Average Golf Handicap By Age & More Handicap Facts

Welcome to our guide on the average golf handicap by age!

You get to the first tee and meet up with your playing partners. After introductions, the first question will be ‘What handicap are you?’ This is always the start point to getting a match organized.

Delving into the dark and murky world of golf handicaps is a fascinating subject matter. Without a doubt, they create more arguments amongst golfing groups than any other facet of the game.

In this article, we’ll walk you through all the aspects of the handicapping system and handicap data needed to understand the average golf handicap by age. This includes:

  • Current golf trends – playing and membership statistics
  • How to get a golf handicap
  • The new handicap parameters
  • Understanding your golf handicap

By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of the average handicap by age and how it has changed in the past 30 years.

Let’s get going!

Senior female golfer wearing pastels jumps for joy.

The new World Handicap System

The World Handicap System (WHS) was launched in January 2020 to provide golfers with a unified and more inclusive handicapping system for the first time.

Before this date, every golfing nation operated their handicap system with, unbelievably, 6 different handicap systems being used.

The vision of the WHS is to create a unified global system to:

  • enable golfers of different abilities to play and compete on a fair and equal basis, in any format, on any course, anywhere around the world
  • be easy to understand and implement, without sacrificing accuracy
  • meet the varied needs and expectations of golfers, golf clubs, and golf authorities all around the world and be adaptable to suit all golfing cultures

A pretty sound vision, and two years on, it seems to be working nice and dandy!

Senior golfer looks into camera at sunset.

current golf trends: playing and membership statistics

Global statistics are not readily available, however, the trends of two established golfing nations are a good standard from which to get a clearer picture.

CountryNumber of
Golfers
Numbers & %
that are Members
of a Golf Club
Numbers &
% that are
Casual Golfers
% with an
Official Golf
Handicap
Number & % of
Casual Golfers
with a Golf Handicap
USA18 million6.5 million
(36%)
11.5 million
(64%)
>50%3.0 million
(24%)
UK 2 million800,000
(40%)
1.2 million
(60%)
> 42%40,000
(>3%)

So, what do these figures tell us?

First and foremost, there are a lot of golfers without an official handicap.

Young golfer in blue polo drives a golf cart.

Although not shown in the table above, there are other relevant points:

  • 10% of casual golfers are deemed as beginners or very early starters.
  • The biggest increase in golfers joining golf clubs in terms of age demographics is the senior market. Retirees finally have time to play after years of commitment to bringing up a family and their chosen career.
  • A considerable increase in uptake of playing golf in the junior bracket. More media coverage, particularly social media platforms has inspired kids to think about golf.

Now is time to consider how golf is growing on a global scale.

Forty years ago, you almost reel off the established countries where golf was a serious recreational pastime for its countrymen and women. The pioneers were the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, & Japan.

Golf was being played in Western Europe – Sweden, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, as examples but at this time it was not a game for the people, just played by the country’s elite. Very much like the pioneer countries when golf started.

Teen golfer holds his golf ball and smiles at something in the distance.

In the last 20 years, golf has become a global entity.

The massive uptake in vast population bases such as China and India, the growth throughout Asia in general particularly South Korea and Thailand, Mexico, the rest of South America, and throughout Europe.

In recent decades, millions upon millions of new golfers have started and these figures continue to rise.

One final massive trend change in modern times is linked to longevity of life. There are as many golfers playing now over the age of 80 that were golfing over the age of 70 forty years ago. That is an amazing figure.

There are not many 70+ year-olds that maintain a low handicap and this tends to continue on an upward curve year by year. Not surprisingly. It’s just great that so many can enjoy the great game of golf for many more years than in the past.

All of these factors have a massive bearing on the average golf handicap by age.

Golfer wearing white cap smiles at camera.

How to Get a Golf Handicap

Until very recent times the only way to get an official golf handicap was by being a member of a golf club. Casual golfers could not get and did not have an official handicap. This has now changed.

America was at the forefront with the United States Golf Association (USGA) opening the door to casual golfers but this is a very new concept for the rest of the world – the UK, for instance, only set up a formal system two years ago.

These new systems have meant that ‘new’ golfers can get a handicap and this is another massive contributory factor in governing the average golf handicap by age.

the New Handicap Parameters

There have also been some big changes in handicap allocations (limits) under the new guidelines. 20 years ago the maximum official handicaps were:

  • Male golfers, 28
  • Lady golfers, 36
  • Junior golfers, 45

Now in most countries, these figures have increased significantly:

  • Male golfers, 36 (up 8 shots, <30% increase)
  • Lady golfers, 54 (up 18 shots, 50% increase) Except: USGA 40 (increase 4 shots, >11%)
  • Junior golfers, 54 (up 9 shots, 20% increase)

The logic of the new governing body was to get golfers understanding a golf handicap earlier, give them a figure truly representing their playing level as a starter to the game – and ultimately enjoy playing more as they watch their handicap tumble.

Great logic, great decision but one that has a bearing on the average golf handicap by age.

Male golfer observes the course with club slung over his shoulder.

understanding Your Golf Handicap

If you are a member of a golf club, then you have a definitive golf handicap and an understanding of how the system operates.

They know that they have to play well to shoot their handicap. The casual golfer believes that they only need play averagely – a vast difference in perception.

The handicap is based on the golfer’s best 8 scores from 20 rounds; the worst 12 are disregarded.

Right now most casual golfers are oblivious to the system. They probably believe their handicap is the average of all their score. Wrong!

Indeed many haven’t yet posted 20 scores for their handicap to adjust correctly. By definition, 20 cards are 20 rounds and this is a lot of golf for a casual golfer.

But with more casual golfers getting an official handicap, time will heal many old issues.

