Golf Basics – Your Guide to Golf Handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

The beginner’s guide to golf handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

Whether you’re brand-new to golf, or have played the occasional social game with friends, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “Golf Handicaps” mentioned at some point .

But just what is a golf handicap? And why is it important?

What is a handicap?

In Brief: A number that shows a golfer's (general) skill level.

More Depth: Basically, a Handicap is a numerical rating (usually between 0-54 for amateurs) that indicates how many strokes “over par” you are likely to shoot in a round of golf. Most courses, for example, have a “par” of 72. A golfer with a handicap of 0 (also known as a “scratch” golfer) regularly shoots somewhere around 72 strokes in a round. A golfer with a handicap of 18, on the other hand, usually shoots in the vicinity of 90 shots (i.e. 18 shots more than the par of 72).  True beginners are given the maximum handicap (54), and this number goes down as the player improves.

How are Golf Handicaps calculated?

In Brief: An average of the 8 best scores from your last 20 rounds.

More Depth: Handicaps are essentially calculated by the computer looking at your last 20 rounds of golf, picking the eight lowest rounds, and the determining the “average” of those eight.

Your handicap is re-calculated after every round you play. It can go up or down depending on the average of those eight rounds. For example, if you play really well, the average will go down, and your handicap will reduce).

The beauty of the global handicapping system is that it is all automated via a sophisticated computer system managed by Golf Australia (The country’s national governing body). So, you don’t have to crunch any of the numbers yourself.

Why have a handicap?

In Brief: To compete against other golfers on an "even" playing field.

More Depth: One of the great things about golf is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Whether your age is 8 or 88, you can enjoy the great game of golf. But if you want to play against another golfer—especially one that is more experienced than you—then a handicap can effectively “level the playing field”. For example: An 18-handicapper who shoots 90 gets to subtract 18 shots off their final score following the round. Thus, they have a nett score of 72. If a scratch player shoots, say, a 73, then the 18-marker is the winner by one shot.

Is my handicap good at just one course, or any course?

In Brief: Any course on Earth.

More Depth: Once established, your handicap is valid at any course around the world. However, the number of strokes you get on the day will vary slightly from course to course. On easy courses, for example, an 18-handicapper may only get, say, 16 shots. Whereas on a very difficult course, that same player may get, say, 21 (or more) shots. You can also get more or fewer shots if you play from a different set of tees on a course. For example, while women traditionally play from the red-coloured tees, most courses these days are rated for women to play from the “longer” tees. These can be white, blue or even the extremely long black tees (also known as playing from “the tips”). If you play from a longer set of tees, you will get more handicap strokes for that that round.

How do I get a handicap:

In Brief: Click here

More Depth: There has never been an easier or better time to get a golf handicap. In the past, getting a handicap required you to become a member of a private club. Today, however, you simply need to apply for a handicap via an official, nationally-recognised handicap provider (like SGA) and pay your handicap fee. Then begin playing golf. After every round you play, your score will be submitted to Golf Australia’s GOLFLink system for calculation. Note: Just like getting your L plates for driving a car, to establish your handicap you’ll need to play golf with someone who already has a handicap, and they will mark your score. Once you have submitted your first three rounds (the minimum to get started), your introductory handicap will be calculated. It’s that simple.

For more information on the handicap system, visit the Golf Australia website: www.golf.org.au/whs.

For more information on getting an official handicap through Social Golf Australia, click here.

Golf Basics – Your Guide to Golf Scoring formats

Golf Scorecard

The Golf Beginner's Guide to Scoring

Golf Scorecard

When marking your score, there are various golf scoring formats played in Australia. Here are the most common, and how they work.

Stroke

One of the simplest golf scoring formats. You simply play each golf hole, then mark the total number of strokes taken. At the end of a round, your gross score (i.e. all shots) is totalled, and your handicap is deducted to calculate the nett score. The player who completes the round with the least nett strokes is the winner.

Stableford

This is a basic points-based system, and the most common of golf scoring formats in Australia. Instead of aiming for the lowest total/nett score (as in stroke play, above), a golfer aims to accumulate the highest number of total points in a round. Points are awarded on each hole, depending on how well you score.

The points system goes like this:

  • Double-bogey or higher= No points (also known as a "wipe")
  • Bogey= 1 point
  • Par= 2 points
  • Birdie= 3 points
  • Eagle=4 points
  • Albatross=5 points

Let's say you are a scratch golfer (i.e. handicap of 0). If you score a par on every hole, you will end up with 36 points. (i.e. 2 points per hole x 18 holes = 36 points).  If you had scored 16 pars and had two birdies, your total would be 38 points, etc.

What about players with handicaps?

As part of the World Handicap System, at nearly every course around the world, each hole is ranked 1-18 by difficulty. The hardest hole is ranked number 1, while the easiest hole is ranked 18th, etc.  The ranking is called a hole's index, and they are listed on the scorecard (sometimes they are called the Hole's Handicap Index.)

