To a beginner golfer, a handicap can seem very complicated. When looking at the notice board at a local golf club, you will see the handicap of players regularly using the golf course but what exactly does it mean and does a golf handicap ever expire?
We provide a detailed look at the golf handicap and give you a comprehensive answer to the question above.
Does a golf handicap expire? The answer is simple, no it does not but are there any situations where this could change? What are new changes going to mean for a golf handicap? Your golf handicap will never expire but continue reading to find out more about the golf handicap and why it will never expire.
What is a Golf Handicap?
A golf handicap is a way to measure the potential playing ability of a golfer. The maximum handicap one can achieve for men is 28 and for women it is 36. However, the lower the handicap of the player, the better the player.
The exact handicap of a player is rounded to one decimal place but when used on the golf course, it will always be a whole number. For example, your exact handicap could be 14.8 but the handicap you will use on the golf course is rounded to 15.
A golf handicap is mainly used to allow players of different abilities to compete against each other. During stroke play, a handicap is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes played during the round. The lower the handicap, the less shots you will need to compete with someone of a higher handicap.
In match play, the golf handicap is used to determine how many strokes the player with the higher handicap should receive from the lower handicap player during the round. So, as you would expect, the handicap system is never used in professional golf as they are all playing at the same level, which is the highest level.
How to Get a Golf Handicap
Before we discuss if a handicap expires, we must first look at how you can obtain a golf handicap. To get a handicap, you will need to ask your local club for exact rules but generally, you must submit signed cards from three rounds of golf to the handicap committee. The cards must be signed by someone who already has a handicap and is known to the committee.
In some cases, you must play three rounds of 18 holes but you may be allowed to split the 54 holes into sets of 9 and 18 holes.
The scores you submit will be used by the handicap committee to set your handicap but they may also use any other information which is available, such as previous scores you have recorded at the golf club.
In the United States, if you wish to obtain a USGA Handicap Index you will need to play at least five rounds of golf at a course with a valid USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating.
Gross scores must be posted for review by official members of the golf club and the handicap committee. When the next handicap revision date has passed, which falls on the 1st and 15th of every month, you will receive an official Handicap Index.
How is a Golf Handicap Calculated?
As highlighted above, to calculate a golf handicap, the committee will use the information from three scorecards you have submitted, totaling 54 holes of golf or five rounds in the case of the United States. The exact method used in the calculation may differ depending on where in the world you are playing but below you will find a common example of how a golf handicap is calculated.
So, let’s say you have completed three sets of 18 holes of golf and the scores you have recorded on each set of 18 holes is 80, 83 and 77. To calculate the average score from those three rounds is quite simple as it would be (80+83+77) = 240/3 = 80. Your average score for the three rounds of golf is 80.
You then need to take the standard scratch score for the golf course you played. This is the number of shots a scratch golfer is expected to take if they played a round on the golf course to their ability. A scratch golfer is a player who can play the course to a handicap of zero or in many cases it is used to describe a player who can score par or lower during a round.
In our example, the standard scratch score for the golf course is 70. This number is deducted from the average number of shots you have taken during a round, which we worked out above as being 80 shots.
80-70 = 10 and this is the handicap you would be awarded. This has come out as an even number but remember, if the handicap had been .5 or higher, the number would have been rounded up.
Now you have your handicap, how can you use it when playing golf?
How Does a Golf Handicap Work?
As previously discussed, a handicap works differently depending on if you are playing stroke play or match play golf. Stroke play golf is when the total number of strokes taken by each player during a round is used to calculate their final score. The Open Championship and Masters are two examples of tournaments where stroke play is used.
Match play is when a player scores points based on the result of each individual hole. The player with the lowest score on that hole wins the point, if the scores are level each player will get half a point. Match play is used during the Ryder Cup.
Match Play Handicap
During match play, the handicap of the players involved is distributed among the holes during the competition. You will have noticed on the signs at the beginning of each hole there is a stroke index and that’s what you will use when playing match play with a handicap.
If you play 18 holes and your handicap is 10 and the player you are against has a handicap of 20, they will be granted 10 strokes by taking away the lower handicap number from the higher handicap number. The ten strokes are divided up using the stroke index number so in this example, the player with the higher handicap will receive an extra stroke on the holes with the numbers 1 through 10.
