A an official USGA Handicap is a great thing to have if you want to take your game to the next level. Knowing your handicap can let you see how your golf skills are progressing. In addition, many local leagues and tournaments use handicaps to qualify players to enter, to group players by skill level, or even to adjust their scores in an attempt to level the playing field for players of all skill levels.
If you already belong to a club, then you probably have a handicap already. But if you don’t, then you need to know how to get a handicap without joining a club. Luckily, you have a few great options available to you and none of them are all that expensive.
NOTE: Things may change by 2020. The USGA and the R&A are implementing a new World Handicap System that sounds like it will make things a lot easier for you to obtain and maintain a handicap as well as make it more useful and accurate. So this post is going to focus on the current USGA rules and handicap system but check back here for more details and updates on the upcoming system.
Sign Up At A Public Course ($25-$50)
Gone are the days when you needed to be a member of a private club to have access to official handicapping. Just about every public course has handicap services available.
Section 2 of the USGA Handicap System defines a golf club by the following.
A “golf club” is an organization of at least ten individual members that operates under bylaws with Committees (especially a Handicap Committee) to supervise golf activities, provide peer review, and maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System. A golf club must be authorized by the USGA to utilize the USGA Handicap System. A club can obtain authorization directly from the USGA or in conjunction with its membership in an authorized golf association that is already authorized by the USGA and that has jurisdiction in the geographic area that includes the principal location of the golf club.
So basically any course can be a golf club for handicap purposes. The USGA rules define this as a Type 1 club (there are 3 types).
The best way to find out which courses in your area is to check out the USGA’s list of golf associations.
Join A League (typically $100+ including league membership)
This is probably the most expensive option outside of joining a private club. But I wanted to add it in here because it can be an option. You also get the added benefit of competition and making new friends in your area.
Most golf leagues will have some form of handicapping. Keep in mind, however that not all leagues are authorized by the USGA (or R&A) to provide official handicapping. So when you leave the league or try to compete in a tournament outside the league, you may have some difficulty.
Online Official Handicap (varies but typically $25-$50/year)
Another, even easier option, is to join an online golf club for handicapping purposes. This is a Type 3 “club” according to the USGA Rules…
The members of a Type 3 club had no prior affiliation, and a majority of the recruiting and sign up of the membership is done by solicitation to the public (e.g., newspaper, Internet) and where the members do not exhibit any regularity of play at any specific golf course. The residence or business address of each member of the golf club must generally be within approximately 50 miles of the principal location of the golf club.
So it is pretty clear that a “club” does not have to be a physical course. They just have to have a central location from which a member’s eligibility to join is based. That 50 miles requirement makes it a little more difficult than just finding some national online service, but there are local online handicap “clubs” all over the place.
However, there are a lot of resources online that can help you find an online club that suits your needs. Start with this USGA search feature. The search includes online and traditional clubs so it can be a pain to figure out which are online clubs. Look for more generic names that don’t sounds like a course, such as “Central California Golf Club” or “Hackers of Northern Utah.”
Retail store, Golf Galaxy, has a handicapping service if you live within 50 miles of one of their stores. They seem to have a lot of options. I checked my zip code and found 18 “clubs” within a 50 mile radius.
Some online clubs even have a community aspect to them where the players will get together for regular rounds of golf. It can be a great way to get to know other golfers in your area that enjoy golf as much as you do. It can also be good to find players better than you to help push your skills and abilities. That is a great way to improve.
Online Unofficial Handicap (FREE)
Every golfer should at least track their handicap, even if they don’t need an official one.
If you don’t want to spend any money then an unofficial online handicap is the best option if you are just getting started and simply want to track your progress and improvement. Most tournaments will not accept this as a valid handicap if they require one to enter. But if you have no plans in the foreseeable future to enter a tournament, then this is a great option.
I highly recommend checking out The Grint. It’s got a weird name but a ton of features and even an option for an official handicap (though I have listed it under this heading because I have not had the opportunity to test out that feature. It also has a Pro option that has additional stats and features for $19.99/year.
You can also check out the Golf Digest Handicap service which is completely free.
Calculate It Yourself (FREE)
This is the most work and, with all the free software options available, takes more effort than is reasonably necessary.
But some players like to keep all their scores in an easy to manage excel spreadsheet or even on paper (if you actually do all this on paper, leave a comment below because I want to know if anyone still does!).
Here is a good video that will explain the calculation process better than I can!
Whatever Option You Choose, Track Your Handicap
Keeping a handicap is something that every golfer should do. So with all the options you have, including some great free ones, there’s no excuse for not keeping track of it.