What’s your handicap? Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned golfer, chances are you’ve been asked this question. The United States Golf Association (USGA) and R&A recently announced that they are working toward a World Handicap System for the sport. What exactly is a handicap and how is calculated? And what would be the benefit of a World Handicap System?

Handicap Basics

A handicap is a measure of a golfer’s potential ability. It allows golfers with varying skill levels to play together on a more equal playing field and enjoy the game. Golf Canada, licensed under the USGA handicap system, is responsible for maintaining a uniform handicapping system across Canada in cooperation with provincial golf associations. Each golfer has a “Golf Canada Handicap Factor” – a measurement of their potential scoring ability on a course of standard difficulty.

golf course

golf course image source: Pexels


In Canada, there is currently a two-year Handicap Cycle effective March 1, 2016 – February 28, 2018. The Handicap Factor is calculated with the best 10 of the player’s last 20 rounds. The Factor travels with the golfer between courses and is adjusted depending on length and difficulty of course played, which results in a “Course Handicap”. This handicap represents the number of strokes a golfer gets from a specific set of tees at the course and is the number of strokes s/he would need to play equitably against a scratch golfer (one with a Handicap Factor of 0.0). The more difficult the course, the more strokes the golfer receives and vice versa. The course difficulty is determined by Golf Canada and the provincial association. Course Rating Teams evaluate the course difficulty based on length and obstacle factors (e.g. bunkers, water, etc.). You can refer to the Golf Canada Handicap Manual for details on calculating and using a handicap.

Proposal for a Global System

Currently, 15 million golfers in over 80 countries have a handicap. There are six handicap systems (Golf Australia, Council of National Golf Unions, European Golf Association, South African Golf Association, Argentine Golf Association and the USGA) used across the globe and the aim of the proposed system is to adopt a universal set of principles and procedures. Research has already been done to review systems and best practices involved in handicapping. A joint committee formed by USGA, R&A, representatives from each handicap authority and Japan Golf and Golf Canada plans to announce its proposal later this year.


The global system would hopefully decrease frustration with the inconsistencies of the varying handicaps throughout the world. The new system would consider differing golf cultures, most common play formats and rate courses in a uniform manner. Ultimately, the global system would help remove barriers to allow players from anywhere in the world to play together and enjoy the game.