Golf Index Vs Handicap Explained: What’s The Difference?

Golf index vs. handicap is a complicated conversation and these terms are often used incorrectly, even by experienced golfers.

They are frequently used interchangeably but actually mean different things. It is true that if you have a golf index you also have a golf handicap. You can’t have one without the other.

Below we will define both terms, explain how they are calculated, and provide you with the reasons why you need them.

We want you to win the debate the next time a golf index vs handicap argument breaks out in the 19th hole!

Golf Index Vs Handicap

Golf Index Vs Handicap: Definitions

Golf Index

Your golf index is a number that represents demonstrate golf ability and potential. It is based on the last 20 rounds of golf you have played.

The word “potential” is important because the calculation only uses your top 8 rounds of the last 20. In other words, it is more complicated than simply an average.

Your golf index will be a number between 0 – 54 and it goes to one decimal point. It is an estimate of how many “over par” you shoot.

For example, a player that can break 90 on a par 72, might have a golf index of 17.5.

A scratch golfer has a golf index of 0 or lower. It is possible to have a “+” golf index – these are elite amateurs and professional golfers.

If you ask most golfers “what is your golf handicap?”, they will give you their golf index. They will say something like, “I am an 11.2”.

Golf Index Vs Handicap

Golf Handicap

As we discuss golf index vs. handicap you are going to quickly see how intertwined they are. Your golf index is used to calculate your handicap.

Your golf handicap will change every time you play depending on the golf course and tees you play.

It comes down to the difficulty of the golf course from the tees you decide to play. Here is a quick example.

If you have a golf index of 6.4 and decide to play the back tees at your course, your golf handicap for that day might be 10.

On the other hand, if you play the senior tees your golf handicap might be 5.

Your golf handicap is specific to that round and will always be a whole number.

There are options, but the USGA-approved handicap system is GHIN. The GHIN phone application has a “handicap calculator”.

You tell it what course you are playing, which tees you plan to play, and your golf index – it will tell you your golf handicap for that day.

Golf Index Vs Handicap

Golf Index Vs Handicap: How Is Golf Index Calculated?

This does get complicated, but we will do our best to make it as simple as possible. The first concept we need to define is “differential”.

To get a golf index/handicap you need to use one of the handicap services – we recommend GHIN. Every time you play, you post your score.

GHIN will convert your score to a “differential”. At a high level, this is the number of strokes you were over par.

In other words, if you shoot an 85 on a par 72 your “differential” for that round would be 13.

In reality, the golf index calculation is more complicated. It includes factors to understand the difficulty of the course you played.

When discussing golf index vs. handicap you also need to be familiar with slope and course rating.

Golf Index Vs Handicap

The Slope of a golf course is the estimated difficulty of it for a bogey golfer. Slope can be between 55 – 155 and the higher the number, the harder the golf course.

The Course Rating is calculated from the effective playing length and obstacle factors for the golf course. There are people trained to rate golf courses (Slope & Course Rating).

Why do Slope & Course Rating matter? They change your “differential” for each round.

Let’s return to our example above (85 on a par 72). If you played a hard golf course, the actual differential could be 10 instead of 13. An easy golf course, your “diff” might be 16.

Golf index vs. handicap isn’t all complicated. Once you understand the concept of “differential” the calculation is pretty easy.

You take your last 20 rounds of golf and identify your 8 best (lowest) differentials. Average these 8 differentials and you have your golf handicap index. Let’s look at an example.

Your last 20 differentials (8 low in bold): 9.7, 10.9, 14.1, 6.5, 16.8, 17.2, 9.2, 11.1, 13.3, 15.6, 4.9, 15.4, 9.9, 8.7, 21.1, 7.4, 13.9, 19.7, 8.8, 16.1.

Your golf index would be 8.1. The average of the bold (low 8).

Golf Index Vs Handicap

Golf Index Vs. Handicap: How Is Handicap Calculated?

Your handicap is calculated using 3 pieces of information. Your golf index, the course rating, and course slope.

Did you know that every set of tees on every golf course has a slope and course rating? You can typically find this information on the scorecard.

The tee box you decide to play will impact your golf handicap. If your play longer tees, your handicap for that day will be higher.

Use the GHIN phone application to select the course and tees you are playing – it will tell you your golf handicap.

The goal of the handicap system is to let any two players fairly compete. It will tell you how many strokes the better player needs to give the other player.

Golf index vs. handicap is all about creating an even playing field. If your handicap for the day is 11 and your buddy’s is 14, you need to give him three strokes to make the match fair.

Golf Index Vs Handicap

3 Reasons Why You Should Establish A Golf index/Handicap

We hope you now understand the golf index vs. handicap discussion. They are used together to help create fair golf matches.

The next obvious question – why take the time to post scores and establish a golf handicap?

#1: Set Goals And Track Your Improvement

Golf is a marathon, not a sprint. You can enjoy playing for decades and you need to way to understand if you are improving.

Is your practice routine working? Establishing a golf handicap gives you a simple measurement.

Did your golf index drop over the last 12 months? If so, you have improved!

At the start of each golf season set a goal. You are going to practice 2 hours per week and lower your golf index by 2 strokes by the end of the year.

If you achieve your goal, celebrate. If you don’t, try a different approach the next season. Golf index vs. handicap isn’t as important as enjoying this great game.

#2: Any Two Golfers Can Have A Fair Match!

It doesn’t matter if you have been friends for years or just met on the practice green, if you both have a golf index, you can have a fair match.

This is the beauty of golf and the golf index vs. handicap discussion.

You could never beat Michael Jordan in basketball, but you have a shot against Tiger with the golf handicap system.

Use your golf index/handicap to challenge the G.O.A.T.!

#3: Play Competitive Golf

You don’t have to be a professional golfer to play in tournaments. You can use your golf index/handicap and sign-up for “net” events.

In a “net” golf tournament, you get to subtract your handicap from your score. If your handicap for the day is 10 and you shoot 78, your score for the tournament is 68.

In this scenario, you beat a player with a 4 handicap that shoots 74 (net 70). The golf index vs. handicap system allows anyone to compete and win a golf tournament.

Golf Index Vs Handicap

Golf Index Vs. Handicap – Don’t Be A Sandbagger!

We can’t end our golf index vs. handicap discussion without talking about the concept of sandbagging.

Sandbagging is when a golfer keeps their golf index higher than it should be to gain an advantage in matches and net tournaments.

This is a form of cheating. There are two ways you will see golfers “sandbag”:

  • If they play well, they don’t post their score because they don’t want to lower their golf index
  • They hit bad shots or miss putts on purpose to avoid lowering their golf index

Sandbaggers pretend to be worse than they actually are to gain an advantage.

We have a simple rule. Maintain an accurate golf index/handicap by posting every score you shoot and giving 100% on every shot you hit!

Up Next: Let’s Take A Look At Some Golf Handicap Statistics!

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +1 handicap.

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