What is a Handicap Index?

The unseasonably warm weather has many golfers chomping at the bit to get the season started.  As some courses set to open in March here in Manitoba, there are still a few weeks to wait before you can officially post scores toward maintaining and establishing your Golf Canada Handicap Index with the official score posting season in Manitoba to open from April 15 to October 31. More on that later.

What is a Handicap Index?

A Handicap Index provides you with a portable measure of your playing ability that’s consistent with how golfers are measured world-wide and is always expressed as a number taken to one decimal place (e.g. 21.3). This number is used to calculate how many strokes you would potentially need to adjust your score back to par, and allows golfers of all skill levels to compete equitably regardless of ability or gender. For example, if you have a Handicap Index of 21.3, it means you generally shoot about 21 strokes above par on an average golf course. Under the World Handicap System, a golfer can use their Handicap Index on any golf course around the world.

However, your actual number of strokes will vary depending on the par and rating of the course and set of tees that you play, otherwise known as the Course Handicap. Once you know the Course Handicap for the course and set of tees you’re playing, you can take your gross score (what you actually shot) and subtract the Course Handicap to get your net score. Using the example above of 21.3, a Handicap Index of 21.3 equates to a Course Handicap of 23 when playing the blue tees at Neepawa Golf & Country Club, host of this year’s Nott Autocorp Men’s Amateur Championship (we’ll go over how to determine the Course Handicap in the next section). If you shoot a gross score of 94, you would subtract 23 strokes from this number to give you a net score of 71.

How do I determine my Course Handicap?

Now that you have a Handicap Index, you must convert that to a Course Handicap for the course and tees you are about to play. The easiest way to determine your Course Handicap is to use the Golf Canada app. The Golf Canada app has a handy Course Handicap calculator tool (or you can use the Golf Canada Score Centre on your desktop computer) where you can easily find your Course Handicap.  The app will automatically calculate your Course Handicap when you select the Course Handicap feature under the course you are about to play on (see image right).  The Calculator will show your Course Handicap based on all tees available. To download the free app, please click


I have my Course Handicap, now what?

If you’re just playing a normal round of golf, it’s usually enough to just know your final net score. However, there are times when you’ll need to know exactly on which holes to allocate your strokes, such as match play, stableford, or even just playing for skins with your friends. Also, when playing in a handicapped tournament or event, you may see dots on different holes on your scorecard. Each dot represents how many extra strokes you are allocated on specific holes.

How do I apply the adjusted strokes?

Each hole on the course is given a number based on the difficulty, with 1 being the most difficult hole and 18 being the easiest. For each hole with a number less than or equal to your Course Handicap, you will subtract a stroke from your gross score for that hole. For example, if you score a 5 on a hole numbered 1-13, your net score will be 4. If your Course Handicap is greater than 18, you’ll subtract 1 stroke for every hole, then continue to subtract additional strokes restarting with 1 until you reach your Course Handicap. For example, a Course Handicap of 20 would subtract 2 strokes on holes rated 1 and 2, and 1 stroke on every other hole. You can always find the rating for each hole on the course scorecard.

Why do I need a Handicap Index?

By playing with a Handicap Index, you can compete with golfers of any golfer regardless of ability or gender. By using a Handicap Index, you can also compete against your own potential scoring ability instead of other golfer’s scores. Sticking with the example from the first section, let’s say you shoot a gross score of 94 with a Course Handicap of 23, and your friend shoots 86 with a Course Handicap of 14. Even though your friend shot a lower gross score (which, based on the handicap differences, they will almost every time), your net score is lower (71 vs. 72).  An official Golf Canada Handicap Index is also required to be eligible to compete in many club level events, charity or corporate events, and also all Golf Manitoba provincial and Golf Canada national championships.

How do I get a Handicap Index?

You can obtain an official Golf Canada Handicap Index in three simple steps:

  1. The first is to join a member club of Golf Manitoba/Canada. All member clubs in good standing of Golf Manitoba/Canada are officially rated using the World Handicap System Course Rating System as administered by Golf Canada. All games played at these clubs (and under the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Handicapping) are acceptable for handicap purposes and may be recorded toward establishing or maintaining an official Golf Canada Handicap Index. If you are not a member of an member club, you can still establish a Handicap Index by joining the Golf Manitoba/Canada public player program!  The public player program provides the same level of member benefits that you would receive as a member of a club.  Click HERE to learn more.
  2. Step two requires you to post a minimum of three 18-hole scores (or a combination of 18-hole and 9-hole scores) at any registered Golf Manitoba/Canada member club that has an official course and slope rating under the World Handicap System.
  3. Upon conclusion of posting your third 18-hole game, you will receive a Golf Canada Handicap Index the next day!

When can I post scores?

The World Handicap System stipulates every player is responsible for returning all acceptable scores into one’s scoring record from rounds played on courses observing their active season, which is part of the golf season when courses have acceptable playing conditions. As mentioned earlier, the active score posting season in Manitoba is always from April 15 to October 31. Click HERE to view the active seasons across the country.

Scores made at any golf course observing an inactive season are not acceptable for handicap purposes. The rationale behind this is that posting scores during inactive seasons (periods of poor course conditions) could artificially increase a player’s Handicap Index. It’s also important to note that if you are travelling to other countries, you should determine their active seasons to prevent posting unacceptable scores. Your home club needs all acceptable scores from the “off-season” as well to ensure your Handicap Index is accurate once recalculated at the beginning of the season.

Handicapping education

For more information on the Rules of Handicapping under the World Handicap System, please visit our resource page HERE.

Ready to establish your Handicap Index today? Get started HERE.