What is Considered a High Handicap in Golf?

In the world of golf, handicaps are used to level the playing field by accounting for the wide variance in players’ abilities. Handicaps go up or down based on one’s average score versus course difficulty and scratch rating. But at what point is a golf handicap considered to be on the high side? What percentage of everyday players have handicaps that fall into the high category? And for players striving to improve, what practical steps can a golfer with a high handicap index take to incrementally lower their scores? In this guide, we will define what constitutes a high golf handicap, examine handicap statistics, and provide tips for how higher handicap players can aim to reach more competitive scoring levels. Whether trying to break 100 or make the transition from doubling bogey to bogey golf, read on for insights into handicap trends and strategies for improvement.

What is a Golf Handicap?

A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s playing ability. It aims to allow players of different skill levels to compete fairly against one another. Handicaps are calculated using a golfer’s average score from their best rounds of golf.

The handicap system originated in 1911 and was developed by the United States Golf Association (USGA). It’s used to indicate the number of strokes above par a player might be expected to score. Handicaps are calculated on a course-by-course basis, taking into account each course’s difficulty rating.

To determine a handicap, a player submits their scores from a minimum of 5 rounds of 18 holes on a regulation golf course. The lowest 10 differentials from at least 20 full rounds are then averaged to produce a handicap. Differential refers to the number of strokes above or below par from each round’s score.

For example, if par for a course is 72 strokes and a golfer shoots an 80, their differential for that round would be +8 (80-72). The differentials are calculated to factor in playing conditions like weather and course difficulty.

Handicaps are revised periodically as a player logs more scores. Better scores will lower one’s handicap, while higher scores raise it. Handicaps exist on a sliding scale, usually ranging from scratch (0) to 36 for men and 40 for women.

The purpose of a handicap is to level the playing field for competitive purposes. In a handicap match, the player with the higher handicap receives a certain number of extra strokes they can use during the round. This allows players of disparate abilities to go head-to-head in a fair way.

How is a Golf Handicap Calculated?

How is a Golf Handicap Calculated?

A golf handicap is calculated using a player’s most recent 20 scores from rounds on regulation length golf courses. First, the course rating and slope rating for each course played must be determined.

The course rating indicates the number of strokes a scratch golfer (a player with a 0 handicap) would be expected to take on that course. The slope rating judges the relative difficulty of a golf course for bogey players (those with handicaps around 20).

To calculate the differential for each round, the player’s actual score is subtracted from the course rating and multiplied by 113, then divided by the slope rating. The differential represents how far above or below par the player scored after accounting for difficulty.

For example:

Course Rating: 72
Slope Rating: 128
Actual Score: 82

Differential = (82 – 72) x 113 / 128 = 10

Once differentials are determined for at least 20 rounds, the lowest 10 differentials are averaged. If a player has at least 5 but fewer than 20 scores, the formula uses a percentage of the lowest differentials instead.

This average is then multiplied by .96 (men) or .96 (women) to determine the Handicap Index. The Handicap Index is rounded to the nearest whole number. This becomes the golfer’s handicap, reflecting their demonstrated potential ability on golf courses of average playing difficulty.

To compete at a specific course, the Handicap Index is adjusted based on that course’s slope rating versus the standard rating of 113. This creates their Course Handicap, allowing portability between courses regardless of difficulty.

Smaller differentials will lower a player’s handicap, while larger differentials will raise it. As more rounds are factored in, older scores drop out to keep the handicap up to date. Handicaps are updated at least once per year to remain fair over time.

What is the Average Golf Handicap?

What is the Average Golf Handicap?

The average golf handicap among amateur players ranges between 12 and 18 strokes, depending on the source. With over 90 million golfers worldwide, skill levels vary greatly from novice to seasoned veterans. However, most recreational golfers fall somewhere in the average range.

According to data from the National Golf Foundation, the average handicap index for men is 16.1. For women golfers, the average is significantly higher at 27.5. This differential reflects that women on average took up the sport later in life and play less frequently than men.

Regionally, golfers in the southern United States tend to have lower average handicaps compared to other parts of the country. States like Georgia and Florida foster more year-round play with warmer climates, allowing for more practice and improvement.