Here's where it gets interesting: The index on the scorecard determines how many strokes a player receives on the hole, depending on their handicap. These strokes are like "extra shots" that give you a better chance of scoring points.

Example:

Let's say a player has a GolfLink Handicap of 5. He or she will thus get a shot on the 5 hardest holes as noted by the course scorecard (again, every course has all 18 holes "indexed" from 1 (hardest) to 18 (easiest).).

The player approaches the first hole of the day (let's say it is a par-4), and sees that it has an index of 3 (i.e. the third-hardest hole on the course). He or she thus gets a stroke on the hole. Let's say this player takes 5 shots on the hole. In stroke golf, this would be a bogey. However, in Stableford, since the player gets a stroke on the hole, their "nett" score is 4 (i.e. 5 shots minus the handicap stroke). Therefore, they have made a "nett par" and get two points.

On the scorecard, the player marks "5" for score (i.e. actual strokes), and marks 2 in the points column.

If, on that same hole, the player had taken 6 shots, then they would mark 6 for score, and 1 in points. However, If they had taken 4 shots (gross par), they would mark 4 for score, and 3 for points (nett birdie).

Scores are totalled and the player with the best (highest) stableford score is the winner.

Par (or vs Par)

Par is similar to the stableford scoring above, in that you use the hole indexes to determine if you get a shot on a hole. However, there are only three possibile outcomes for a hole:

  • Win (also called a "plus", scored as a +)
  • Half (also called a "tie", scored as a 0)
  • Lose (also called a "minus", scored as a -)

The stroke index on the scorecard (see Stableford, above) determines how many shots a player receives on the hole depending on their handicap. A hole is either won, lost or halved, depending on your your stroke score.

Example:

Let's say a player has a GolfLink Handicap of 5. He or she will thus get a shot on the 5 hardest holes as noted by the course scorecard (again, every course has all 18 holes "indexed" from 1 (hardest) to 18 (easiest).).

The player approaches the first hole of the day (let's say it is a par-4), and sees that it has an index of 3 (i.e. the third-hardest hole on the course). He or she thus gets a stroke on the hole. Let's say this player takes 5 shots on the hole. In Par format, since the player gets a stroke on the hole, their "nett" score is 4 (i.e. 5 shots minus the handicap stroke). Therefore, they have made a "nett par", which gives the player a 0 (i.e a Half or Tie).

On the scorecard, the player marks "5" for score (i.e. actual strokes), and marks 0 in the points column.

If, on that same hole, the player had taken 6 shots, then they would mark 6 for score, and a minus (-) in points. However, If they had taken 4 shots (gross par), they would mark 4 for score, and a plus (+) for points (nett birdie).

Scores are totalled and the player with the best (highest) points score is the winner.
For more on golf scoring formats, and how they work with golf handicaps, see our Golf Handicaps FAQs page

Golf Basics – Quick Golf Tips for a quicker round

Peter and Peter

Quick Golf Tips for a Quicker Golf Round

Peter and Peter

They say "A quick game is a good game." So here are some Quick Golf Tips to help you speed up your round and have more fun.

Watch EVERYONE'S ball until it stops

After every shot, keep an eye on the ball until it comes to rest. And do the same for each of your playing partners' shots. If the ball has wandered into the rough or bushes, note a reference point near it – a tree, stake, hill, etc. If there is the slightest chance that it could be lost, play a provisional. Resist the urge to say “Nah, we’ll probably find it.”

When it’s lost, it’s lost

The rules of golf allow three minutes to search for a lost ball. Thus, when your three minutes are up, they're up. The ball is deemed lost, so move on. Either take a "wipe" for the hole (if playing Stableford or Par), or go to your provisional.

Always think ahead

As you approach the green, determine where the next tee is, and then park your cart/buggy/bag between the hole and the next tee. That way, when you are done with the hole, you can clear the green quickly.  After your group is done on the green, move quickly to the next tee (and mark the scorecard later).

Be Ready

While riding or walking to your ball, get prepared for your shot in advance.

For example:

  • Check the wind or get a yardage estimate as you walk to your ball.
  • Do your pre-shot routine while your playing partner hits their shot.
  • Read the green's break as you approach the green.
  • Whenever you have the opportunity, play “ready golf”.

Essentially, don't wait until your partner has played before you get ready. When it is your turn, be ready to go.

Go directly to your ball

Each member of your group should go directly to their ball. Avoid travelling from one ball to the other (unless helping to search for a lost ball.) When sharing a cart, drop off one player and then proceed to your own ball before they take their shot.

Bring Multiple Clubs

If you need to leave your buggy/cart away from where your ball is positioned, take a couple of clubs with you. This will save you from having to go back and forth.

Watch the groups around you

If the group in front of you is more than one shot ahead (i.e. if they are on the green of a par-4 before you even tee off) you need to speed it up.

