In any sport, when you set out to improve your skills it is essential that you have a benchmark from which to measure your progress. In golf, this would be called a handicap and in many ways, the term is appropriate because for most people their handicap represents the self-imposed limitations they place on their development as a golfer.
In order for this article to make sense I need to explain how the handicapping system works, so here goes –

All golf clubs around the world assign a Handicap Index (HI) to their members according to the level of ability the member has shown over a period of time. This HI then determines how far above or below par that person can play when playing off that index. For example, if your HI was 24 then you could play up to 6 handicap strokes above par on a hole. Please note that if your ability drops below the level of the HI it will be reduced by one stroke for each classification level, so if you are playing off an 18 which is 2 levels above your current ability, and start to lose this high standard, at least two classes of handicap will be removed.

What would happen if everyone who joined a club played off their true ability? Well, they would all have very similar scores and pretty much all finish around par… how boring! This is why golf clubs came with these systems in place which means players with lower skills can only shoot at best 50% over par (on average) – if someone shoots 75 on a par 70 course then their handicap is increased by 2 and they bring their next score down to 73.

When trying to work out your true handicap it is important that you only use the best rounds of golf you have played, so if you never break 80, don’t include any scores over this level when working out your average. Please note: I know for a fact that some people cheat and do actually include scores higher than their ability in order to get a better HI – please don’t be one of these people!

Once you have your average using this method, ask 10 of your playing partners what there’s an index (HI) is and add 4 strokes (this should give you an idea how better than par they actually play when playing off their handicap). You then need to add or subtract the number of strokes taken on that course when shooting your average. For example, if I played my best round ever and shot 80 (par 72) and just happened to be playing with a scratch golfer who was 10 stroked better than par, all my future scores would be credited with an 8 stoke handicap (80+4=84). As you can see (I hope!) this system ensures everyone will play approximately the same standard and only account for how far they deviate from their true ability.