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The Golf Handicap - what is it and why do I need one?

As a new golfer, you are embarking on a journey with the game and you are spending all of your time negotiating the complexities of golf equipment, apparel, courses, fairways, swings, and putts. As you learn more about the game, you are likely to come across the term "golf handicap." But what does it comprise of specifically, and how does it make golf more inclusive for everyone?

Okay, tell me more about the Golf Handicap.

In the game of golf, a handicap acts as a means of levelling the playing field and ensuring that competitors of different golf ability levels can compete fairly. A handicap is fundamentally a numerical indicator of a golfer's skill, expressed as several shots above or below par. "Par" for an 18 hole golf course is usually 72 shots divided into 18 holes by 3 different hole types; the shortest being a par 3, the medium length a par 4, and the longest hole type is a par 5.

In theory, a golfer who is off a zero handicap or "scratch" should hit 72 shots for 18 holes, which means on average they should take 3 shots to finish a par 3, 4 for a par 4 and 5 for a par 5 and all of these holes adds up to 72. A golfer who has a handicap of 18, should shoot 90, which means they have one more shot per hole as part of their handicap.

It's important to remember though, that your handicap is calculated as an average score over several of your previous golf rounds. You rarely play exactly to your handicap each time you step out onto the course.

As an individual golfer, your handicap provides a glimpse into how you may do on any particular hole, enabling you to monitor your development and assess your accomplishments, even when you are playing alongside people who have a different golf ability level to you.

Is a Golf Handicap really that important?

If you are just starting out, it's not completely necessary. At this early stage of your golf journey, you should be focusing on learning the game, the rules, and improving your own swing and shot making.

However, once you have developed as a golfer and you have started to score your rounds, the next step is to get yourself a handicap as it is the best way to understand your game and where you are improving... or not! Let’s dive deep into this:

1. Precise Self-Assessment: Your handicap represents your average skill level and considers how well you might perform on each hole and on the course overall. Because it is an average number calculated from your recent golf playing history, it represents your consistent level of performance over time rather than just how well you do on any given day. This evaluation enables you to track your progress and identify realistic targets.

2. Skillful planning: Using your handicap as a guide, you may be better able to plan your approach to certain holes. If your handicap is higher, for example, you will get more strokes on some holes, making them more accessible. Knowing this allows you to concentrate on maximising those additional strokes to improve your overall score.

3. Unity and Fellowship: Golf is a sport that thrives on camaraderie and inclusivity. With a handicap, you can comfortably participate in charity and corporate golf days, social golf tournaments and other competitions, knowing that your performance is being evaluated fairly. When you play in these team events, your handicaps are taken into account and it's a fantastic way to bond with fellow golfers and share the excitement of the game.

4. Fair competition: Golf is the most inclusive sport that exists because of the handicap system. Golfers who are just starting out can play alongside golfers with years of experience. This divide is filled by a handicap, which enables both players to take part in the game and compete fairly regardless of their respective skill levels.

Getting your Golf Handicap

You'll play a number of rounds that provide a representative picture of your performance in order to create a handicap. This is usually done on physical cards or using golf scoring apps to upload your scores. These results go towards determining your Handicap Index, which serves as the foundation for your handicap through a system called GolfLink. GolfLink is the central handicapping system, devised by the Golf Australia to process golf scores for handicaps.

Keep an eye out for Zonely to start offering golf handicaps soon!

Zonely Member Kylie swings her golf club off the tee at Long Reef Golf Course with palm trees in the background
Zonely member Kylie teeing off at Long Reef Golf Club at Collaroy in Sydney.

Image: Zonely member Kylie teeing off at Long Reef Golf Club at Collaroy in Sydney.

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