What Is the Average Golf Handicap and Where Do You Compare?Published on 04/26/2023 · 6 min readWondering where you stand with your golf handicap? Golfing Expert Adam Ditcher walks you through the details of handicaps and shows you how to calculate your own.
tl;dr Handicaps provide a method of balancing out players of differing skill levels when competing against one another. In the United States, the preeminent handicap system is the GHIN. In this article, we’ll discuss how this system works, and how to determine where you stand within its ratings.
Golf is a game that requires experience. No matter what age you picked up the sport, it was incredibly difficult at one time. And unless you’re playing some seriously good golf all the time, the thought has probably crossed your mind that you’re not very good at the game. I can confidently say I’ve been there too, and have used more choice words. This begs the question: what makes someone a good golfer?
Clearly, averaging a par on every hole—known as a “scratch golfer”—would indicate quality. But out of all your golfing buddies, how many are turning in a scorecard that says “70” every week? Probably not a ton.
GHIN: Helping With “Net Golf”
Enter the GHIN, or the Golf Handicap Information Network, the golf handicapping system under the USGA (United States Golf Association) whose purpose is to provide a way for players to compare their golf games against one another. In theory, a player who holds a GHIN handicap index of 6.0 should give a player who holds an index of 12.0 a total of six shots in an 18-hole match.
Think of this like the sportsbooks in Las Vegas assigning odds to a basketball game. Sometimes, six shots aren’t enough. Other times, it’s too much. The idea is that the handicapping index helps players to play what is known as “net golf”.
Gross vs. Net Golf
The two types of golf are gross and net. Gross golf is the name for the type of match where competitors go head-to-head and the lowest score wins. People also describe this as playing “straight up”. If one player shoots 80 that day and the other shoots 82, the player who shot 80 wins the match in an 18-hole stroke play competition.
In a net stroke play event, the player who shot 80 doesn’t necessarily win. Let’s say that golfer has a 2.0 handicap index, and the golfer who shot 82 has a 6.0 index. The first golfer’s net score is 78 (=80-2). The second golfer’s net score is 76 (=82-6). In this net example, the second golfer would actually win the 18-hole match based on their score minus their handicap index.
GHIN’s formula calculates the index associated with each score. It also can tell you each player’s course handicap, or how each golfer’s handicap will fluctuate according to the course being played. This can be done before starting a round of golf, so everyone knows where they stand for competitive play.
What Is Rating and Slope?
So, how exactly is a handicap calculated? A few methods: the golf course that you’re playing on likely has multiple sets of tees. The course plays differently from each set. Then you have additional trouble comparing one course to another. This also assumes honesty on the part of each scorekeeper and adherence to the standard rules of golf.
This is overcome with GHIN’s rating and slope system. The course rating is essentially the benchmark for what a scratch golfer would shoot from that set of tees on that particular course. So, if you are playing an easier course that is less penalizing for mishits, the rating on a par 72 course might be 69.5. This means that, statistically, you could expect a scratch golfer to shoot 2.5 shots under par on average due to the ease of the course.
The slope of the course is calculated by comparing the rating, or what a scratch player would be expected to shoot, with what the USGA calls the bogey rating. This is the rating for what the average bogey golfer (+18 over par on 18 holes) would shoot. The difference between these two numbers is used to calculate the slope, with an average difficulty slope being 113.
This is important because better players who are hitting fairways and greens consistently might not get themselves into the trouble that a bogey golfer will. If there are a lot of hazards, out-of-bounds, trees, heather, or other trouble that can cause the bogey golfer’s mistakes to compile and really elevate their score, the slope helps to statistically adjust the GHIN index calculation to account for this variation in difficulty.
Am I an Average Golfer?
The USGA actually publishes the statistics they gather from golfers who use the GHIN platform. This page only examines statistics from within the United States, which is the data we’ll be examining in this article.
Of active participants within the United States, GHIN calculates the average golf handicap for male golfers to be 14.1, and the average index for female golfers to be 28.0. So, if you carry an index that is less than those numbers, technically speaking, you’re an above-average golfer!
In fact, if you look at the full spread of data, less than 10% of male golfers and just over 2% of female golfers are below a 5.0 official handicap index—which means that the majority of golfers who are keeping an index are not shooting in the 70s consistently. Most male golfers over 18 holes are shooting an average score in the 80s and 90s, whereas most female golfers are shooting an average golf score in the 90s and 100s.
New golfers who are inexperienced don’t necessarily need to worry about their handicap right off the bat. Beginners are better off working on making consistent contact with the golf club and learning how to master their short game.
Lowering Your Handicap
Players who want to start focusing on reducing the number of strokes they have in a round should first work on keeping the ball on the playing field and out of hazards. Hitting more greens in regulation, more fairways off the tee, and being able to scramble can all save strokes.
Keep in mind, there is no one right answer on how to play, and many players vary in how well they perform across different aspects of the game. One player may shoot 75 because they hit almost every fairway and almost every green. Another may shoot 75 because they were able to make some birdies and their wedge game and putter saved them when they were in trouble.
Chat With a Real Expert
As always, if you are looking to try to work on lowering your handicap by posting better scores this year, come speak to me or one of my fellow Curated Golf Experts. Not only can we make sure that you are set up with the right gear for you and your game, but we are happy to help you with tips, drills, and even can take a peek at your swing via video. Let us know what you need for your game this year, and we will happily be a resource at your fingertips!