The R&A - Working for Golf
Handicap Index Calculation
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Rule 4
Rule 6

Principle of the Rule:

A player’s Handicap Index should represent their demonstrated ability and, where appropriate, be responsive to scores that are inconsistent with their demonstrated ability.

Rule 5 covers the process of calculating a Handicap Index and incorporates the safeguards needed to help ensure that a player’s Handicap Index remains reflective of their ability and that equity is retained for all golfers. It includes mechanisms that:

  • Take into consideration the conditions in which a round was played.
  • Remember previously demonstrated ability within a defined period of time.
  • Cap the upward movement of a player’s Handicap Index within a defined period of time.
  • Apply additional adjustments to a player’s Handicap Index when an exceptional score is submitted.
Handicap Index Calculation


Calculation of a Score Differential

A Score Differential is calculated when either an 18-hole or 9-hole score is submitted and the method is determined, amongst other things, by how players’ hole scores are recorded.

Calculation of a Handicap Index
For Fewer than 20 Scores

A Handicap Index is calculated from the lowest Score Differentials in the scoring record. If a scoring record contains fewer than 20 Score Differentials, the table below is used to determine the number of Score Differentials to be included in the calculation and any adjustment that may apply. Round the result of the calculation to the nearest tenth.

Number of Score Differentials in scoring record

Score Differential(s) to be used in calculation of Handicap Index



Lowest 1



Lowest 1



Lowest 1



Average of lowest 2


7 or 8

Average of lowest 2


9 to 11

Average of lowest 3


12 to 14

Average of lowest 4


15 or 16

Average of lowest 5


17 or 18

Average of lowest 6



Average of lowest 7



Average of lowest 8


Allocation of an Initial Handicap Index

Based on any additional evidence available about a player’s demonstrated ability, a Handicap Committee may modify a player’s initial Handicap Index upward or downward (see Rule 7.1a).
For 20 Scores

A Handicap Index is calculated from the lowest Score Differentials in the scoring record. If a scoring record contains at least 20 Score Differentials, the procedure for calculating a Handicap Index is:

  • Average the lowest 8 of the most recent 20 Score Differentials (which include any adjustments for exceptional scores and/or a Committee review) and round to the nearest tenth.
  • Compute the difference between the average of the lowest 8 Score Differentials and the Low Handicap Index.
  • If the difference is greater than 3, the soft cap calculation is applied.
  • If the difference is greater than 5 after application of the soft cap, then the hard cap is applied.
(See Rule 5.8.)
For Plus Handicap Index

When there are 20 Score Differentials in a player’s scoring record and the Handicap Index calculates as a negative figure, this represents a plus Handicap Index.

When a player’s initial Handicap Index calculates at the lower end of the handicap range for both men and women, the Handicap Committee must follow any procedures established by the Authorized Association before issuing a Handicap Index below a specified level (see Rule 5.2a).

Maximum Handicap Index

The maximum Handicap Index a player can obtain is 54.0.

Note: Committees in charge of a competition have the discretion to set a maximum Handicap Index limit for entry.

Frequency of Revision of a Handicap Index Update

A player’s Handicap Index should be updated no later than the day after a score was submitted, or as soon as possible thereafter.

In a situation when a new round is played before the player’s Handicap Index has been updated, including when multiple rounds are played on the same day, it is recommended that the player uses their existing Handicap Index. However, in certain circumstances, the Committee in charge of the competition (or the Handicap Committee) has the discretion to decide what Playing Handicap the player should use (see Rule 7.2).

Ageing of Scores and Lapsing of a Handicap Index

A score continues to be part of the Handicap Index calculation if it remains with the player’s most recent 20 scores, regardless of the age of the score.

Where applicable, a 9-hole score waiting to be combined with another 9-hole score will be retained until it becomes older than the twentieth oldest 18-hole score in the scoring record, after which it is discarded.

A Handicap Index only lapses if a player is no longer a member of at least one golf club.

Note: A player’s scoring record should be retained wherever possible. This will assist a Handicap Committee if the player obtains a Handicap Index again in the future.

Playing Conditions Calculation

Course Ratings are based on normal playing conditions, but the difficulty of a golf course can vary substantially from day to day, due to:

  • Course conditions,
  • Weather conditions, and/or
  • Course set-up.

The playing conditions calculation (PCC) determines whether playing conditions on the day differed from normal conditions to the extent that an adjustment is needed to compensate. It is a daily statistical procedure that compares the scores submitted by players on the day against expected scoring patterns.

