Handicap is the number that golfers use to calculate their current skill level relative to a course. It is an ongoing adjustment that takes into account a variety of factors including course difficulty, weather conditions and green speeds. Each year, the world’s handicapping system is reviewed and adjusted based on these factors. The number of scores submitted in qualifying competitions is also factored into this process. Moreover, exceptionally good performances are monitored throughout the year to ensure that a golfer’s handicap does not fall too quickly.
The word ‘handicap’ is actually a portmanteau of two words – ‘hand’ and ‘cap’. Originally, the term was used to describe a barter/betting game in which one person challenges an article belonging to another and offers something of equal value in return. The game was popular around 1653 in the United Kingdom and it is believed that it is where the word acquired its current meaning.
In handicap betting, a sports bookmaker gives one team an advantage and the other a disadvantage to make the outcome of a sporting event more even. For example, if Michael Phelps swims a 200m race against an average club swimmer, the odds will reflect that the former is a sure winner – however, if the club swimmer was given a 100m head start, the result would be more even.
This is how handicaps work in golf and many other sports. It’s a simple, reliable and transparent way to compare skill levels and allows fair wagering. Moreover, the fact that it is constantly updated also helps players monitor their own performance and understand whether their skills are improving or deteriorating.