This article is from the Golf FAQ, by marcelo@nntpserver.Princeton.EDU (Marcelo A. Gallardo) with numerous contributions by others.
Most of the following information was taken from articles posted to
rec.sport.golf with permission from the authors.
A handicap is only an Official USGA Handicap Index if you get it from a
golf club which follows the USGA Handicap System. The good news is that
becoming a member of a golf club doesn't have to be difficult or
Many public courses host golf clubs with modest membership fees. Club
membership often entitles you to a few extra benefits - such as reduced
green fees, preferred starting times, as well as a chance to play in
club sponsored tournaments and meet new people. At the other end of the
scale are private clubs which can cost thousands of dollars per year
and may have long waiting lists.
Can't find a reasonably-priced golf club to join, or you don't want to
feel tied to one golf course? Then consider joining, or forming, a golf
club that doesn't have its own course. The USGA doesn't require a club
to have a course, and the minimum membership is just 10 golfers who
have a reasonable and regular opportunity to play golf with one
another. Some clubs call themselves traveling clubs and host regular
outings at different courses throughout the year. Check with the USGA
for specific information on forming a "Golf Club".
More information regarding the USGA Handicap System can be found at
http://www.usga.org/handicap/index.html, or you can contact the USGA