Have you ever been on a golf course and heard someone refer to a player as a ‘scratch golfer’?
The sport is full of confusing and often random expressions and terminologies that make no sense to the average person. Scratch golfer is the perfect example of just that.
Essentially, a scratch golfer is a very good golfer – someone who rarely makes mistakes, will typically finish with a 1 or 2 putts, and is great at staying calm and collected under pressure.
This is not exactly a definition that’s written in stone, so there’s no real way to determine precisely what makes a scratch golfer a scratch golfer.
However, the USGA has its own definition which is a lot clearer to understand.
They state that a scratch golfer is ‘a player who can play to a course handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses’.
This might still seem a little confusing to anybody who’s new to the sport of golf, but don’t worry, we’ll be going over everything you need to know in this handy guide, so stick around to the end!
Why Is It Called A Scratch Golfer?
The origin of the term scratch golfer has a pretty interesting story. It is thought to be related to the way running races were officiated hundreds of years ago.
In those days, the faster runners in the field were given a handicap to make the competition more fair and exciting.
A scratch was marked ahead of the starting line for a race and the slower runners were allowed to start from this scratched mark.
This is also believed to be the origin of the phrase ‘starting from scratch’.
It’s easy to see how this origin can apply to a handicap in golf. Essentially, a scratch golfer has a similar handicap in their sport to make the competition more fair and exciting for those involved.
What Is A Handicap In Golf?
A handicap is something you’ll hear a lot about in golf and players will often boast about how low of a handicap they have, or even just that they don’t have one at all.
Handicaps are determined by numbers and it is basically the number of strokes that are taken off of their score at the end of a round.
For example, if a player has a handicap of 10, they will take 10 strokes off of their score at the end of the game.
The USGA also has its own way of calculating a player’s exact handicap, based on their previous performances.
When a player has completed at least 20 full rounds of golf, a handicap is determined based on the best 8 scores from their most recent 20.
The USGA has its own complex handicap index for determining handicaps for competitive-level golf, but there’s a more basic system that is used among amateur golfers.
Quite simply, if the average score of your top 8 results from your most recent 20 games is +5, your handicap will be 5.
Handicaps are most commonly applied to ‘scramble tournaments’, which are most often charity or corporate events in which a wide variety of golfing abilities will be on display.
With this system, everyone competing will have a relatively even playing field and the game will be a lot closer.
Does Every Course Have The Same Handicap?
This is an interesting question because everybody knows that no two golf courses are exactly the same. Some courses are much more difficult than others, even if the par doesn’t reflect that entirely accurately.
Every course has its own numerical rating that is assigned in relation to a scratch golfer.
For example, if a course has a rating of 75, a scratch golfer could expect to score 75. On the same course, a player with a handicap of 10 could expect to score 85, before this handicap is applied to their score.
Courses often also have something called a slope rating, which is in place to level the playing field further for handicapped golfers.
A player with a handicap of 18 is known as a ‘bogey golfer’, and the slope rating for each course applies to them.
Simply, if a scratch golfer would score 70 on a particular course, that course’s slope rating would be 88.
As you can tell, there are plenty of ways to determine an appropriate target score for golfers of a wide range of abilities.
How Hard Is It To Be A Scratch Golfer?
As you might expect, it’s not easy to become a scratch golfer. In fact, scratch golfers only make up around 1% of every player in the world!
Scratch golfers are even better at the sport than the average PGA pro player.
Male golfers need a handicap of 4.4 or better to qualify as a PGA pro, while female players need a handicap of 6.4 or better. This means there are plenty of PGA pros out there who aren’t even scratch golfers.
Only the most elite players in the world are scratch golfers, and they will have spent years perfecting their craft, often from a very young age.
It takes dedication from a person’s very early years in life to eventually get to the level of a scratch golfer.
It also definitely requires some form of coaching over many years that could set someone back thousands of dollars overall.
However, the main thing that sets scratch golfers apart from the rest is their mentality.
It can be easy to get frustrated at the sport of golf, given how repetitive it can be. Scratch golfers all have the ability to stay calm and avoid getting upset or frustrated when things don’t go their way.
This is the sort of thing you can’t really teach or learn from reading an article, you’ll simply have to get out there and master it through experience.
There you have, that’s everything you need to know about scratch golfers.
Of course, the vast majority of people reading this are not scratch golfers and will never be.
However, there’s no shame in missing out on being in the world’s most elite golf club and everybody should be happy aiming for as low a handicap as possible.