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Golf is a relative game, but still a competitive game. Whether it's prestigious tournaments, local club games, or just competing with how you played last month, golfers are always looking for a way to measure themselves against other golfers. For many, a disability is this measure. Which begs the question: what is a good handicap?
I think the answer goes beyond just a number, so here we'll look at what a handicap is and add some context to create a better answer.
Golf handicap explained
Although commonly referred to as a handicap, the USGA & # 39; s official terminology is a & # 39; handicap index & # 39 ;. The purpose of the handicap index is to provide a measure of players' ability relative to par . One of the unique things about golf compared to other sports is that the handicap system allows golfers of different skill levels to compete fairly against each other.
It's fantastic when you think about it; After all, even if I get 20 points in a one-on-one basketball game with LeBron James, I'm still going to lose. But give me 20 handicapping strokes in a match with Tiger Woods? I may be competitive, which makes it challenging for both of us. (Author's note: if you are reading this tiger, it is an open invitation)
Handicap is not your average score
A player's handicap index differs from their average score . Instead, the handicap index looks at recent scores and adjusts based on the difficulty of the track, expressed in the course rating and the slope, two numbers that appear somewhere on the scorecard. Rating and grade are judged by a grading committee, which determines what a scratch golfer with a handicap index of 0 would normally score on the course and assign that rating. The USGA Slope Rating is a numerical value that indicates the relative difficulty of a set of tees on a golf course for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch golfer.
So score performance along with course difficulty goes into generating the handicap index . Instead, it is better to consider the handicap index as what you can reasonably expect to score on a good day . Especially for golfers who play frequently and post a lot of scores, what they shoot for a particular round can be significantly higher than their handicap index.
Now that we have explained a little bit about golf handicaps in general, let's go back to the main question: what is a good golf handicap?
Percentage of Golfers with Disabilities
The simplest answer to what is a good handicap could be found just by looking at the percentage of golfers by handicap. Fortunately, the USGA provides this data for all golfers with official handicap indexes. Additionally, multiple shot tracking companies are now sharing this data publicly, providing a good opportunity to capture an audience that may not have an official USGA handicap.
USGA Handicap Trends
So if we have a & # 39; good handicap & # 39; based on a lower handicap index than most other golfers with indexes, we answer a handicap of lower than 14 for men and less than 28 for women . Here are the disability distributions for men and women in the United States:
However, this answer gets more complicated when we try to use a "good handicap" that is synonymous with a "better than average" golfer. Only about 2 million of the estimated 24 million golf participants have a handicap index. It is reasonable to assume that players who do have an official index are both more enthusiastic and perhaps more skilled than golfers who do not. Fortunately, modern technology has provided us with more data on the issue as many golfers use apps to keep their scores and statistics out of the official indexes.
Shot Scope Handicap Data
Here's what the distribution of disabilities looks like for Shot Scope users:
With a high number of users in the 11-15 and 16-20 ranges, we arrive at a very similar distribution compared to the official USGA index statistics.
The Grint Data
This theme remains consistent considering the current handicap range for users of theGrint :
In this case the mean handicap for all users was 14.5 comparable to the USGA information and just lower than Shot Scope. Another interesting data point we can get from the Grint that is not available from the USGA is a disability breakdown by region:
Outside of a few strange outliers, we see a general trend in this information. Golfers in the year-round golf climate typically have lower handicaps than short-season counterparts. So a good handicap in Maine may not equal a good handicap in California.
In addition, even if we increase the amount of handicap data, we still cannot equate "good handicap" with "good golfer" since the vast majority of golfers will not use such services. At this point I think we should add something to the question. Instead of just asking, "What's a good handicap?" we should ask, "What is a good handicap for an avid golfer?"
Even that question lacks a critical variable, so let's take a look at that now.
Average disability by age
An outlier in the mean disability by region that caught my attention above was Florida. Florida is world famous for its golf and a year-round golfing destination, so why is the average handicap higher than other friends from the Southeast region like Georgia? One possible explanation could be that the average Florida golfer is significantly older than other regions, given the high number of retirees in the state. So how does age affect average disability? Unfortunately the USGA does not publish official age disability index statistics, but we can get some data from theGrint again:
While I would wonder if the average 19 year old is really a single digit handicap (we'll have to save vanity handicaps and sandbags for another article), I think the trendlines tell us an understandable story. Junior golfers who are not yet fully mature have higher handicaps on average than adult golfers aged 20-50. As we age and the physical ability to play golf, the average handicap increases. Now, instead of asking, "what's a good handicap?" we should probably ask, "what is a good handicap for an avid golfer my age in the region where I live?" That's not a question that most golf websites will have an easy answer to, but if you really want to know, then some of the data sources above should at least give you an idea if you really dive into it.
Still, I think the real question we're trying to ask with & # 39; what is a good handicap & # 39; not at all about the handicap index. Instead, we try to find out if we are a & # 39; good golfer & # 39; to be. That is something I think we can give a clearer answer to.
It may just be my opinion, but I firmly believe that if you consistently break 90 you have earned the right to call yourself a good golfer. Most golfers will never achieve this, so even if the average USGA official handicap index indicates that male golfer scores a few strokes better than this on a good day, shooting 89 or below is still a significant achievement.
For those of you who often break 90 already, congratulations! However, if you're always trying to break 90 (or 100 for that matter) I want to give you good news. I also firmly believe that any golfer (playing the correct set of tees on a regular course with the correct difficulty level) can break through 90 with practice and good course management. The Practical Golf Archives would be a great place to start as the site is full of information that can help you achieve this goal. You can also find great additional resources among other readers in the Practical Golf Forums a community dedicated to helping everyone enjoy and play "good golf" no matter what their handicap card says .
About the author
Cory Olson is an avid golfer and writer for Practical Golf, a website that aims to be an honest resource for the everyday golfer who wants to enjoy the game more while improving it. He is passionate about all parts of the game, from equipment to training, and especially the mental aspects of doing your best on the court.