A common question by parents is if their juniors should have a golf handicap. There is a common misconception that handicaps are calculated differently for kids vs adults. In this post we look at what a golf handicap is, how they is calculated and why we recommend that juniors have and know their handicap. We also provide a downloadable excel golf handicap calculator that we have developed for your use.
What is a Golf Handicap?
Simply put, a golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer's ability, based on past scores, and is the score compared to par that a golfer has the ability to shoot. It is not simply the average of a golfer's past scores. Golf handicaps are generally used by non-professional adult golfers to compete against one another on a level playing field.
For example, if a golfer usually scores 10 shots above par then their handicap will be slightly less than 10. If they are playing against a scratch player (i.e. someone that generally shoots close to even par), then they are "given" approximately 10 shots in an 18 hole round. So if they shoot 80 and their scratch opponent shoots 72 they will have a lower "net score" by 2 shots.
Note that this is a very simplistic explanation. There are many other factor that come into play such as the course rating, handicap index vs course handicap, which holes the golfer gets the 10 strokes on (in the example above) etc. More on those details later.
Handicaps are also used for "flighting" purposes (i.e. determining groups/flights of roughly equivalently skilled players). Flighting can be used in tournaments, even where handicaps are not used for actual scoring. For example, a tournament may have an "A" flight for handicaps 0-5 and a "B" flight for handicaps 6-10. Each flight usually will have a "low gross" winner which is the lowest gross score regardless of handicap. Flights can also have a "low net" winner which takes into account each player's handicap.
Elite golfers may have a "plus" handicap, meaning that they would have to score under par to play to their handicap. While PGA Pro's do no have formal handicaps, it is estimated that PGA Tour pro handicaps range from +5 to +13.
General terms for handicaps levels are "Scratch Golfer" for someone that has a handicap of zero and "Bogie golfer" for someone that has a handicap of approximately 18.
How is a Golf Handicap Calculated?
The calculation of a golf handicap can be summarized as follows:
It is important to remember that a golf handicap is not the average of a golfer's score but rather the score that a golfer has the potential or ability to score. This is borne out in the basic calculation of a handicap as the average of the 10 best scores of the last 20 rounds and multiplying that by 96%.
However, the calculation is a little more complicated - especially for juniors. As indicated above, the "10 best scores" need to be adjusted from your actual score to take into account the "course rating" and the "slope rating" of each round. This is especially important when calculating a junior golfer handicap since younger juniors play from shorter tees which have a course rating less than that of the regular or adult tees. So if your junior plays from the furthest forward tees then the course rating will be significantly less than par 72.
For example, the USKids World Championship for the boys 9 year old age group, in 2019, is played on Pinehurst No. 1 at a distance of ~4,500 yards. The men's course rating for this distance on Pinehurst No. 1 is approximately 62 (i.e. plays to a par 62 as opposed to par 72), and the slope rating is approximately 97 compared to a standard course rating of 113.
The course rating and slope are usually found on the scorecard. The ones referenced in the Pinehurst No. 1 example above are somewhere between the Red and Yellow tees in the scorecard pictured below (see yellow highlighted numbers at bottom right of the scorecard).
In this example the course is expected to play 10 shots easier than a regular par 72. So if your junior shoots 72 with at this distance on this course, they are playing to a handicap of somewhere around 10.
Note that there is a difference between men's and women's course ratings and slope ratings. Be sure to use the correct one for you or your junior.
A frequently asked question is: can I use a nine hole score for handicap calculation? This is especially important for juniors as they often only play 9 holes at a time (both in tournament for younger age groups and also in practice). The answer is yes, you can and should use nine hole scores in handicap calculations.
In this case you should accumulate the last 2 scores and combine them to make an 18 hole score. Many handicap systems/programs will allow you to enter a nine hole score and automatically combine them for you when you enter a second nine hole score.
Excel Spreadsheet to Calculate a Golf Handicap
There are many websites and apps that can automatically calculate and maintain golf handicaps for you and your junior golfers (see below for more information on these) but for someone wanting to track scores and do the calculation manually, we have created an excel spreadsheet handicap calculator that you can download and use (click on either the button or the example of the calculation below).
A couple of notes on the excel handicap calculation:
- Start with at least 20 scores for you or your junior. Newer scores should be entered over the oldest scores.
- If you have less than 20 scores but are just interested in the approximate handicap you can replicate the scores you have already to get 20.
If you want to track your junior's progress over time (it is great to be able to look back at their progress), you can copy the tab in the excel file (right click on the tab) and simply rename the tab with the date of each revision. A good approach is to do a new tab monthly, quarterly or annually.
Should Juniors have a Golf Handicap?
