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What is Considered a Good Handicap in Bowling? Discover the Secret Bowling Handicap Formula

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Bowling is a sport loved by millions of people across the world. One of the great things about bowling is that players of all ages and skill levels can play together and have fun.

This is made possible through handicap scoring, which acts as an equalizer allowing competition between bowlers with vastly different abilities.

But what constitutes a “good” bowling handicap that reflects your true skill level and allows you to bowl competitively?

In this in-depth article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about bowling handicaps including how they’re calculated, common ranges, tips for getting an accurate handicap, and the benefits of having a properly assigned bowling handicap.

How Bowling Handicaps Work

A handicap in bowling levels the playing field by assigning bowlers a score adjustment based on their average bowling scores.

Higher handicaps are given to lower-average bowlers, while those with a higher average will receive little to no handicaps.

During a handicapped game, the handicap score is added to the actual score bowled. This allows players of differing abilities to be competitive against each other.

Handicaps are calculated based on your established average in a given bowling league or based on past scores in open play.

The specific formulas used can vary between different leagues and bowling proprietors’ associations.

Some common calculation methods include:

  • Taking 100% of the difference between your average and a scratch score of 220. Ex: A bowler with a 150 average would receive a 70-pin handicap.
  • Using 90% of the difference between your average and 220.
  • Take 80% of the gap between your average and 200 pins.

The intent behind the math is to strike a balance where the handicap applied gives you a reasonable chance to bowl above your standard average, but not necessarily guaranteed.

Most sanctioned leagues will re-evaluate and adjust bowlers’ handicaps every 12 to 15 games based on their updated average and scores bowled with handicaps applied. This ensures the handicap stays in tune with your current skill level.

Common Handicap Ranges

Handicaps generally fall within the following ranges amongst amateur league and recreational bowlers:

  • Low: 0-45 pins – These bowlers have high averages, generally 175 and above. They likely have refined fundamentals and several years of bowling experience. Low handicaps offer little score adjustment.
  • Medium: 46-105 pins – Bowlers with averages between 135-175 tend to fall into the medium handicap range. Their skills are still developing and the additional pins help them compete with higher average players.
  • High: 106-155 pins – High handicaps of 100 pins or more go to newer bowlers with averages below 135. It maximizes their chance to bowl well above their average.

On the professional circuit, handicapping is not used. However, among amateur leagues, a spread of handicaps will be represented since bowling ability varies widely in the general population.

Don’t feel discouraged if you have a high handicap start. Focus on fundamentals and make gradual improvements to lower your average and handicap over time.

What Constitutes a “Good” Handicap?

Now that you understand how bowling handicaps are calculated, what exactly makes for a good handicap? There are a few key criteria to evaluate:

  • Handicap is within 10 pins above or below your true average – Having a handicap closely aligned with your actual demonstrated ability means you are likely to bowl reasonably above or below average on any given night. If your assigned handicap diverges too much from your average, it may need adjustment.
  • Allows you to consistently score 20-40 pins over average – When your handicap is applied to your scores, you should be able to surpass your standard average by 20-40 pins in most games. If you hardly ever bowl over average with a handicap, it’s likely set too low for your current skill level.
  • Adapts to your increasing skill – As you improve as a bowler over weeks and months, your average and handicap should adjust accordingly. A good handicap doesn’t remain static when your ability is increasing.
  • Reflects significant declines in performance – The flip side also applies. If your scores take a downward turn due to injury or changing technique, an accurate handicap will rise to account for that.
  • Allows you to remain competitive – The ultimate goal of a good handicap is that it keeps you in the mix with other bowlers of various skill levels. You should have a reasonable chance to win or place when bowling handicapped games.

Tips for Getting an Accurate Bowling Handicap

If you feel your current assigned handicap in league play or open bowling is not truly reflective of your bowling ability, here are some tips for getting it properly dialed in:

  • Establish your average over a full season – Jumping into handicapped bowling after just a few games leads to unreliable averages and handicaps. Bowl regularly for at least 3-4 months to stabilize your average.
  • Ask to be re-rated after major improvements or declines – If your scores tell a different story than they did a few months ago due to focused practice or time off, request handicap re-evaluation.
  • Be willing to bowl scratch – Try bowling scratch (without handicap) periodically to test your skills and see raw score ability. This helps fine-tune your handicap.
  • Compare your scores to others in your league – If you are consistently bowling far above or below others with similar handicaps, it may require adjustment up or down.
  • Discuss adjustments with your league handicapper – Every league should have an official handicapper who can make sensible changes based on scores, observations, and your input.
  • Get re-rated at the start of a new league – When joining a new league, make sure your past averages are shared to determine an accurate starting handicap.

