While golf rules and laws are pretty strict, the question of what is a good handicap is somewhat subjective. The truth is, if you have been playing for a bit, and paying attention, you should have a fair idea of where you fit in the bigger picture.
There is no perfect answer but let’s take a look at the majority viewpoint.
Golf is a complex art to master, in fact, it is impossible to master. Add to that the fact that every game will be different and you have a real challenge.
This is what makes golf so exciting and enticing. No two games will ever be alike, even if you play the same course every time.
Getting an official handicap is not something all golfers do. Many simply enjoy the sport, play a few times a year and that is where it ends. Some of these players are pretty good while many are not that good at all.
Why Is There a Handicap System?
The idea is to give golfers of different skills, abilities and experience a relatively even playing field. This is not an easy task. It does work, for the most part.
Much is built on the trust and honesty that is inherent to the game but for the most part, the system works.
It is one of the few if not the only sport in which amateur players can compete with more experienced players and have a fair and even result. The rules are relatively complex but consistent and applied equally to all players.
How Did The Handicap System Come Into Effect?
Handicaps date back almost to the origins of golf in Scotland. It was first recorded by Thomas Kincaid in the 17th century. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and wrote widely on the subject of golf.
Quite simply expressed, a handicap is a numerical value assigned to the ability of a golfer based on recent past performance. It is typically equal to the number of strokes over par a player will make. As the skill of the golfer increases, the number decreases.
A good player that generally makes par or less on a course will have a scratch or zero handicap. This can vary from course to course so the difficulty of each particular course is accounted for.
The system has evolved of the years and is now highly regulated. Computers have added to the management of handicaps. Obviously, much still depends on the honesty of the golfer as does the game itself. The truth is, there is no valor in cheating.
Course Rating and Slope
While the handicap system tries to level the playing field for golfers at different levels, the courses range in difficulty. The rating of each course, as well as the slope, is also taken into consideration.
Each course will have a specific rating according to the difficulty.
What Is A Scratch Golfer?
Once you achieve a handicap of zero you are considered a scratch golfer. That is obviously a sign of a very good golfer. It means that you can get around a rated course on handicap or on par, or, under par.
It will generally take years of practice, dedication and effort to achieve a scratch handicap.
So, What Is a Good Golf Handicap?
According to UK site Golf Monthly, Insurers Golf Care did an extensive survey into handicaps. While, as we have said before, many players do not register for an official handicap, it is still the best way to measure skills.
If you want to be considered good you at least need to have an official handicap.
The survey found golfers around 16 to 20 handicap to be the average golfer.
The USPAG puts the “official” average at a 15 handicap. This would mean a player who typically scores around 90 on the average course.
Another measurement for the average golfers is what is known as a bogey golfer. These players typically score a bogey on most holes. They generally score a bit over 90- and play off around a 20 handicap.
According to Golf Digest, the true average is probably a lot higher as a result of players without an official handicap.
Given that we can only work with what we can measure, it should be fair to say that the average golfer sits somewhere between 15 and 20.
By that logic, players below 15 could be considered good. As much as golf is a competitive sport that you play against other players or teams, the most important aspect is personal development.
All golfers have goals of shooting under a specific number or achieving a certain handicap. You will know when you are becoming good but golf requires constant effort and practice in order to achieve and advance.
Remember that handicaps are much easier to reduce when the numbers are higher. In other words, it is much easier to go from a 23 to a 22 then to go from a 5 to a 4, for example. That is why a player with a handicap of 10 might consider someone with a 5 to be a much better golfer.
While there is no clear definition of a good golf handicap, if you are in the single digits, you are pretty much there. While not quite a scratch player, you have plenty of experience and get around a course well.
If you are in the 10 to 15 handicap range, you are well above average and would be considered good by most standards.
For the rest of the golfers near the middle and above, it is all about practice and experience. Most golfers do not become good without years of dedication and effort.
Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.