You have bought your first set of clubs. You have been hitting balls on the practice range or perhaps at Topgolf or on a golf simulator. And now you are eager to join your friends on the course. This is a common pathway for new golfers. However, if you want to make it a fair game, you will need to adjust for each player’s ability. To do that, you will need to get a Handicap Index®.
One of the biggest misconceptions about a Handicap Index is the role the USGA plays in issuing one to an individual golfer. The USGA Handicapping department does not issue a Handicap Index to a golfer because the USGA does not meet the definition of a golf club. A golf club provides oversight of each player’s Handicap Index. The USGA simply can’t oversee all those records – e.g., there are more than 2 million golfers registered on the USGA’s Golf Handicap and Information Network® alone. The USGA authorizes clubs that follow the procedures of the USGA Handicap System™, and those clubs issue the Handicap Index to the golfer. Want to get started and get the strokes you need? Simply find an authorized golf club to join or start your own with at least nine other friends.
Let us be clear that a club doesn’t necessarily mean a brick-and-mortar facility or country club, though that is one example of a club. A golf club is an organization of at least 10 individual members that operates under bylaws with committees (including a handicap committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. Clubs can be authorized directly through the USGA or through an authorized golf association authorized by the USGA with jurisdiction in a specific geographic region. A list of all authorized golf associations can be found here.
Finding a club in your area that fits your needs can be challenging. Fortunately, the USGA has made it easy to find one close to you here.
Using the Authorized Golf Club Listing on USGA.org is a great tool to research the legitimate golf clubs in your area. There are approximately 15 million golfers worldwide who have a golf handicap and there are more than 16,500 domestically authorized golf clubs. These authorized golf clubs provide an opportunity to get in the game and start building a scoring record.
Now that you have joined a club, you will need to play at a course with a valid USGA Course Rating™ and Slope Rating®, then post your adjusted gross scores for peer review by your fellow club members and the club’s handicap committee. Once you have posted five scores and a handicap revision date passes (1st and 15th of each month), the club will issue you a Handicap Index.
What’s an adjusted gross score you may ask? It’s a player's gross score then adjusted under USGA Handicap System procedures for unfinished holes/conceded strokes, holes not played/not played under the Rules of Golf, and Equitable Stroke Control™ (max score based on your full Course Handicap™ for the round).
Once your Handicap Index is issued, it’s important to adhere to the Rules of Golf to ensure accuracy. Click here for more detailed information about situations such as posting nine-hole scores and correctly assigning strokes when players are playing from different tees/USGA Course Ratings. Click here to order a USGA Handicap System Reference Guide or Manual for quick reference when out on the course. See you out on the course!
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.