee box are indicated on the course scorecard.

Q. How well should I be playing?

A. Here are some reassuring facts. The average golfer should only be expected to play to your Course Handicap 25% of the time. You should average 3 strokes higher than your course handicap. And, of 20 scores you will only have one score that will be 2 strokes better than your course handicap. This is all because the USGA Handicap System is based upon the Potential Ability of a player rather than the average of all of her scores. A player’s Handicap Index reflects her potential because it is based upon her best scores posted, ideally the best 10 out of 20 scores. Since the USGA has her worst scores tossed out, the Handicap Index reflects only her best days!

Q. Now that I have this Handicap Index, how do I use it?

A. This will enable you to compete on a level playing field in golf events. This includes EWGA friendly, non-tournament events that occur several times a month. Many of these events give prizes for gross and net scores and an index is needed to determine your net score. This leads to the next commonly asked question…

Q How is my Course Handicap used?

A. So now you have 2 important numbers – your handicap index and the course handicap. Your Course Handicap generally shows how many strokes over par you will probably score on your round. So you will subtract your Course Handicap from your total score to get your net score. For example, if your Course Handicap is 36, you will receive 2 strokes on each hole. If you score a 6 on a par 4 and you get 2 strokes, your net on that hole will be a 4 – congratulations on your par! What if your Course Handicap is 28? Well, clearly you’ll get at least one stroke on each hole and then there are 10 holes on which you’ll get one more stroke. But which holes are they? This is particularly important when playing match play. When you look at a scorecard, you’ll see a line labeled “handicap”. This is the rating of the relative difficulty of each hole on the course – from 1 to 18, with 1 being the most difficult. Therefore, you’ll get your additional strokes on the 10 most difficult holes on that course.

Q. How many strokes can I take on a hole – is there a limit?

A. There are 3 answers to this question. Two are related to the numbers of strokes you play and one is relative to the number of strokes you can post. First, if you are playing in an EWGA event other than an official competition such a Chapter Championship, you will usually be encouraged to take no more than 10 strokes on any hole. For EWGA STL Chapter Leagues, we request that you limit your strokes to 9 per hole. This is in the interest of maintaining pace of play – and to minimize your frustration level. In a Tournament or official competition, however, you will need to continue to play until your ball falls in the hole. Now let’s talk about posting. There is something called Equitable Stroke Control (ESC). Following is the ESC Chart which shows the maximum number of strokes you can take on any hole for posting purposes:




9 or less

Double Bogey

10 through 19


20 through 29


30 through 39


40 or more


So at the end of the day, you may have to adjust your total score to account for ESC before posting. For example, let’s say your Course Handicap is 28.5 and you shot a gross score of 109. Unfortunately, however, that included an 11 on one hole and you can only post a maximum of an 8. Therefore, you need to adjust your score to 106 when you post.

Q. Do I need to post all of my scores? What if I have a really bad day?

A. Yes, it is important to post all of your scores. Remember that only your best 10 of the last 20 scores will be used to calculate your handicap index. Therefore, your really bad day won’t be reflected. However, if you have a really good day, it will be included in the calculation of your handicap index – and that’s a good thing! After all, our goal is to decrease our index which indicates that our game is improving!

Q. How do I know what my handicap index is?

A. If you are using EWGA’s GN21 system, you can log into and click on Handicap on the left side. This will bring you to your handicap record. Your index will be updated on the 1st and 15th of every month. In the meantime, you’ll also notice that your index trend is shown on this screen. The trend indicates approximately what your index will be on the next revision date.