Simply put, your golf handicap estimates the score you are expected to shoot on any given course. After you've played 5 to 10 rounds you can begin to establish a defined handicap. The more you play and improve your game, the lower your golf handicap will become.
Many golfers use a handicap to compare their skill levels with others’. You'll find that one of the first things another golfer asks is, “What’s your golf handicap?”
There are actually two scores for a golfer with an established handicap: gross score and net score. A gross score is the actual number of strokes taken to complete a round. The net score is your gross score minus your golf handicap. For example, if your gross score is 90 and your handicap 18, your net score is 72.
The handicap system is golf’s great equalizer, leveling the playing field so that golfers of different abilities can compete against each other – even a beginner and an experienced player. Using our previous example of the golfer with an 18 handicap shooting 90, let’s say he’s playing one with a handicap of 8 who posts a gross score of 80. While their gross scores are 10 strokes apart, their net scores are the same (72). With an accurate golf handicap, you could theoretically take on Phil Mickelson and beat him, if you play well.
Not all courses are created equal, so the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) uses statistical measures called Course Rating and Slope Rating to calculate golf handicaps based on course difficulty. The harder the course, the more strokes you'll get on your handicap.
As you get more experienced with the handicapping system and once you have developed an official handicap, you may notice that your lower rounds tend to reduce your handicap more than your higher rounds raise it. For example, let's say you are a 10 handicap and you shoot 5 below that. Your golf handicap will likely be lowered more than it would be raised if you had shot 5 numbers above your established handicap.