When analyzing handicaps, it’s important to distinguish between active golfers who maintain an official USGA handicap versus casual players. Those who submit scores regularly and track their handicap index through a golf club tend to score better than unregistered golfers.

Among avid golfers, approximately 37% of men and 53% of women carry handicaps between 10 and 19 strokes. About 26% of men and just 13% of women have single-digit handicaps of 9 or less. Meanwhile, only 6% of male and 2% of female golfers are scratch or + handicap players.

While the average handicap provides a general benchmark, it’s not necessarily a static target. Golfers who play and practice consistently can aim to improve over time by recording better differentials. Getting professional instruction and lessons can also help lower one’s handicap into the single digits.

At What Point is a Golf Handicap Considered High?

At What Point is a Golf Handicap Considered High?

In golf, handicaps at or above 20 for men and 30 for women are generally considered high for recreational players. However, the exact point at which a handicap is deemed high can vary based on a golfer’s age, frequency of play, and desired skill level.

For men, a handicap from 10-19 is still in the average range, but 20 and above indicates an intermediate to high handicap golfer. Only about 23% of male golfers have a handicap of 20 or more strokes. This level of player is still developing fundamental skills and working towards breaking 100 consistently.

On the LPGA women’s tour, players are considered to have crossed into a high handicap threshold once reaching 30 strokes. Around 60% of female golfers have handicaps of 30 or more as beginners. A woman with a handicap of 36 or 40 may still be fine for casual play, but would be unable to compete at most club events.

Junior golfers just learning the game can have handicaps upwards of 40+ while they focus on fundamentals and learning course management. However, as male players improve through teen years, they generally look to get their handicap below 15 before playing high school or collegiate golf.

Golfers over age 70 may see their handicap rise higher as they manage age-related swing limitations. But for regular players in peak years, getting down into the single digits for handicap demonstrates dedication to improvement.

While there is no set rule, competitive golfers playing with a high handicap likely aspire to reach the teens or single digits. Doing so requires quality practice, course time, and potentially lessons to hone their skill set. But any golfer can become more proficient through effort, regardless of their starting handicap.

What Percentage of Golfers Have a High Handicap?

While handicaps vary widely, approximately one quarter to one third of golfers are considered to have a high handicap. This refers to those with a handicap index of 20 or more for men and 30 or more for women.

According to data tracked by the United States Golf Association, about 23% of male golfers have a handicap of 20 strokes or more. For women, that number jumps up to around 60% who have a handicap of 30 or higher.

Regionally, areas of the country with more seasonable golf like Florida and Arizona tend to have better averages and fewer high handicap players. Warmer areas allow for more continuous play and practice year-round.

When looking at proficiency levels, around 37% of all golfers are categorized as “highly-skilled” with handicaps in the single digits. This leaves the remaining 63% of golfers as mid to high handicappers still working to improve their games.

Among professional and elite amateur players, naturally the percentages with high handicaps drops close to zero. Less than 1% of college varsity golfers have a handicap over 10, as they are recruited for their low scoring ability.

For the everyday recreational golfer who plays sporadically, having a higher handicap in the 20s, 30s or even 40s is not uncommon. But those who play and practice regularly generally aim to lower their handicap to the neighborhood of 15 or less over time.

While some golfers are content enjoying the game casually regardless of handicap, plenty of high handicappers put in effort hoping to develop into mid or low handicap players. Taking lessons, practicing fundamentals, and tracking score improvement are key to lowering one’s handicap to more competitive levels.

What Can a High Handicap Golfer Do to Improve Their Game?

What Can a High Handicap Golfer Do to Improve Their Game?

The first key for a high handicap golfer is to get assessed by a teaching professional, usually through a series of lessons. An instructor can evaluate swing mechanics, fundamentals, and problem areas to establish a improvement plan.

From there, it’s important to practice regularly and not just play rounds of golf. At the range, high handicappers should focus on consistent ball-striking with the driver, long irons, and wedges. Mastering these keys clubs leads to more favorable results.

Course management is also crucial for high handicappers. Learning to think strategically about shot selection, aiming away from hazards, and not overshooting greens will lead to fewer big numbers that inflate scores.

