Recreational Math

Sports Numbers

How do you figure out a handicap in golf and bowling?

In several sports games, players will have what is called a handicap, or a numerical measure of a person’s playing ability to create an even playing field for all players. This means that if you play with an expert in the game, your handicap will usually make up for the differences in expertise, or lack thereof.

For example, in the game of golf, a person’s handicap is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes that are actually played. Although there is no such thing as a handicap in professional golf, for the amateur, it is handy to have; and it’s intended to be an indication of a player’s potential, not his or her average score. The score is calculated based on the player’s golfing ability from his or her recent history of rounds; the golfer can essentially “take a stroke” (or deduct a stroke) from his or her score at a certain hole. (A golfer’s handicap can change as the player improves with practice.) At the end of the game, the golfer’s net score is figured out by subtracting the player’s handicap from the number of strokes actually taken (the gross score); the golfer without the handicap’s score is taken as he or she plays a regular round of golf. The person with the lowest score at the end of the play is the winner.

Bowling is also a sport in which an individual player can have a handicap. For the same reason as in golf, a handicap in bowling makes for a more even playing field; typically, a league or tournament using such a system will vote on an average that is usually higher than the best bowler on the team. This is the number that the handicap will be based on, or the “base average.” For example, if a bowler’s score is 140, and the base average is 210, the handicap would be 70 pins, or 210 – 140 = 70. If the bowler scored 70 for a game, he or she would add 70 to the score, making it 140. Most often, bowlers in a league cannot take the full handicap value, only a portion. For example, if the league only accepted 80 percent of the handicap—and, from the example above, 70 × 80 percent = 56—the bowler can only add a 56 pin handicap to the final score, or 196 (140 + 56 = 196).


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