When working out the number of strokes that the player with the higher handicap will receive during match play, you may find the number is over 18. It could be 21 for example and if that is the case, the player with the higher handicap will receive an extra stroke on all 18 holes plus holes with a stroke index of 1, 2 and 3, which makes a total of 21.
Stroke Play Handicap
The situation for the handicap is similar in stroke play but each players handicap is used in the calculation. So, a player who has a handicap of 14 will receive one extra stroke on each of the holes marked 1 to 14 on the index. If a player has a handicap of 20, they will receive one additional stroke on each of the 18 holes plus 1 additional stroke on the holes numbered 1 and 2.
When working out the final score on a hole, if a player is given one stroke on a par-4 hole and uses 6 strokes to finish the hole, the player has achieved a ‘net’ bogey. This is because one stroke is removed from the score to make 5 strokes in total, which is one over par for the hole.
If the second player, who does not have an extra stroke on the hole finishes in 5 shots, they have also registered a bogey as their score does not change. If both players used 5 shots on the hole, the former will have a ‘net’ par whereas the second player will have a bogey.
In the United States, a slope rating system is used and this allows players to adjust their handicap rating based on the difficulty of each golf course they play. The slope rating is also useful when two players meet who have received their handicap on golf courses of varying difficulty. For example, if you have your handicap from a very tough course whereas your opponent has their handicap from an easier course, the numbers may be similar but you are clearly the superior player.
Using the slope rating will allow you to calculate the true handicap for both players, thus awarding your opponent the extra shots they need to level the playing field.
The slope rating for an average course in the United States is 113. If the golf course on which you are playing has a slope rating of 125 and you have a handicap of 8.9 you will need to do the following calculation:
Course Slope Rating/Average Slope Rating) x Handicap = Actual Handicap for the Course
Using the figures above, you will have an actual handicap for the golf course in question of 125/113 x 8.9 = 9.84 and that will be rounded up to give a handicap of 10.
Your opponent has a handicap of 15.7, so using the same calculation their handicap for the course would be 125/113 x 15.7 = 17.36, which gives an actual handicap of 17.
Will Your Golf Handicap Expire?
You may be worried, having obtained your handicap that if you do not play regularly enough your handicap will expire. Does a golf handicap expire?
Having completed the three rounds of golf required under the guidance of the Council of National Golf Unions, or the five rounds needed in the United States, you will receive a competition handicap and this will have a ‘c’ to annotation. If you fail to meet the qualifying scores for the calendar year, the competition handicap status will be lost. However, this can be regained by submitting qualifying scores which could come from any of the following; 18 hole competitions, 9 hole competitions or supplementary scores.
The scores submitted will be entered and the exact handicap will be calculated.
An official handicap under the CONGU system will be lost if a player is no longer a member of an affiliated golf club. If a player moves club for example, the handicap can be restored to the same value if this is completed within 12 months.
If a player is suspended from a golf club, their handicap will also be suspended immediately but can be regained when the suspension from the club is over following the guidelines explained above. For all golf clubs which are operating their own handicap system, the same basic principles apply regarding both the loss of a golf handicap due to lack of activity or due to suspension from the golf club.
In the United States, the same system applies and if you fail to submit any qualifying scores over a 12 month period, your handicap will be suspended. You can regain your handicap when you submit scores from five rounds of golf and your previous scores when you created your initial handicap will also be considered.
So, in terms of the question, ‘does a golf handicap expire?’ the answer is no. If you joined a golf club which is a member of the CONGU system or the United States Golf Associate, your handicap will always be available, even if it has been suspended due to lack of play or any other reason.
If you have had a handicap at a local golf club which is not affiliated with any official golf body, your handicap could be lost if you do not play for a long period of time. However, they are unlikely to delete it unless you cancel your membership and ask them to do so. When joining a new golf club having left your previous one, you can take your handicap with you but will need to play the necessary rounds of golf for a new handicap to be created for you on the current golf course.
