What Is A Golf Handicap For A Beginner?

The Golf Handicap Index for Beginners: What Golf’s Great Equalizer Means

One of golf’s greatest features is that it’s a game that can be played and enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.  In its purest form, golf handicap the player against the golf course with no two rounds of golf being the same.  Each round is impacted by different factors: the performance of the player, the weather, the condition of the golf course, and so on.  While competing against the golf course can be enjoyable for beginner golfers as they sharpen their skills and understanding of the game, there comes a time when testing your ability against other players becomes important too.  The feeling of being competitive against an opponent is something that most athletes crave and that’s no different on the golf course.

A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s ability, used to level the playing field in competitive matches between players of varying skill levels. It allows players of different abilities to compete on an equal basis by adjusting the number of strokes each player receives based on their relative skill level.

For high handicappers, who may struggle with consistency and distance, selecting the right golf ball can make a significant difference in their game. The best golf balls for high handicappers are typically those designed to provide forgiveness on off-center hits, promote straighter ball flight, and maximize distance. These balls often feature softer compression for improved feel and control, as well as technologies aimed at reducing spin for more accuracy off the tee. Popular options include Titleist DT TruSoft, Callaway Supersoft, and Srixon Soft Feel, among others. Choosing the right golf ball can help high handicappers improve their game and enjoy a more satisfying experience on the course.


Enter the golf handicap index
golf handicap index

The golf handicap index is a tool that makes it possible for players of all skill levels no matter how long they’ve been playing the game to compete against one another in many different formats.  A golf handicap index is a number that updates each time a player enters their score from their most recent round played and it represents that individual’s ability/talent.  The lower the handicap index number, the better the player.


How is a Golf Handicap Index Calculated?

A golf handicap index utilizes a complex formula that incorporates a player’s scores from previous rounds of golf played.  In addition to the player’s scores, the calculation also considers the difficulty of the golf course (referred to as the course’s “slope rating”) that was played and the player’s other recent scores.  There are numerous online calculators, services, and apps that can run this complicated calculation for you as soon as you have enough scores to report.

The USGA’s Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN) is likely golf’s most well-known handicap index tracking system.  GHIN allows golfers to not only keep and track their scores but also track the handicap indexes of other players in the network.  This comes in handy when competing against other players or just organizing a friendly game with golfing pals.


Establishing a Golf Handicap for Beginners

Fortunately, establishing a golf handicap for a beginner is a fairly simple process with just a few steps.  First, select the network you will use as GHIN referenced earlier.  Many states also offer their handicap system as do golf clubs if you happen to be a member.  

Next, the best golf ball for a high handicap journey starts by tracking and entering their scores.  It’s crucial that the player honestly and consistently enters each score they achieve.  We’ll get to why later but, in short, any golfer should want their handicap index (as shown in the system) to be 100% reflective of their true golfing ability. 


Once you have entered enough scores, usually between five and 10 rounds of golf, you will have established a golf handicap index.  Welcome to the club!  Once you have your first handicap index, the only requirement is to continue to enter your scores and maintain them regularly.  Going long periods without entering your scores may create a gap in what your handicap index says and what your true abilities as a golfer might be.


Why Should I Keep A Golf Handicap Index?

A golf handicap index is important to have whether you’re a beginner still learning the game or an old pro who’s been playing for decades.  For starters, establishing a golf allows you to track your progress and see how your game is trending.  Were those recent low scores an anomaly or is your hard work and practice starting to pay off?  

Having a golf handicap index also allows golfers of all skill levels to compete against one another by evening the playing field.  Whether it be a competitive official tournament at your local club or just a day out with friends, if all players have an accurate handicap index there are many ways to organize a fun-spirited competition.  

How so?  Let’s say that you have a golf handicap index of 12.  This roughly means that you, on average, shoot a score of 12 over par on courses that you most frequently play.  Now let’s say that your annoying brother-in-law Chad has been playing golf all his life and his handicap index is 2.  This means that Chad is very good at golf and will very likely shoot a better absolute score than you.  During any given round, Chad is most likely to beat you by 10 or so strokes.  

However, if you incorporate your handicaps into your friendly competition, those 10 strokes can be factored into even the playing field and give each side a fair chance at winning the match.


Beware of Sandbaggers and Vanity Handicaps

The best golf balls for high handicappers might have them focused on getting to the lowest handicap number possible as quickly as possible.  Maybe they’ll sneak in a mulligan or two each round or take a couple of “gimme” putts en route to lower the score.  However, done too often, this can result in the dreaded “vanity” handicap and that’s never a place you want to be, especially when competing against friends or competing in an outing.  If you’re a 13 handicap but your GHIN app says you’re a 7, well, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of losing.  Every golfer knows somebody with a vanity handicap index, just make sure it’s not you!

The opposite of the “Vanity Handicappers” is a far more troubling group known as “The Sandbaggers.”  Typically, sandbaggers will exaggerate their scores and enter higher numbers into their tracking system.  If they shot an even-par 72 yesterday but entered their score as a 78, their index will be higher which benefits them when it comes time for their next match or tournament.  Sandbaggers should be avoided unless you are tied to them through blood or marriage!


Proudly Wear Your Golf Handicap Index

Establishing a golf handicap for a beginner is one of the best things they can do for the long-term benefit of their game.  Not only does it help a player set goals and understand their progress, but perhaps more importantly, it allows them to better enjoy one of golf’s greatest gifts: the camaraderie of the game.  Make no mistake, you and your friends can and many times will play a round with no handicaps and no competition involved.  But more times than not, especially as your love for the game grows, establishing a golf handicap that can be used during friendly competition will be an important piece of your golfing life.

A parting beginner’s golf handicap tip:  The game of golf in general and especially the process of establishing a golf handicap index asks a player to be truthful to themselves and the game.  There’s not much to stop us from improving the lie of our golf ball when no one is looking, taking a mulligan, or entering an incorrect score in the handicap system.  Most of the time, it’s up to the individual golfer to make the right decision.  Having an accurate handicap index is one of the great features of golf and something that, no matter how high or low, you can proudly carry with you from one round to the next.

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