What is a Good Handicap in Golf (And How Do You Stack Up?)

It’s not easy to say exactly what a good handicap in golf is. What might be good for one person may not be good for another.

However, we can give you an idea of a good handicap range. That way, you can see how you stack up.

Also, knowing the range of a good handicap gives you a goal to aim for if you’re not quite there yet. You can improve significantly just by having a goal in mind, as many experienced golfers will know.

Average Golf Handicap

Before we get into a good handicap range, let’s check out the average golf handicap for men and women. The average handicap gives us a better idea of what makes a good handicap.

Note: The following averages are measured from golfers who have a USGA handicap. Therefore, we’re only talking about handicapped golfers here, not those who play without a handicap.

A handicap of 14.2 is the average handicap of all amateur male golfers, according to the USGA. The average handicap falls within the mid-handicap golfer range of 9 to 18.

As shown in the graph below, most male golfers in the US have a handicap between 9 and 18. Around 45% of US golfers fall within this range.

Source: USGA

According to the USGA, the average handicap of all amateur female golfers is 27.5. The mid-handicap range for females is 20 to 35.

From the graph below, you can see this wider mid-handicap range for female golfers.

Source: USGA

Now that we know the average handicaps for male and female golfers, as well as the mid-handicap ranges, we can give you an idea of what makes a good handicap in golf.

A Good Handicap for Male Golfers

OK, so the average male US golfer has a handicap of 14.2, according to the USGA. And from that, we can see that mid-handicap golfers have handicaps ranging from 9 to 18.

Good golfers are better than mid-handicappers (sorry if you fall into that category, but it’s true).

Therefore, a good handicap in golf for males is anything below a 9 handicap.

If you have a handicap of 8.5 or below, you fall into the low-handicapper range. You know your way around a golf course and can regularly score in the 70s.

That’s a great achievement because golf is a hard game to become good at. Even the best players in the world never fully master it.

So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a good handicap yet. You can get there with practice, persistence, and some more experience.

However, we mentioned earlier that a good handicap for one person might not be good for another. For instance, if you just started the game and have a mid-handicap, that would be considered good.

It’s better not to get too hung up on handicaps but focus on enjoying the game and developing. The more you enjoy golf, the more you’ll likely improve anyway.

A Good Handicap for Female Golfers

As we’ve seen, the average handicap for female US golfers is 27.5. From that, we’ve estimated mid-handicap female golfers to have handicaps ranging from 20 to 35.

So, a good handicap for females is anything below a 20 handicap.

You’re considered a good female golfer if you have a handicap below 19.5. If you fall into that range, you’re expected to shoot in the low 90s and below.

That’s a good scoring goal for female golfers to have. If you’re not quite there yet, keep practicing and learning the game.

Why is There a Handicap System?

There’s an official handicap system for a few reasons: it allows players of differing abilities to compete against each other on a fair and equal basis, brings more enjoyment to the game, and allows players to use their handicaps on any golf course.

Fair and Equal Competition

A handicap system promotes fair and equal competition between players of differing abilities. It means players with less ability have a chance of winning against better players.

Without a handicap system, it’s almost impossible for a 20 handicapper to beat a scratch golfer in a competition. However, the handicap system gives higher handicappers shots during the round so they can compete with better players.

That gives the higher handicappers a much better chance of winning against better players. The playing field is more even.

More Enjoyment

The handicap system brings more enjoyment to golf. If you never had a chance to win a competition against better players, it’d soon take the fun out of competing.

You might easily get bored with the game if you play every week without the opportunity of savoring a victory in your local competition. And where’s the fun in knowing the same group of good players will win every week?

And even if you’re just playing against your buddies for a beer, the handicap system makes it more enjoyable. For example, let’s say your buddy is a three-handicapper, and you’re an 18-handicapper.

They’re winning the beer 99% of the time without a handicap system. However, you’ve got an equal chance of winning when the handicaps come into play.

Handicaps for Playing Any Course

If you have a handicap, you can use it on any golf course in the world. Having a handicap means your ability level will be matched against the golf course.

So, the course’s difficulty level is considered with your handicap when playing other golf courses. You might have a 10 handicap at your home course, but that may change at a more challenging course.

Depending on the difficulty level, your handicap could increase or decrease. You might get a daily handicap of 12 on a hard course, while you could get a daily handicap of 9 on an easy course.

Therefore, the handicap system matches your ability with any course in the world. That also ensures a fair and equal playing field for all golfers.

How to Get a Golf Handicap

You can get a USGA handicap through the Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN), a golf app on your phone, or a website that offers a handicap service.

Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN)

You can use this service to get an official USGA handicap. Golfers must use a handicap service from a USGA-conforming golf club to get an official handicap index.

That allows you to play in sanctioned tournaments and competitions. Without an official USGA handicap, you can’t compete in these events.

To get an official handicap, you must submit scores at a USGA-conforming golf club. The handicap system automatically calculates your handicap from these scores.

Golf App

You can use a golf app to get a handicap. However, most apps don’t have official USGA handicaps, so you won’t be able to play in sanctioned competitions with this handicap.

You just need to record your scores in the app, which will calculate your unofficial handicap. That gives you an idea of your golfing ability.

Apps such as TheGrint and Diablo do offer you an official USGA handicap, though. We recommend these apps if you want to get an official handicap through an app.

Website

Several websites allow golfers to record scores and get a handicap index. These handicaps are usually unofficial, so you won’t be able to use them for tournaments and competitions.

However, they let you record scores and get a handicap for casual play. If you just want a handicap for playing against your buddies, these sites can be a good option.

Golf Software and Free Golf Tracker are two websites where you can get an unofficial handicap.

Conclusion

Now that you know what a good handicap is, you can see how you stack up. A good handicap for men is anything below 9, while it’s anything below 20 for women.

If you fall within that handicap range, you’re better than the average US golfer.

It puts you in the top 5% of amateur male golfers in the US, so you’re in some good company. For amateur female golfers in the US, a handicap below 20 puts you in the top 3%, which is awesome.

But don’t get too hung up on handicaps, especially if you’re new to golf. Get out there and enjoy the game. Your handicap will drop with more practice and experience.

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Joe Morelli

Joe Morelli is the founder of TopRankGolf, a passionate golfer with 25 years of experience playing and coaching golfers around the world. He's dedicated to helping golfers learn and enjoy the game of golf.