In a professional tournament, of course, there is no handicapping; the best (lowest) score wins. But among amateurs playing "socially," a comparison of handicaps sometimes comes into play.

Suppose you are a "scratch" (par) golfer, and my history suggests that I will go ten strokes over, "on average." Then, we might handicap the game so that I win if I hold my overage to nine or fewer strokes than yours.

Why are such handicaps given? Is it because informal bets are taken? Is it because it's a social way to give the weaker player an even chance to "win?"

And apparently there is a technique to handicapping; that is, the weaker player is expected to get a par score on some holes, and is given say, a one stroke handicap on others (in my case, ten holes). How does that work?

2 Answers 2


In my experience, the only reason for a handicap in a social game of golf is for betting purposes. If Player A is 10 shots better than Player B then they may decide to bet on the final score with Player B getting a 10 shot handicap. It can be done a number of ways:

  • Player A could give Player B 5 shots per side (this is most common from my experience)
  • Player A could give Player B 10 shots to the final score
  • Player A could give Player B a single shot on 10 specific holes.

The shots per specific hole should lead into your last question. Each course handicaps the holes on their course from 1 to 18. 1 being the most difficult hole and 18 being the easiest. Player A may give Player B a single shot on the 10 hardest holes and play the other 8 straight up. They may decide on some other combination of holes too.

I play quite a bit with my friends and we keep track of our handicaps, and only use them to bet on final score for dinner or beers. The biggest use of a handicap is for amateur tournaments where you would be grouped with players of the same level. In other tournaments like a team scramble or team best ball, they use your handicap to figure out a final score compared to the other teams and their handicaps.

Link on Handicaps

Good Wiki Link on Calculating and Using Handicaps


You mention pro competitions and 'social' games, but not amateur competitions like a monthly medal.

In my experience, the reason in amateur competitions is to allow an "even" playing field, so this point is correct in that context.

Is it because it's a social way to give the weaker player an even chance to "win?"

This would also be the case in social situations, bets or money don't need to be involved (sometimes pride is all that's at stake!).

Some of my friends play a little golf, but aren't members of clubs so don't have competition handicaps, with these guys we tend to use apps like GolfShot or Swing by Swing to keep a track of their scores to give them an 'accurate' handicap which we use in social comps.

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