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5 Things to Know About a Handicap Index®

By Terry Benjamin

| Apr 3, 2023

A Handicap Index can be used for much more than just competitive play!

Article originally published in Golf Journal:

Before joining the USGA as a staff member in 2017, I was under the impression like most average golfers that getting a Handicap Index® and posting all scores was only necessary for those who wished to play competitively – whether in an outing, a regional tournament or even a USGA championship.

However, once I became one of the more than 2.6 million golfers in the United States with a Handicap Index, I quickly realized that there are many other reasons to establish and maintain a Handicap Index, even though I don’t have plans to play in a big tournament! Here are five ways that having a Handicap Index will help you get more enjoyment and fulfillment out of the game:

1)  It’s a great way to track your progress

There’s no better feeling than seeing your Handicap Index go down after posting a good score and knowing the hard work is paying off. And since your scoring record is carried over from year to year, in just a matter of seconds, you can look back and see how you’ve progressed over time. Conversely, if your number goes up, you can review your statistics and identify which parts of your game need the most work.

2)  You can use it to set a target score

Before teeing it up, you can use your computer or mobile app to convert your Handicap Index into a Course Handicap™ – which represents the number of strokes you need to play to par from the tees you’ll be playing. You can then simply add together your Course Handicap + par and you’ll have your target score for the round – which is the score you’ll shoot if you’re able to play well.

3)  It opens up new playing opportunities in your area

When you sign up for a Handicap Index through your state or regional Allied Golf Association (AGA), you become part of a growing community of golfers in your area. Even better, the AGAs offer playing opportunities throughout the season for players of all skill levels.

4)  You can experience competition – on your own terms

Do you have a friend or family member who also has a Handicap Index? If so, you can have a fun and fair game with them, regardless of the difference in skill level. And you don’t even have to play a serious 18-hole round to do it! Since scores from many formats, including match play, are acceptable for handicap purposes, try setting up your next golf date by issuing a friendly challenge: loser buys a round after the round!

5)  It’s easy to get started

All you need to do is post scores from a total of 54 holes, made up of any combination of 9- or 18-hole rounds, and you’ll have a Handicap Index the very next day. Your handicap will continue to update the day after you play, so whether you play once a week or once a month, you’ll always have an up-to-date measure of your ability. Be sure to get in the habit of posting your score right after your round.

Getting the itch to sign up for a Handicap Index today? If there’s a course in your area that you play often, get in touch with the golf shop. Chances are the staff can set you up on the spot. But if you’re like me and don’t necessarily have a “home course,” just visit to get started today. You can also contact your local AGA for assistance. They’re a tremendous resource that will have you posting scores and having more fun with the game, in no time!

Terry Benjamin is the USGA's manager for handicapping education and engagement.