Your golf handicap will never expire, so do not worry if you need to take some time away from the course. Have a chat with your golf club and explain you may not be playing for a while and they will keep your handicap so you can use it when restoring your handicap on your return to the golf course.
The World Handicap System
Things are going to change in terms of golf handicap thanks to the World Handicap Golf System which is set to come into action in 2020. Therefore, there will not be a golf handicap rules change in 2019 but there will be a new golf handicap system in 2020.
The World Handicap System has been created by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient to provide players with a handicap that works throughout the world. The idea is that it does not matter if you are playing golf in Scotland, the United States or any other part of the world, the basic principles of obtaining and using a golf handicap will be the same.
The new system will come into place in 2020 and six of the leading handicap authorities, including all of those mentioned previously in this article have had some involvement in the reviewing of the World Handicap System.
Both competitive and recreational play can be used to produce a handicap under the World Handicap System and worldwide use of the USGA’s course and slope rating system means the handicap is easily transferred between different golf courses and countries.
Weather and course conditions will be considered for handicap purposes under the new system. Therefore, if you happen to play a round in very poor weather conditions and it has produced an abnormally high score, the impact of the conditions will be taken into consideration when using the score to update your current handicap.
The maximum handicap limit will be lifted to 54 under the World Handicap System. This has been done to encourage more players to keep track of their score and develop their game by having handicap information available regardless of ability.
Many newcomers never obtain their handicap because it seems too difficult to work out and keep track of in the future. The World Handicap System has been designed in the hope more people will decide to get a handicap and can enjoy using it wherever they play in the world. Having the ability to play a golf course in Spain and travel to the United States and play using the same handicap under the same system is only going to be beneficial for golf in the long term.
To obtain a handicap under the World Handicap System a player must play 54 holes of golf and this can include any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds. Some authorities will have jurisdiction to change this to suit their local golf courses and the minimum number can be changed where appropriate.
So, the basic idea of the World Handicap System is to make obtaining and playing with a handicap easy and enjoyable, wherever in the world you travel for a round of golf. That can only be a good thing and it will be interesting to see how handicap usage develops from 2020 onwards under the new system.
How to Get a Good Handicap
What one golfer may consider to be a good handicap may differ from the next and there many reasons why this is the case. If you have only been playing golf for a year and recently obtained your handicap you may be very happy with the way your game is developing.
If you have had a 20 handicap for the past two years and have not been able to lower it, you will probably be a bit disappointed so in that respect, it is all relative. However, most people who are seasoned golfers would probably agree that anything which is single figures is considered a good handicap.
Any player who has a single figure handicap is a good golfer but what you do to improve a handicap and get that number down?
Practice is key and that doesn’t mean simply hitting balls with the driver at the range. If you play a local course regularly, imagine playing that course when at the range. Think about the first hole and how you would tee off and what you need to do on the approach shot. Obviously, you cannot use the putter but it will get you using every club in your bag and add a little excitement to your practice sessions.
The equipment you are using is very important when attempting to lower your handicap. Look at your clubs, are the faces of the irons clean of dirt and the grips in good condition? Are the balls you are using suitable for your game? There are many different golf balls out there and they are designed to suit different types of player. Make sure you get the best ball for your style of golf.
If you are considering a new set of clubs, have them fitted. A study has shown that players lower their score by more than 1.5 strokes simply from having their clubs fitted. It will cost more than buying a set of clubs off the shelf but if you can afford it, you will see results.
Arguably the most important aspect of every round of golf is the short game. Playing from 100 yards is where you will play the bulk of your shots and therefore it pays to make each shot count. The short game in golf is as much about touch and feel as it is technique and you will achieve this through practice.
Experimenting with different styles of shots and clubs around the green will give you a greater shot selection when on the golf course. Putting is crucial and you should spend time every week working on your putting. Thankfully, this can be done indoors, whether it be at home or work and even one hour per week with the putter in your hand in the living room is better than nothing at all.
Finally, do not give up if things are not going your way. Lowering your handicap is never going to be easy and there will be times when play a round and it does not go according to plan. Even professional players have off days so learn from it and confine it to the history books.
Remember, once you have your handicap, it will not expire so enjoy using it and improving it.