The Ultimate Guide To Average Golf Handicaps

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Golf has many great advantages over other games but one of the best is undoubtedly that you can play against anyone in the world.

Although you do not play against someone directly, such as in football, you can compete easily with other players thanks to the handicapping system.

Just like in other competitive sports, you want to be your best, but when is a handicap too low or too high? And what exactly is an average golf handicap?

We have all the answers to these questions here.

What Is A Golf Handicap?

What Is A Golf Handicap?

Before we take a look at the average handicap, let’s go into a bit more detail on what a golf handicap is.

In golf, any player of any level can play against any other player with any other skill level and on any course. 

This makes golf very unusual compared to some other competitive sports, and it is also the reason why so many people particularly like golf.

Players, from beginners to experienced golfers, often use the handicap system as a way to understand how good they are.

The handicap of each player is a set of numbers that measures extra shots over par which are expected on a specific golf course.

As a rule of thumb, players with a lower handicap need to get around a course with fewer additional strokes. In comparison, players with a higher handicap are allowed a greater number of extra shorts above the course par.

What Is An Average Golf Handicap?

The handicap system in golf means that there is always a healthy competition in the game, and one of the biggest question then is: what is the average golf handicap?

It’s worthwhile knowing the average to check whether you are higher or lower than other golfers.

The United States Golf Association has published some figures on average handicap for men and women in different countries.

Men in the USA have an average handicap of 14.4, while a woman’s average handicap in the US is 26.4.

In comparison, in the United Kingdom, women have an average handicap of 25, and a man’s handicap is 16.

As you can see from comparing these two countries already, the average handicap for men and women is roughly the same in each country.

This indicates that golfers across the globe play to a similar standard and skill level.

Saying this, comparing handicaps between different countries is not an exact science, and there can be complex factors involved that impact the average handicap in a country for women and men.

One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to comparing handicap averages across country borders is that although there are general principles, different countries use different handicap systems using their own guidelines.

The USGA and other golfing organizations across the globe continually work on improving the system, and aligning international golf standards, so it is easier for players to compare each other.

Worldwide Average Golf Handicap Of Male Players

Although it is great knowing how you compare to the average handicap golfer, but it’s even better when you know how you compare to the average in your country.

This is almost part of the average golf chat with friends and fellow golfers. One of the first thing you find out about each other is your handicap.

Golfers are generally very curious when it comes to their statistics, but unfortunately it is difficult to find exact numbers of golfing handicaps in specific countries.

This largely depends on the type of golf association in the specific country, and the statistics they make available to the public.

Generally, there is not one big, worldwide system that holds all golfing data but individual organizations do publish statistics regularly on handicaps.

If you are also watching golf live or on TV, then you may already know that the USA is the biggest golf country in the world.

A little under 10% of the entire US population play golf, and the average handicap for men in the US is around 14.4.

If your handicap is lower than 13, then you will know that you are better than half of the current US golfers.

According to USGA, if your handicap is less than ten, then you can claim to be in the top third.

However, most golfers in the US have a handicap between 10 and 15, while only 20% of US golf players have a lower handicap.

Other golfing countries have slightly different statistics. Another major golf country is Australia where the average handicap for men is 16.9, according to Golf Australia.

Under 20% of the players have a handicap that is less than ten, while around 28% are in the range between 10 to 15.

The place where you find a higher average handicap of male golfers is England where the handicap is 17.2.

Compared to the entire UK which has an average of 16, this is slightly higher, according to England Golf.

These three countries provide some of the most detailed statistics, while in other countries, organizations do not even publish the average handicap.

Generally, there are also no statistics on age groups publicly available. 

Worldwide Average Golf Handicap Breakdown Of Female Players

Worldwide Average Golf Handicap Breakdown Of Female Players

When you compare statistics that are publicly available between women and men, then you will notice that women have a much higher average handicap than men. In the US, this is 26.4

Around 70% of women have a gold handicap of above 21, and only under 5% have a handicap of under ten, according to USGA.

The statistics for Australia are very similar to the US. In Australia, the average handicap for women is 26.7, although the number of players with a handicap higher than 21 is around two third (according to Golf Australia).

Female golfers in England have an average handicap of 26.5 but a higher number of women golfers have a handicap greater than 21 according to England Golf.

Similar to men, there are no exact statistics available on the whole of the UK or Ireland.

The Average Handicap Is An Estimate

The best people to judge the accuracy of the average handicap of golfers are probably golf commentators who noticed that the average handicap is likely to be much lower than the official statistics suggest.

The handicap system relies on a golfer being registered and the reporting of the handicap figure each time a golfer completed a golf course.

Although many golfers who regularly play are registered, those who do not register are not included in any of the official statistics that we mentioned above.

The Average Handicap Is Getting Lower

Another phenomena that golf experts have spotted over the past years is that the average handicap score is getting slowly lower.

