A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer's playing ability. It's designed to allow players of varying skill levels to compete on an equal footing. Handicaps are based on a golfer's recent scores and are calculated using a standardized formula. The lower a golfer's handicap, the better their playing ability.

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Here's how it works:

  1. Establishment of Handicap Index: Golfers submit their scores from rounds played on courses rated for difficulty. These scores are used to establish a Handicap Index, which reflects the golfer's potential ability.

  2. Course Rating and Slope Rating: Golf courses are rated for difficulty, which is expressed as a Course Rating. The Slope Rating indicates the relative difficulty of a course for players of differing abilities.

  3. Calculation: When a golfer plays a round of golf, their Handicap Index is adjusted based on the Course Rating and Slope Rating of the course they played, as well as their score relative to the course's difficulty.

  4. Handicap Differential: The difference between a golfer's adjusted gross score and the Course Rating, adjusted for the Slope Rating, is called the "Handicap Differential."

  5. Calculation of Handicap: Typically, a golfer's Handicap Index is calculated by taking the average of the best differentials from their recent rounds, adjusted for any other factors per the governing body's rules.

  6. Application: In competition, a golfer's Handicap Index is used to calculate their Course Handicap, which reflects the number of strokes they should receive or give to even the playing field against other golfers with different abilities.

Overall, the handicap system allows golfers of varying skill levels to compete fairly, by adjusting for differences in ability and the difficulty of the courses played.