Golf is a unique sport in that players can compete on a level playing field, whatever their ability, thanks to the golf handicap system.

In most cases, you will need to join a recognised club or official handicapping scheme in order to get an official golf handicap so you can play in competitions. In the UK, the maximum handicap for men is 28 and the maximum for women is 36.

The type of competition determines the number of shots that a player will give or receive during a competition. The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) organises the handicapping system in the UK and they make the following recommendations for handicap allowances.

However these are just recommendations and individual clubs or events may apply their own rules. In most cases, differences are rounded to the nearest full number, with halves being rounded up (ie 5.5 equates to 6).

Using A Golf Handicap In Strokeplay

These allowances apply to strokeplay, bogey or par competitions.

Singles

Full handicap deducted from the total score.

Foursomes

Half of the total handicap of the both players is deducted from the total score.

Four Ball Better Ball

Players receive three-quarters of their handicaps according to the Stroke Index of the course.

Stableford Single

Full handicap with strokes deducted at each hole according to the Stroke Index of the course.

Stableford Foursomes

Half of the total handicap of the both players, with strokes deducted at each hole according to the Stroke Index of the course.

Stableford Four Ball Better Ball

Players receive three-quarters of their handicaps, with strokes deducted at each hole according to the Stroke Index of the course.

Silloth

Take the difference between the two handicaps of the players and subtract this from 18. Divide this number by 3 and then subtract from the lower handicap and that is the playing handicap of the Silloth pair.

Giving Strokes In Matchplay

In matchplay, the difference between two players' handicaps is the number of strokes given by one player to another. These strokes are taken at different holes according to the Stroke Index or Rating of each hole on the course.

If Player B is to receiving 5 strokes then the player takes one shot off the actual score at each of the holes with Stroke Index 1-5. This gives a nett score for each hole and this is the score used to calculate the result of each hole.

If a player is receiving more than 18 strokes, say 20, then the player receives one stroke at holes with Stroke Index 1 to 18 and a second stroke at holes with Stroke Index 1 and 2.

The number of shots given or received depends on the format of matchplay:

Singles

Lowest handicap player gives strokes to the other based on the full difference between the two handicaps.

Foursomes

Each pair adds up their handicaps and you work out the difference between the two totals. Divide this difference by two to get the number of shots the higher handicap pair receives from the lower handicap pair. Also known as "half the difference of the combined".

Four Ball Better Ball

The lowest handicap player gives strokes to the other three players based on three quarters of the difference between the lowest handicap and that of each player.

Greensomes

Calculate the handicap for each pair as follows: (Lower handicap x 0.6) + (higher handicap x 0.4). If the handicaps in the pair are equal, then use half the combined handicaps. The lower handicap pair then give strokes to the other based on the full difference between the two handicaps.

Extra Hole Playoffs

If a match finishes all square and goes into extra holes, then strokes continue to be taken according to the Stroke Index of the course.

Handicap Stroke Allowances

The table below shows the number of strokes given based on 3/4, 1/2, together with 7/8 and 3/8, which are sometimes used in Stableford. Other fractions can be used, but we'll leave that to you and your calculator!

Difference 7/8 3/4 1/2 3/8
1 1 1 1 0
2 2 2 1 1
3 3 2 2 1
4 4 3 2 2
5 4 4 3 2
6 5 5 3 2
7 6 5 4 3
8 7 6 4 3
9 8 7 5 3
10 9 8 5 4
Difference 7/8 3/4 1/2 3/8
11 10 8 6 4
12 11 9 6 5
13 11 10 7 5
14 12 11 7 5
15 13 11 8 6
16 14 12 8 6
17 15 13 9 6
18 16 14 9 7
19 17 14 10 7
20 18 15 10 8
Difference 7/8 3/4 1/2 3/8
21 18 16 11 8
22 19 17 11 8
23 20 17 12 9
24 21 18 12 9
25 22 19 13 9
26 23 20 13 10
27 24 20 14 10
28 25 21 14 11
29 25 22 15 11
30 26 23 15 11
Difference 7/8 3/4 1/2 3/8
31 27 23 16 12
32 28 24 16 12
33 29 25 17 12
34 30 26 17 13
35 31 26 18 13
36 32 27 18 14