For example, the average handicap for men in the US fell from 16.5 to 14.4 since 1991. This is a solid two strokes per round.

According to the USGA, the difference is even greater for women, whose average handicap fell from 29.9 to 26.4 over the same period. This is an incredible 3.5 strokes.

So, why is the average handicap getting lower? Are players really getting better? As we do not have exact statistics, there is no way of telling the reason.

However, the USGA also noticed that there is an increase in driving distance for many golfers. 

This means that golf players are not just hitting their golf ball greater distances but they have also improved their accuracy.

Some people speculate that this is the result of technical improvements in golf equipment. 

Another consideration may also be that golf is much more accessible to a wider range of people across the world.

In addition, there are also a lot of training courses and videos on how to improve your technique online. This is especially useful for younger generations who are just trying golf for the first time.

How To Get A Golf Handicap

How To Get A Golf Handicap

We talked so much about the average handicap, let’s find out how you actually can get a handicap.

First up, most beginners don’t really need to worry about their golf handicap yet, because it’s easier to concentrate on your technique first.

In order to enjoy the game, it’s best to wait with getting your handicap and just learn how to play first.

Competition can ruin the enthusiasm in many games, so it is worthwhile not rushing into the handicap system too quickly.

Once you feel ready that you want to compete against friends, other golf players and in tournaments, then you will need to get your golf handicap.

The handicap is not just a good way to see how well you are doing compared to others but it also helps you understand how well you compete against a specific course and your improvements over time.

Getting your handicap in the USA isn’t very difficult, although this may vary in other countries.

Register

Generally, you can sign up and register for a golf handicap at your local golf course, or you can do this online with the USGA.

You will need to pay an annual fee for your handicap. In return, you will receive a Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN) number.

Each registered handicap golfer receives this unique number to identify the player and collect scores and data.

You can record your scores online or through your club with the GHIN number, and then calculate your handicap index.

Submit Your Scores

There are a few different scores that you will need to submit for each course but the online score submission will take you through this step by step.

Once you have submitted a few scores (minimum of 54 holes), the system will automatically calculate your average score based on the best eight of your most recent 20 scores.

Depending on how you submit your score, you may not have a witness to sign for the score together with you. This is to ensure that you weren’t cheating.

How Often Does A Golfer Play To His Handicap?

Now that we know how you record your handicap, it does give us a clue already on how often golfers may actually play to their handicap.

In reality, this is likely to be not very often because the average handicap is not just an average of all the recorded handicaps by this player but it is rather a potential.

Only the eight best of the most recent 20 scores are used to calculate a golfer’s handicap.

USGA have done some research on this and they found that golfers play their average handicap roughly 25% of the time. But they do generally score at least three more strokes than their average.

The way the average handicap of each golfer is calculated by the USGA means that the more you play, the more your chances for improving your handicap very quickly.

Improvements In Average Handicap Comparisons

Just like in other sporting disciplines, golf always continually develops, and this also applies to its handicap system.

We already mentioned it briefly. The handicap system is slowly changing across the world because comparing handicaps in different countries is extremely difficult still.

Although there are similar principles and rules in place for the handicap system, there are many different systems in different countries. This makes comparison between very different countries almost impossible.

Even countries that have roughly similar systems, such as the UK and the US, cannot be compared without issues.

As we already mentioned, the USGA handicap system uses the eight best scores of a golfer’s most recent 20 rounds. They also apply a particular formula which also features something called a ‘slope rating’.

A slope rating is an evaluation of the difficulty of the course and the round. In comparison, there is no slope rating used to calculate the average handicap of a player in the UK.

Instead, they use something called a ‘standard scratch score’ which has a similar function to evaluate the difficulty of a golf course.

There are often also different laws and slightly different rules as well as administrative efforts in place in different countries worldwide.

All these factors mean that you cannot just look at the average handicap of a player in one country and compare it like-for-like to the average of another golfer in another country.

This makes it very difficult to fairly compete with each other, and you cannot really tell whether your score is better or worse than your golfer friend’s handicap in Australia.

Saying this, the USGA and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews have started to introduce a new ‘World Handicap System’ which is said to simplify comparison.

The new world handicap system will combine different systems from six different countries, including Argentina, Australia, South Africa, the UK, Europe and the USA.

This is planned to give golfers the ability to play their favorite sport across different countries in the world, and compete on an equal level.

Conclusion

The average handicap in golf is one of the many things that makes this sport so interesting. 

The handicap allows you to compete with others worldwide, but it is also important to remember that for most of us, golf is not only about healthy competition.

But it definitely makes it interesting. That’s why, we would like to end this article with another fascinating statistics.

On 12th May 2012, Rhein Gibson managed to score the lowest officially recorded golf round ever. This was a score of 55, and it has been officially recorded in the Guinness World Records.

So, next time you look at your average handicap and feel like you could really do better, just remember Rhein and his score.

David Shelly
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