There will be fewer instances when a casual golfer just plucks a random number out of the sky. These guys and gals are affectionately known as sandbaggers in the USA and bandits everywhere.

Young girl holds putter and smiles at camera.

Are they trying to pull the wool over your eyes? No not really – ignorance is bliss. You only get to understand what a true golf handicap represents when playing at a golf club or playing more regular golf.

With 3 million casual golfers now registered with an official handicap in the USA alone, and the majority are getting their first-ever handicap – another key factor that governs the average golf handicap by age.

Average Golf Handicap by Age

So we have talked through the current golf market and the influence this has on golf handicaps in general and by age. Now time to look at the figures regarding the average golf handicap by age.

There is so much talk at the professional level that technology is ruining the game. Time doesn’t stand still for anyone and what is wrong with moving forward.

Surely this technology in club-making, golf balls, swing monitors et al has fed down to the amateur game? Surely average golf handicaps by age are tumbling?

Figures say no.

There has been very little movement in the average handicaps by age and gender in the past 25 years – but there are many more single-figure handicap golfers. How does that work?

Three young male golfers smile at the camera, equipment in hand.

The reasons for little historical change are the sum of all parts of everything detailed in this feature:

  • Casual golfers starting to get on the official handicap train.
  • A high number of inexperienced retirees joining golf clubs – or, at the very least, very rusty golfers having put the clubs in the closet through most of their adult life.
  • Living longer opens the door to playing golf later in life. For most, handicaps are on the rise once a septuagenarian, definitely for an octogenarian.
  • The increased handicap maximums.
  • The significant global growth in golf with million of start-up players currently with higher handicaps.

So maybe the truth is that technology is working but these 5 significant factors have kept the average golf handicap by age figures on a constant for 25 years.

What are the current figures?

Data is available from three golf-mad, established countries. They present a true reflection of the average golf handicap by age.

According to the USGA, the average score for recreational players is 91 on a par 72 golf course.

The numbers below factor in all golfers who actively record their scores and report them online. However, many golfers don’t do this, meaning the average golf score is likely to be much closer to 100.

Age RangeAverage Score
20-3090
30-4092
40-5092
50-6091
60+92
All Golfers91
Senior male golfer prepares to take his swing.

Time will tell in the developing nations. Their handicap figures will be tumbling right now. Once the new World Handicap System beds in, it won’t be long before the whole golf world can be examined.

Let’s start with an overview by gender.

CountryMen
(Average Handicap)
Women
(Average Handicap)
USA14.426.4
UK16.026.5
Australia16.926.7

The average handicap for both men and women is pretty close between these 3 nations. Are American golfers that little bit better? Of course, any true patriot will be saying ‘hell yeah!’

But there is a slightly misleading way handicaps are still managed between the nations.

The UK and Australia still tend to accept the majority of cards from competition play, the USA allows cards from any form of play.

No experienced golfer will deny it is much harder to post a good score in competition as against golfing with your buddies – perhaps the reason for the slight disparity?

There are some interesting further breakdowns to these figures. American golf data is used here but these numbers do reflect similar trends in both the UK and Australia.

Man and wife golfer stand and observe the course, smiling.

Male average Golf handicap by age

2% have a scratch or better handicap. Over 90% of this elite band are aged 16 – 35 years.

Approximately 30% have a single-figure handicap. Once again, the majority are in the younger age bracket but there is a significant amount aged 35 – 50 years old. The % reduces above 50 years of age and is relatively small once golfers pass 60 years of age.

The % figure for handicap range, 10 – 15 is also around the 30% mark. There is a more even distribution through the age demographic, <35, 35 – 50, and >50 years old.

female average Golf Handicap by Age

Women players have a much higher golf handicap than their male counterparts.

More than 70% of female players have a handicap above 21 and just a little over 4% reach the giddy heights of a single figure.

Juniors Average Golf Handicap by Age

Of course, these numbers are going to be higher.

This is when they start playing as absolute beginners and when young with little power. Only the gifted and dedicated junior golfer will attain a seriously low handicap number as they head into their teens. The majority are just playing for fun.

Father watches his daughter take a swing.

The actual national averages are:

  • Golfers between the age of 7 and 12 years have a maximum handicap of 54. Many will not be playing to their handicap when they start… but they soon will! The average score is circa 150.
  • Golfers between the age of 12 and 16 years have a handicap average of 24.

Summary: Average Golf Handicap By Age

The global golf market is a runaway train with expansion in virtually every country in the world. This has a major bearing on the average golf handicap by age as there are so many new starters to the game.

Whatever the numbers may be, the greatest thing about the golf handicap is that it allows any type or level of golfer to play a round of golf with anyone.

This means you can play a game with the best of the best and be competitive – that is if you are not shaking in your boots standing alongside a Tiger Woods on the first tee, for example.

Average golf handicap by age image showing senior golfer wearing Titleist cap and pink polo smiling to camera.

Are you relatively new to the game?

Now you know about the average golf handicap by age. But there is so much available to help you on your path to getting you to understand golf properly, improve your game – and ultimately attain your first golf handicap.

Simon Lawrence

Simon Lawrence

Golf Caddy at Self-employed
I have been in love with the game of golf for over 30 years and this passion propelled me to find work in the golf sector way back in 1997. In recent years I have worked as a full-time golf caddy in Scotland and Florida until Covid struck - hopefully my wonderful lifestyle will soon return. When not working, I like to keep fit, play golf and enjoy a nice glass of single malt!

1 thought on “Average Golf Handicap By Age & More Handicap Facts”

  1. I’ve been playing golf for 49 years. I’ve been paired with hundreds of people over the years. Yes we meet at the first tee and introduce ourselves, but in 49 years, I’ve never had someone ask me “What is your handicap?”.

    Reply

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