The purpose of this feature within the handicap calculation is to recognize that an average score submitted in harder playing conditions may be better than a good score submitted in easier playing conditions. Unadjusted, such a score may be omitted from the Handicap Index calculation.

If the PCC determines that acceptable scores submitted are in line with expected scoring patterns no adjustment is made.

The calculated adjustment is dependent upon:

  • Whether significantly fewer players than anticipated attained their expected score and, consequently, conditions are determined to be harder than normal.
  • Whether significantly more players than anticipated attained their expected score and, consequently, conditions are determined to be easier than normal.

 The playing conditions calculation (PCC):

  • Is generally performed only once for a day.
  • Considers acceptable scores submitted on a golf course each day and requires at least eight acceptable scores to determine if an adjustment is required.
  • Includes only acceptable scores submitted by players with a Handicap Index of 36.0 or below.
  • Equals zero if fewer than eight acceptable scores are submitted.
  • Where applicable, does not include scores that are scaled up to 9-hole or 18-hole scores.
  • Can determine an adjustment of -1.0, 0.0, +1.0, +2.0 or +3.0 and is applied in the calculation of Score Differentials for all players.
Low Handicap Index

The Low Handicap Index represents the demonstrated ability of a player over the 365-day period preceding the day on which the most recent score in their scoring record was played and provides a reference point against which the current Handicap Index can be compared.

  • A Low Handicap Index is established once a player has at least 20 acceptable scores in their scoring record.
  • Once a player has established a Low Handicap Index, it is re-evaluated every time a new acceptable score is submitted and must be displayed in the player’s scoring record.
  • A newly determined Low Handicap Index is considered in the processing of the player’s next acceptable score whenever the next round is submitted. A player’s Low Handicap Index may become more than 365 days old in the period between two rounds being played.
  • Where a Handicap Committee-applied adjustment reduces a player’s Handicap Index, the adjusted Handicap Index resets the Low Handicap Index to the adjusted Handicap Index, unless a lower Handicap Index is still eligible (see Rule 7.1a).
  • Where a Handicap Committee-applied adjustment increases a player’s Handicap Index, the Committee should consider resetting the player’s Low Handicap Index to the same value as the adjusted Handicap Index.
Limit on Upward Movement of a Handicap Index

There are two trigger points within the cap procedure:

  1. The soft cap. The soft cap is triggered when the difference between a player’s newly calculated Handicap Index and their Low Handicap Index is greater than 3.0 strokes.

    When a calculated Handicap Index increase is greater than 3.0 strokes, the value above 3.0 strokes is restricted to 50% of the increase.

  2. The hard cap. The hard cap triggers to restrict the amount by which a player’s Handicap Index can increase, after application of the soft cap, to no more than 5.0 strokes above their Low Handicap Index.

There is no limit on the amount by which a player’s Handicap Index can decrease.

The soft cap and hard cap procedures start to take effect only after the Low Handicap Index has been established.

Submission of an Exceptional Score

When an exceptional score is posted to a player’s scoring record, the Handicap Index will be reduced in accordance with the following adjustment table:

Number of strokes the Score Differential is lower than a player’s Handicap Index in effect when the round was played

Exceptional score reduction

7.0 – 9.9


10.0 or more







  • A reduction can be applied based on a single exceptional score.
  • Reductions for multiple exceptional scores are applied cumulatively.
  • A reduction is automatically applied within the calculation of a player’s updated Handicap Index following the submission of an exceptional score.
  • A reduction for an exceptional score is applied by adjusting each of the most recent 20 Score Differentials recorded in the player’s scoring record, which includes the exceptional score. As a result, the impact of the reduction will remain after the next score is submitted but will dilute over time as new scores are submitted.  

    Where there are fewer than 20 Score Differentials in a player’s scoring record at the time an exceptional score is submitted, the reduction is applied by adjusting all of the Score Differentials recorded in the player’s scoring record, which includes the exceptional score.

  • Additional handicap review notifications will be generated for the Handicap Committee’s consideration, when:
    • Multiple exceptional score reductions are applied to a player’s Handicap Index.
    • A Score Differential is 10.0 strokes or more below a player’s Handicap Index in effect when that round was played and an exceptional score reduction of –-2.0 is triggered.
  • The Handicap Committee is permitted to override any adjustment for an exceptional score if it considers that the adjustment would result in a player’s Handicap Index not being a fair reflection of their demonstrated ability (see Rule 7.1a).