Maintaining a golf handicap is a great tool to measure progress and improvement over time. While it may be disconcerting at first to say that your 8 year old "elite prodigy" has a handicap of (say) 12, it must be remembered that this is compared to adult golfers playing on an adult length course. Once juniors start hitting the ball significantly longer (usually around the ages of 11 to 13), you can expect to see their handicap start to come down quickly. This is a great motivator for juniors!
If you really feel the need, you can calculate an approximate "age adjusted handicap" using our excel handicap calculator, by simply using the actual par for each round played (i.e. usually 72) instead of the "course rating". You can use the standard 113 slope rating unless the course plays much easier or much harder, in which case you can adjust the 113 down or up, respectively.
For example, if your juniors plays the red tees on Pinehurst 1 (see scorecard example below), instead of entering a course par of 64, you could enter a par 72, assuming the 5,167 yards is an appropriate length of course for the junior. Likewise, this course has a slope rating of 118 for men from the back tees so this could be used a proxy for your junior.
Additional Technical Handicap Terminology and Information
Handicap Index vs Course Handicap
A Handicap Index or “raw handicap" is the handicap calculated as described above. However, this number is almost never used when playing since the difficulty of the course being played must be taken into account in determining your Course Handicap for that particular golf course and tees.
There are a number of ways to convert your handicap index into your course handicap. The easiest is simply use the USGA Course Handicap Calculator. It is also very simple to calculate yourself: multiply your Handicap Index by the slope rating of the course you are playing (usually on the scorecard) and divide by 113. For example a 10 handicap on a course with a slope rating of 145 (i.e. a difficult course), converts to a course handicap of 13 (10*145/113).
Handicap Equitable Strokes Control (ESC)
The Equitable Strokes Control (or ESC) limits the score that players can record for handicap purposes on individual holes. ESC is used to prevent a golfer's handicap being distorted by one or a few very "large" holes - e.g. a single digit handicap player scoring a 10 on one hole would result is a score that is higher than the player's general scoring ability.
ESC reduces the score count for holes where a score exceeds a player’s maximum number and is usually done after the round although it can also be used the round if playing casually and certainly helps to speed up play. ESC should also be applied to tournaments scores (clearly only after the round and for purposes of handicap reporting).
The limit of the number of strokes a player can take on a hole is based on the players course handicap as follows:
Course Handicap / Maximum Number of Strokes
9 or less = Double Bogey
10-19 = 7
20-29 = 8
30-39 = 9
40 and above = 10
How Handicaps are Used in Tournaments: Stroke Play vs Match Play
Although not really relevant to juniors as it is unlikely they will be playing in tournaments where handicaps are used, below is a brief description of how handicaps are used in Match Play vs Stroke Play tournaments.
In Match Play, the difference between the players' handicaps is allocated to specific holes. For example, if a 4 handicap is playing against a 10 handicap, the 10 handicap player is given 6 strokes. The 6 strokes are allocated to 6 most difficult holes based on the handicap numbers on the scorecard.
A Stroke Play tournament does not use the difference between handicaps since players are generally competing against a field of players as opposed to one-on-one. In the example above, a 4 handicap players gets strokes on the 4 most difficult holes and the 10 handicap players gets strokes on the 10 most difficult holes.
Golf Handicap Services and Apps
We highly recommend that anyone (including juniors) wanting to maintain a handicap use one of the formally designed golf bodies. These generally offer many more perks such as access to tournaments. In the USA these are designed as the United States Golf Association (USGA) Allied Golf Associations (AGA's). Visit this USGA page to find your State or other AGA. Memberships are generally not very expensive and sign up usually comes with some free goodies such as a hat or shoe bag. In the State of Georgia the junior GSGA membership is only $49 for a year.
Outside of the USA you can visit your national golf association website or go to this link for a list of International bodies authorized and licensed by the USGA to use the USGA Handicap System.
Most golf course memberships also come with a golf handicap service. In the US the most commonly used service is GHIN (Golf Handicap and Information Network) and was established by the USGA to provide handicap services to it's members. It has very convenient functionality including handicap lookup, on-line score posting and a nifty GHIN App for Android and Apple devices.
There are also various free Apps available that can track scores and calculate handicaps. While these are generally free, easy to use, and can also be used for more detailed scoring analysis, they are generally not endorsed by governing bodies such as the USGA and therefore cannot be used as official handicaps for tournament purposes. Some of these apps that are highly rated by users include: "Golf Handicap Tracker & Scores", "MyScorecard: Everything Golf", "TheGrint", "SwingU Golf GPS and Scorecard", and the "18Birdies Golf App".
We hope you have found this post informative and helpful. Please let us know if you have any comments and suggestions!
We invite you to join us at The Junior Golfer Facebook Group to keep updated and participate in discussions with other junior golfers and their parents.
Let us know your junior's progress as their handicap starts coming down!