Complete Guide to the Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Golf Scores


As every amateur golfer is aware, even though you know you should play the course rather than your opponents when playing golf it is virtually impossible for us average players not to wonder how our scores match up against our peers and the pros.

While it is very easy for the pros to compare their score against their fellow competitors and know immediately whether their score is good, bad or merely average it is typically a much more difficult exercise for recreational golfers.

But in this article we aim to address that together with many other common questions about golf and bad scoring in the amateur ranks.

A good golf score over 18 holes for male amateur golfers is 90 or below and 100 or less for women. This is based on the estimated average golf score for men of 95.7 and 107 for women and data from tens of thousands of regular golfers indicating a score of 90 or less is consistently achieved by only 26% of players.

Now does that mean automatically that if you score more than 90 as a man or 100 as a woman on any given day that is automatically a ‘bad’ score?

Golf unfortunately as we all know is never that simple and the answer to the question of what is a good and bad golf score is always more complicated than it first appears.

In the remainder of this article we therefore take a detailed look at the stats to answer all the key questions about scoring in the depth they require and highlight the surprising revelations we discovered along the way.

For example did you know that when it comes to breaking those all-important scoring milestones it is the long game that matters most rather than your short game?

The famous golfing motto that you ‘drive for show but putt for dough’ is a myth!

What is the Average Golf Score for the Average Golfer?

Compared to the pros where there are any amount of stats you can look at, the data available for amateur golfers is not nearly as detailed or transparent.

To get the answer to key questions such as what is the average golf score for 18 holes of golf for a regular golfer we had to look in different places and across various data sets to get a good answer.

The average score for 18 holes is 95.7 for average male golfers and 107 for women according to the National Golf Foundation. As this data is based on players with handicaps, and only 20% of the 24.2 million golfers in the USA have an official handicap, the real average is estimated closer to 100 for men and 115 for women.

How these average scores for amateur golfers compare to the top pros on the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour is also highlighted in the table below:

MENPGA TOURWOMENLPGA TOUR
Average score for 18 holes95.770.9810771.7
Source: National Golf Foundation, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour

With the average male golfer in the USA having a handicap of 14.4 (this average rises to 16 in the UK) – the average handicap for USA women is 26.4 and 25 in the UK – it may feel that these average score values are high.

In addition, research based on data captured by TheGrint of 20,000 golfers and 400,000 scores of 18 Hole rounds suggested a much lower average score for regular men amateurs of 90.8

However many believe that the real average score for amateur golfers is in reality much closer to 100 for a couple of reasons.

Firstly the majority of golfers don’t have an official handicap – of the 24.2 million golfers in the USA (i.e. adults who played at least one regulation round in the past year) less than 20% have an official handicap – and these golfers tend to shoot much higher scores.

Secondly whatever a golfers handicap they do not play to that handicap very often.

In fact, research by the USGA’s Handicap Research Team says that not only will golfers only play to their handicap or better about 25% of the time but they will on average score 3 strokes higher than their course handicap.

As a result it seems likely that the average score for both men and women is artificially low and is higher than the numbers published by the National Golf Foundation – 95.7 for men and 107 for women.

So if you are scoring higher than these averages with scores of around 100 for men and 110-115 for women we think you are in pretty good company and more than likely still amongst the average.

The conventional wisdom that putting is the key to better scoring is wrong! Keep reading to find out why.

What Percentage of Golfers Break 100, 90, 80 & 70?

Milestones are a great way to work on improving your golf scores. And the big milestones all golfers will aim to work their way through as they progress with the game are the magical 100, 90, 80 and for the elite few the 70 and even 60 barriers.

Cool fact: 9 players have broken 60 for 18 holes on the PGA Tour – Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos, Stuart Appleby, Jim Furyk, Justin Thomas, Adam Hadwin and Brandt Snedeker.

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Walk into any golf clubhouse throughout the world and you will inevitably find discussions amongst golfers who have either successfully broken one of those barriers for the first time or who are frustratingly stuck agonizingly close to breaking through the magical target they are aiming for.

So what are the percentages of golfers who break the scoring barriers of 120, 110, 100, 90, 80 and even 70?

On average 55% of amateur golfers with handicaps break a 100 score on a regular basis based on National Golf Foundation data. 79% of handicapped players break 110 and 89% break 120 while only 26% break 90 and 5% break an 80 score consistently. PGA and LPGA Tour scores show just 0.0001% of golfers break 70 on average.