  • The low marker of each group is responsible for reminding the group to speed up.
  • When you are out of a hole (i.e. in Stableford and have taken a wipe so you cannot score), then pick up your ball and move on.
  • The first person to finish putting can quickly move ahead to the next tee and tee off. Don't wait for all players to finish the hole.

Conversely, if there is no one ahead of you, but the group behind is constantly waiting for you to hit, either let them play through, or pick up the pace.

Video Fun: Don't be like Peter!

Not all hazards are found on the golf course itself. Some come from the players!

We all know (or play with) someone who has an exceptionally long pre-shot routine, like "Peter", in the video below.

So, the next time you play, don't be like Peter.

If the video doesn't load, click here

Golf Basics – Repairing a pitch mark

Fixing a Pitch Mark

Golf Basics - Repairing a Pitch Mark

Repairing a pitch mark on a green is one of the most effective ways to preserve the overall playing quality of a course. Here is how to do it properly.

Fixing a Pitch Mark

It takes only a few seconds to fix a pitch mark, yet many players fail to do it properly (and they are usually the ones who complain the most about bumpy greens).

Here is the correct process for repairing a pitch mark on a green:

Step 1: Have the right tool

A dedicated ball mark repair tool is the best item for the task, though you could also use a tee, small knife, key or anything relatively thin.

Step 2: Spot the Spot

After you hit your approach shot to the green, take note where the ball initially lands on the green. This can be different from where the ball comes to rest (after bouncing and rolling, etc). As you approach the green,  keep an eye on that spot.

Step 3: Push and Twist (DON'T lift)

Insert the ball repair tool into the outer edge of the mark, at a 45-degree angle. Gently work the turf back into place by pushing forward towards the crater, with a slight twisting motion.

Note: Do NOT attempt to lift the bottom of the crater back up – this will tear the roots of the grass.

Repeat the repair for the entire circumference of the pitch mark.

Step 4: Pat pat pat

Pat down the repaired area with your putter until the mark is as smooth and even as the surrounding surface.

Step 5: Fix another

Always aim to repair at least one or two more ball marks on the green. Again, it only takes a few seconds, but can make all the difference to the course.

Remember:

  • Unrepaired ball marks can take weeks to heal (if at all)
  • Incorrectly “repaired” ball marks can take up to twice as long to heal as those that are properly repaired.
  • It isn’t just about etiquette. It’s our obligation to take care of the golf courses we play.

Repairing a Pitch Mark - USGA Video

Golf Basics – Raking a bunker

Raking a bunker

Golf Basics - Raking a bunker

Raking a bunker is a critical part of golf, as it promotes fair play for other golfers. Doing it properly -- entering, raking and exiting -- also helps maintain the playability and health of the golf course.

Here’s how to do it correctly.

Raking a bunker

Find the rake before entering

Before you enter, look for the nearest rake. This will save you time later. Also note whether it is inside or outside of the bunker (every course has different rules). This will ensure you can replace it in the same manner.

If you can, grab the rake and bring it into the bunker with you.  This will save you more time and effort.

Entering a bunker - find the low point

Where you enter the bunker is critical to protecting the sand, and the turf around it.

You should always enter and exit the bunker from the area nearest your ball. Enter from the low side, or the side level with the playing surface.  Some courses even have steps, signs or indicators.  If you enter or exit from the wrong area, like the high side, it can result in serious damage to the lip of the bunker. This can also displace more sand from the face than is necessary. It's also more dangerous.

Tidy as you go

Prior to your shot, you are allowed to tidy up your footprints on the way to the ball if necessary. (Note: there are specific rules against "testing the conditions" of sand in a bunker. To ensure you don't violate the rules, be sure to only use the rake to "Tidy Up", and only your own footprints.) You can place the rake in the sand near your ball before your shot.

How to rake (properly)

After you play your shot (or shots!) from the bunker, begin raking over every disrupted spot in the sand. This includes your footprints, impact zone(s), etc. The proper procedure is to push and pull sand evenly (using both the tines of the rake and even the flat top as well). The direction you mow is also important:

  • Greenside bunkers are usually raked in the direction of play or toward the centre of the green.
  • Fairway bunkers are raked parallel to play from tee to green.

Walking backwards, rake along your path as you exit the bunker.  Be careful not to pull too much sand toward you – if this happens, then simply push some sand away from you. The goal is to leave a completely even surface, in better condition than when you entered.

Replace the rake

To finish, simply step out of the bunker, making sure to repair your exit footprints, and then replace the rake where you found it.

Note: Most courses have local rules about placement of rakes – some prefer rakes to remain inside the bunker, while others prefer out. The general rule is to place the rake in an area that is least likely to influence the movement of a ball. When in doubt, check the scorecard or noticeboard.

Properly raking and maintaining a bunker not only ensures that your course stays in good condition, but it also “pays it backwards” and allows the players behind you to have a fair shot at getting out.

Video Tip - Raking a Bunkder