Having an open and honest dialogue with your league leadership about the equity of your handicap is key to achieving a number that maximizes competitiveness and enjoyment.

The Benefits of a Good Bowling Handicap

Having a properly dialed-in handicap that reflects your current bowling ability offers many benefits:

  • More fun, competitive games – When handicaps are fair, games stay close and exciting. Bowlers have renewed enthusiasm to celebrate great shots and cheer each other on.
  • Provides a challenge to improve – A good handicap rewards progress with lower handicap numbers. You’ll be motivated to refine skills to bring your average up.
  • Allows bowling with anyone – Accurate handicaps let family members, coworkers, and bowlers of all ages and talents participate in friendly games together.
  • Qualify for leagues and tournaments – To compete in handicapped leagues and events, having an established handicap is a requirement.
  • Removes intimidation factor – Newer bowlers may feel intimidated joining experienced teams. Handicapping minimizes the raw score difference.
  • Encourages respect for the sport – Maintaining an accurate handicap shows respect for bowling and underscores the importance of fair play.
  • Minimizes “sandbagging” – When handicaps are monitored and updated regularly, bowlers have less incentive to intentionally bowl below their ability.

Having confidence that your bowling handicap accurately reflects your ability makes the sport more rewarding to learn, play, and master over a lifetime.


In the world of bowling, handicapping allows players across the spectrum of skill levels to battle against each other on a level playing field.

However, not all handicaps are created equal. A “good” bowling handicap reflects your true average, adjusts as your ability changes, and gives you a competitive chance bowling against those with higher raw scores.

While it takes time and an honest self-assessment of your skills to dial in an accurate handicap, doing so makes the sport more enjoyable for yourself and your playing partners. Handicapping also encourages a lifelong pursuit of learning and gradual improvement.

Understanding common handicap ranges, monitoring your ongoing scores, and seeking regular re-evaluation of your handicap will help ensure you have an appropriate adjustment that fits your current bowling skill level.

So embrace the challenge of competing with handicapping. It showcases the inclusive spirit of bowling and allows anyone to get involved in the sport. When handicaps are fair, exciting games become accessible to all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a handicap mean in bowling?

A handicap in bowling is a score adjustment given to bowlers to level the playing field and allow players of different skill levels to compete against each other. Handicaps are based on your average score. Higher handicaps are given to lower-average bowlers.

What does 90% of 230 mean in bowling?

90% of 230 refers to a common handicap calculation method. 230 is the score for a perfect game. Taking 90% of the difference between your average and the perfect score gives you a handicap. For example, a bowler with a 150 average would get 90% of (230 – 150) = 90% of 80 = 72 handicap.

What do scratch and handicap mean in bowling?

Scratch bowling is competing without using handicaps. Handicap bowling is competing with each bowler’s assigned handicap score added to their total. This allows players with varying averages to compete on equity.

Can you have a negative handicap in bowling?

No, a negative handicap is not used in bowling. The lowest handicap is zero, which scratch bowlers receive. Handicaps only add points, they do not deduct.

How do I figure out my handicap in bowling?

Most leagues use a percentage (often 80% or 90%) of the difference between your average and a perfect score of 300, 220, or 200. Some use 100% of the difference between your average and 220. Bowling centers can also assign handicaps based on your history of scores.

How do I score my handicap?

To score with a handicap, simply add your handicap pins to your actual score for a game. For example, if your handicap is 50 and you bowl a 160, your handicap score would be 160 + 50 = 210.

How many is a perfect game in bowling?

A perfect game in bowling is 12 strikes in a row for a total score of 300 points.

How many strikes is 200 bowling?

In a traditional 10-frame bowling game, you need 7 strikes in a row to reach a score of 200 or more. The other frames can be spares or open frames.

What does 200 mean in bowling?

In recreational bowling, scoring 200 or higher in a game is considered a sign of reasonably advanced skill. 200 indicates consistency in getting strikes and spares. On sports league patterns, averaging 200 means you have elite bowling abilities.