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What’s The Worst Handicap In Golf?

In 2020, the United States Golf Association (USGA), R&A, and other golf handicapping bodies changed to a new handicap system – the World Handicap System (WHS). This new system (which considers the course and slope ratings) changed the maximum handicap. So what’s the worst handicap in golf?

The worst handicap in golf is 54, as per the World Handicap System, for both men and women. For example, the highest handicap on an 18-hole course (Par 72) would be if a golfer shoots a maximum of 126 shots, or three shots over, on average, for each hole.

However, a player’s handicap at a course does not have to be equal to the Handicap Index. Instead, a player’s Course Handicap is determined by a computation based on the Handicap Index and the difficulty of the course.

This article will cover how the worst golf handicaps come into play. Let’s get started!

Golf Balls. What Is The Worst Handicap In Golf?

The Worst Handicap In Golf

You may want to get familiar with the handicap system if you are new to golf, as it will help you navigate your way to competing and measurably improve your own game.

The handicap system in golf ensures that all players can compete fairly against each other on more or less the same level.

Once you have played more than five rounds of golf, your handicap index will be calculated on your best 8 rounds over the previous 20 entered.

It’s also important to know the worst or maximum handicap, especially as a beginner.

The higher the handicap, the “worst” the player’s golfing abilities, whereas the lower it is, the better the golf is. The highest handicap both men and women can have is 54. However, the handicap structure aims to make golf accessible and inclusive for all golfers.

The maximum handicap, being 54, may seem excessive, but it encourages new players to keep practicing and improving their skills. If a player has the worst handicap in golf, it does not mean they will have that number forever.

Your handicap changes as you progress, which is vital to accurately reflect a player’s abilities. Although the highest handicap in golf is 54, and therefore by definition, the worst handicap you can have, it works a little differently in the golfing world.

There is a small difference between the maximum handicap that golf players can have relating to the handicap index and the worst in terms of the worst level of play.

If you take the meaning of “worst” in terms of the worst in actual play and competition, then it would change to a handicap of around 36. This number also fluctuates depending on the difficulty of the course.

If a golfer has a handicap of 36, they can play 36 over Par when they are playing well. This handicap is from a good golfing day and also shows how handicaps are meant to show the players’ potential as it does not reflect an average or lousy day’s golf.

Golf Scorecard

What’s A Bad Handicap In Golf?

Especially for beginner players, a handicap score of approximately 36 is seen as the average. Considering that beginners (in any sport) are still learning and are at the bottom of the sports ladder, this score seems appropriate.

However, if a player has been playing for a while, 36 is considered a bad handicap. This shouldn’t discourage players, as the handicap will lower over time with score improvement.

Also, even with a “bad” handicap of 36 and above, you will be competing with players of similar scores, and no one will have an unfair advantage. To better indicate what a bad handicap is, a good handicap is considered ten or less.

With a handicap of 10, golf players usually shoot around 82. Another factor to consider as you get better scores is that you will have to play on all types of courses (not only your home course).

Read more: How Good Is 10 Handicap In Golf?

What’s The Best Handicap In Golf?

The lower a player’s handicap, the better the player is. Good handicaps are usually single-digit numbers between 1 and 9. A score of 1 would then be considered the best.  

The best handicap is entirely subjective, though, as golfers with a handicap of 3 wouldn’t necessarily regard others with a handicap of 8 to be skilled golfers. In this sense, all handicap indexes are relative and not as strict.

To be a scratch golfer can be seen as the goal of low handicap golfers. A scratch golfer is a player that consistently shoots Par or even better. A scratch player is the best player as they can manage the game consistently. This consistency is the secret to good golf.

PGA pros don’t record their handicap as they don’t need to. They are professionals, after all.

But if they did?

Unsurprisingly, Tiger Woods has the lowest (best) handicap index compared to any other touring professional. He had an average handicap of +6.7 between 1996 and 2020. Although he hasn’t had an official handicap for most of his golfing career, as most other touring pros do, he has been playing off +8.

Do you want to know the average handicap of a PGA golfer and the meaning of a “plus” handicap? Check out this article for some great insight, The Average Handicap For a Pro Golfer.

Golf Course

How Do Golfers Calculate Their Handicap?

According to the USGA’s rules of handicapping, you first need 20 scores on your record. The Handicap Index is then calculated by taking the average of the best 8 Score Differentials. The Index is based on a formula used on many premade tables.

Even if your handicap is the maximum (i.e., worst) handicap of 54, the handicap you receive on a course doesn’t necessarily have to be the same.

The score you get from calculating your Handicap Index and the course difficulty will give you the Course Handicap.

So, what measurements do players need to calculate the course difficulty?

The Course Rating and Slope Rating are scores that contribute to the Course Handicap.

  • The Course Rating – refers to how difficult the course is to a scratch golfer (a golfer with a handicap of 0) under normal weather and course conditions. It is determined by evaluating the effective length of the golf course and the obstacles and challenges of the course.
  • The Slope Rating – indicates a score that shows the difficulty of a course to a bogey golfer (a golfer who averages a bogey per hole over 18 holes). The Slope Rating of a golf course ranges from 55 to 155. The highest rating equates to the harder course, with a rating of 113 considered the average.

Although this may seem confusing, the USGA clearly shows how you should do it and how golfers can essentially calculate their handicaps.

But how?

Golfers calculate their course handicap (how many shots a player gets) using: Handicap Index x Slope Rating/113 + (Course Rating – Par). Or you can use this course handicap calculator if you have terrible math like me!

Watch This Video To Learn How Your Handicap Index Is Calculated

World Handicap System (WHS) - Handicap Formula

Do you want to know the average handicap in the US? Check out this post, What’s The Average Golf Handicap In The US?

Final Thoughts

The handicap system focuses on helping golfers to reach their potential and creating fair competition. The highest handicap that a player can have is 54. This handicap score shows the ability of a golfer on average.

A handicap, either good or bad, is a relative number. In the practical golf world, the worst or at least bad handicap is a score of 36. Many beginners will start with a handicap around this figure.

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