As for the number of golfers whose average scores fall between these key milestones you can see these percentages in the table below:

AVERAGE SCOREPERCENTAGE OF GOLFERS
Under 700.0001%
70 to 795%
80 to 8921%
90 to 9929%
100 to 10924%
110 to 11910%
120+11%
Source: National Golf Foundation, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour

Again we would estimate that these numbers are more than likely artificially high for the reason that the majority of golfers who don’t have an official handicap tend to shoot higher scores and even those that do have a handicap will only play to their handicap 25% of the time.

So if you are a golfer who is regularly breaking 100 we reckon you are more than likely clearly above-average.

Men beginners just taking up the game should be very happy with anything around the 110-120 mark. For female beginners we would propose adding 10-15 strokes to that number meaning that if you are scoring anything less than 130 you are doing well.

Those scoring 90 and below on average and playing what is considered to be ‘bogey golf’ – in other words you finish 18 strokes over on a standard par 72 golf course which is the same as shooting one over par on every hole – are very much in a minority and are good golfers.

Those sniffing the rarified air of breaking 80 on a regular basis are truly excellent golfers and if you are breaking 70 regularly you should be playing professionally.

Only 14 men and 13 women scored an average of less than 70 on the PGA and LPGA Tours last year – the best being Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda with average scores of 69.3 and 68.78 respectively – which just shows how amazing such a score is.

Playing to your Handicap is a Good Score and Not a Bad One

What is a good and a bad score if of course relative. A good score for one player could be a bad score for another.

For a scratch golfer for example a score of 89 would be considered a very bad round. But for the average golfer who usually scores around 100 it could be one of their very good scoring rounds.

It all depends on your general standard of play and if you have one, your handicap.

As a general rule the definition of a good or bad golf score is relative to a golfer’s handicap. A good golf score is where a golfer’s ‘net’ score – total strokes minus their handicap – is equal to or less than the par of the golf course while a bad score is where the player’s net score is more than the golf course par.

That analysis however is also probably a bit simplistic as for those golfers who do have a handicap they can often feel that playing to their handicap is not that good a score.

In reality if you play to your handicap that is a pretty good score and definitely not a bad one.

And the main reason I say that is that golfers will on average score 3 strokes higher than their course handicap and only to their handicap or better only 25% of the time according to the USGA Handicap Research Team.

That may seem strange but the simple reason for it is that the handicap system is based upon a golfer’s ‘potential’ rather than an average of all his or her scores. A USGA handicap for example is calculated from the best scores of a player’s recent rounds – ideally the best 10 of his or her last 20.

And as only the 10 best scores are counted the golfer’s handicap will reflect their best days or ‘potential’.

So the next time you walk off the course feeling that you ‘only’ played to your handicap just remember that is a good score and a reason to be pleased with your performance!

What is a Good Score for Junior and Senior Golfers?

If you are a young junior golfer just taking up the game or a senior golfer average scoring will likely look a bit different to the average adult player.

And the simple reason for this is the distance those players can hit the ball.

Young junior golfers haven’t yet developed the muscles to power through the golf ball and so physically simply cannot hit the ball as far as an adult no matter how talented they are.

Senior golfers by comparison will start seeing their club distances decrease with time and will likely face an internal battle as to when is the right time to move from the regular tees to the more forward senior tees.

How far a golfer hits the ball is a key determinant of how well they can score and as such it is difficult for both junior and senior golfers to score to an advanced level. Both groups should therefore adjust their target scores accordingly.

It is normal for young juniors for example to take as many as 6 to 7 strokes or even more to reach the green of a standard par 4 and then if you add another 2-3 putts on the green you are up to a score of around 10 no matter how good a young player they are.

As a general rule a score of 120 or less for young golfers of 12 or under is very good. Teenage golfers who can break 100 are likely able to make their high school golf team and those who can break a score of 90 on a regular basis will be considered an excellent golfer.

For very young juniors under the age of 10 however we would suggest as far as you can to avoid thinking about scores and just focus on enjoying the game. If can break 120 at that age though, then you are without question in the top single-digit per cent of golfers your age.

Otherwise we’d expect scores of 140 to 170 on average because of the distance factor and not having the strength yet to reach the holes in the regulation number of strokes.

Again though we would emphasise simply aiming to enjoy the game at that stage and playing a few holes rather than a full 18 on a regular basis counting all those strokes.

93 for 10 holes was I remember my first ‘official’ score when I was 9 years of age although looking back I’m sure my father was being a touch generous with the gimmes that day!

Whatever your score you shoot as a young golfer though just don’t be too disappointed.

Remember the average score for adult players is likely to be around 100!