Investing time working on short game skills like chipping, pitching, and putting can also pay huge dividends. Getting up-and-down around the greens more consistently helps save strokes.

Playing easier, shorter courses can help build confidence. Teeing it forward increases chances of hitting more greens and making pars, improving course management in a less punitive setup.

Tracking stats like fairways hit, greens in regulation, and number of putts provides metrics to gauge improvement over time. Setting goals related to these stats keeps progress top of mind.

Being custom fit for equipment like drivers and irons tailored to swing speed and ability can provide an advantage as well. Properly fit clubs optimize launch, forgiveness, and control.

Pairing with mentors or other motivated golfers fosters positive peer pressure to practice. Seeing their friends improve can inspire high handicappers to stick with their goals.

With some directed practice, strategic thinking, and support, high handicap players can chip away at their scores to reach a more consistent, competitive scoring level over a season or two.

What Are Some Tips for High Handicap Golfers?

Get professionally fit for clubs – Being properly fit for adjustable drivers, forgiving irons, and wedges matched to your swing speed can really help high handicappers maximize their abilities. Well-fit clubs make it easier to make consistent, solid contact.

Take more lessons – Working continually with a teaching pro on refining swing fundamentals, ball striking, and shot shaping is invaluable. Lessons help ingrain proper technique and mechanics through focused practice.

Practice short game religiously – Anywhere from 60-80% of shots in a round happen inside 100 yards, so dedicating lots of practice to pitching, chipping and putting pays off. Improving this scoring range leads to better scores.

Play shorter or executive courses – Longer, tougher championship courses only amplify a high handicapper’s weaknesses. Playing shorter courses builds confidence with more birdie opportunities and avoids big penalty numbers.

Use rangefinders religiously – High handicaps struggle with distance control and strategic course management. Relying on rangefinders takes the guessing game out of approaches and avoids over-clubbing.

Focus on consistent contact – Swinging smooth and keeping the ball in play hole after hole should be priority one. Forget trying to crush drives; keeping it straight trumps distance.

Monitor your stats – By tracking fairways hit, greens in regulation, scrambling percentage, and putts per round, high handicappers can set improvement goals and identify weak areas.

Play ready golf – High handicaps slow down rounds trying multiple swings and balls. Ready golf keeps things moving efficiently while promoting good pace of play etiquette.

Get re-evaluated annually – As skills improve with focused practice, a teaching pro can adjust instruction plans season after season to further lower your handicap into the teens or single digits.

What Tournament Options Exist for High Handicap Golfers?

Club Events – Most golf clubs hold weekend tournaments specifically for high handicap players, usually with a max handicap of 18-24 for men and 30-36 for women. These events use handicaps to level play and are popular at public, private, and municipal courses.

State & Regional Associations – State golf associations like the SNGA in Nevada and regional bodies like the Pacific Northwest Golf Association have tournaments for players with handicaps from 15-36. These let high handicap golfers test skills outside their club.

USGA Handicap Championships – The USGA holds men’s and women’s national championships for B,C and D handicap flights. Qualifying starts at the club level with finalists competing at renowned courses like Bandon Dunes.

Major Tour Pro-Ams – Pro-amateur events held the week of PGA Tour tournaments enable high handicaps to play alongside pros, if they donate to the event charity. Holes use handicap strokes to keep play competitive.

Handicap-Specific Series – National amateur tour companies like the US Handicap Golf Association offer regional tournament series specifically for golfers with handicaps between 10-36. Two-person team options exist too.

State Opens – Some state golf associations hold open tournaments alongside their amateur championship for higher handicaps to qualify. These attract solid recreational players new to competitive golf.

Club Team Events – Men’s and women’s club leagues and inter-club team events like Ryder Cup formats commonly have high handicap divisions. Teams balance rosters with various handicaps.

Golf Cruises/Resorts – Cruise lines and golf resorts catering to recreational players will have regular handicap flight events. Participants earn prizes or shipboard credit redeemable for pro shop merchandise.

Whether for camaraderie or competition, opportunities abound for high handicappers to test their skills in organized tournaments. And any earnings or prizes are a nice bonus!

Enjoyed this guide of what is considered high handicap in golf? Then be sure to check out our other golf guides.