A USGA Handicap Index is a numeral, to one decimal place, that represents a golfer's potential for scoring. A handicap index of 14.5, for example, indicates that a golfer will, on his or her best days, shoot somewhere around 14 or 15 strokes over par.
Handicap Index is not an average of a golfer's scores, but rather an estimate of what the golfer might shoot on his or her best days.
Handicap Index is figured through a complicated formula that, thankfully, individual golfers are unlikely to ever use themselves. Golfers who carry a USGA Handicap Index usually do so through their local golf clubs (associations), and those clubs keep track of the numbers.
For a lengthier definition of Handicap Index and how handicaps are used, check out our Handicap FAQ.
Handicap Index is used to figure course handicap, which tells golfers how many strokes they can take, and on which holes, during a round.
There are other types of handicap systems used in golf, in addition to the USGA's, but the term "handicap index" almost always refers to the USGA Handicap Index.
Also Known As: Handicap, without the "index," although this is technically incorrect. And, sometimes, golfers shorten it to "index," as in "What's your index?"
Examples: Bob has a handicap index of 8.6.