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


Golfers are now driving the ball further than they ever before. In both the men and women’s game the average golf handicap has dropped significantly over the last 30 years.

But what about scoring itself? What is a good and a bad golf score? What percentage of golfers break the key scoring milestones of 100, 90, 80 and even 70?

We recently did a bunch of research to look into this to find out. Because as every golfer is aware, even though you know you should play the course rather than other golfers when playing strokeplay golf it’s impossible not to wonder how you match up against your peers and the pros.

So here are the results of what we found together with some 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?

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. Saying that we did find some great data which helps answer the key questions.

So what is the average golf score for golfers?

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) it may feel that this average score value is 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 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.

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.

Sky Sports

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 100, 90, 80 and 70?

AVERAGE SCORENUMBER OF GOLFERS
Under 700.0001%
Under 80 (70-79)5%
Under 90 (80-89)21%
Under 100 (90-99)29%
Under 110 (100-109)24%
Under 120 (110-119)10%
120+11%
Source: National Golf Foundation, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour

Again we would estimate that these numbers are more than likely artificially high again 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 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 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 very 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 16 men and 9 women scored an average of less than 70 on the PGA and LPGA Tours last year – the best being Rory McIlroy and Jin Young Ko with average scores of 69.06 and 69.05 respectively – which just shows how amazing such a score is.

Playing to your Handicap is a Good Score

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 terrible round. But for the average golfer who usually scores around 100 it could be one of their greatest rounds.

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

And for those golfers who do have a handicap it is important to remember that playing to it is always a good score. The reason I say that is that golfers will on average score 3 strokes higher than their course handicap and only play 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’s a Good Score for Junior and Senior Golfers?

If you are 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 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 6-7 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.

For very young juniors under the age of 10 we would suggest as far as you can to avoid thinking about scores and just focus on enjoying the game. If can break 100 at that age though, then you are without question in the top 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!

As you reach your teenage years if you can break 100, you’re in good shape for making your high school golf team and if you’re starting to break 90 on a regular basis as you progress you’re a pretty good golfer.

But don’t be too disappointed if you don’t. Remember the average score for adult players is likely to be around 100!

For seniors golfers very good players can still score in the 80’s 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.]

Thought for the 19th Hole

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!

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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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