For seniors golfers very good players can still score in the 80s despite losing some distance with each of their clubs while elite senior golfers will typically make it a target it beat their age at least once a year.

As with juniors though remember that the game of golf is supposed to be fun and if you find yourself slogging away and scoring much higher than you used to it may be time to take that step up to the senior tees to get those scores back down.

The Key to Breaking 100, 90 & 80 is your LONG Game

Want to improve your scores by the biggest factor? Get working on your approach shots!

Ask almost any golfer what you need to do to finally break that all-important scoring barrier, whether it be 100, 90 or 80, and I guarantee you the response will most likely be that you should focus on improving your short game and in particular your putting.

“You drive for show but you putt for dough” is the often-repeated phrase. But the reality is the stats today show that is it a myth that your short game is the key to better scores. If you want to get better it’s your long game that is more important.

According to Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor, author of ‘Every Shot Counts‘ and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011 putting contributes only 15% – that’s only 3 strokes out of 20 – of the score difference between 80 and 100 scoring golfers.

In other words 85% of the difference in the score of a player shooting 80 and one shooting 100 comes from skill differences in off-green shots.

According to Professor Broadie, amateur golfers are actually pretty good putters. While pros average 29 putts for 18 holes a typical 90-golfer averages only 4.4 putts more or 33.4 putts per round. And that even overstates the skill difference because amateurs typically putt from further away than the pros.

Following analysis of millions of golf shots he says the results are clear. The long game, consisting of driving and approach shots, explains two-thirds of the difference in scores between a typical 110-golfer and a typical 100-golfer or between a typical 90-golfer and a typical 80-golfer; the short game and putting explain the remaining one-third.

Here’s a copy of his analysis of where strokes are gained between typical amateur golfers of different skill levels.

SCORESSTROKES GAINED
FROMTODRIVINGAPPROACHSHORTPUTT
90802.54.02.11.4
100902.64.02.01.4
1101003.43.71.71.2
AVERAGE2.83.91.91.3
FRACTION OF TOTAL28%39%19%14%

For clarity an ‘approach shot’ is a shot that starts outside of 100 yards from the hole, excluding tee shots on par-four and par-five holes. A ‘short game’ shot by comparison starts within 100 yards of the hole, excluding shots that start on the green (i.e. excluding putts).

Professor Broadie acknowledges these results go against almost all of golf’s conventional wisdom and will be considered close to heresy by some. He also it pains to point out that putting is of course important and are likely to be the easiest strokes to erase from your scorecard.

Guys say you have to have a short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all.

Rory McIlroy

Also if want to drop 10 strokes from your score you will not be able to do it solely by improving one skill set whether that be driving, approach shots, short game or putting.

But he simply is highlighting that the data clearly shows that putting is not the key to scoring as the conventional wisdom of golf states. And when you look at Tiger Wood’s numbers it hard to argue against it.

Professor Broadie found that between 2004 and 2012 on the PGA Tour Tiger gained 2.79 strokes per round against the field’s average. That was close to 1 stroke better than the next best-ranked player Jim Furyk (1.84 strokes gained) and gave Tiger a more than 11-shot advantage every 4 round tournament against an average PGA Tour field.

Approach shots were the key to Tiger Wood’s dominance

And where did the biggest portion of Tiger’s gain come from – approach shots. A whopping 46% (1.28 strokes out of 2.79) of his gain against the field.

Further while he dropped as low as 89 in the short game ‘strokes gained’ ranking in 2005 – a year he won both the Masters and the British Open – and was only 21st in putting in 2006 at no time during those 10 years did he fall below number 5 in approach shots, ranking no.1 in 6 of those 10 years.

Given Tiger’s record of dominance it’s hard to argue therefore that it was approach shots that made the difference.

[Top tip: If you want to learn more about what areas of your golf game you should really be focusing on improving check out Professor Broadie’s fantastic book ‘Every Shot Counts’ here.]

Final Thought

Golf is a hard game and when it comes to scoring it is set up to play havoc with the mind. The scoring system, which sets a ‘scoring par’ on each hole, means the average golfer will have to face up to having technically ‘failed’ on almost every hole. 

Indeed just 0.7% of all USGA-registered handicap golfers are able to shoot par or better.

So if you are an average golfer try and not worry too much about ‘par’ and break down the challenges to improve your score.

Scoring is the all-important measuring factor in the game but don’t forget about scoring at the 19th hole also. Does your playing companion pay there fair share of the lunch or drinks bill? That’s probably the best judge of any golfer!

More great articles related to this topic:

Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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