What is a "Scratch Golfer"? | Definition and How Common It Is

What is a "Scratch Golfer"? | Definition and How Common It Is

Today, we'll explain the definition of "Scratch Golfer." We'll also take a look at how common this feat is.

What is a "Scratch Golfer"?

Most people consider a "Scratch Golfer" to be a player with a golf handicap of 0 or better.

Golfers with a handicap better than 0 are called "plus golfers," as their Handicap Indexes' have a plus sign (+) in front of the number. Unlike most golfers who subtract strokes from par, plus golfers add strokes in net competition.

While a 0 handicap is likely what's most commonly thought of when the term "Scratch Golfer" is used, the United States Golf Association (USGA) has a stricter definition.

The USGA has stated:

A "scratch golfer" is a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.

Course Handicap is calculated using the following formula:

Course Handicap™ = Handicap Index® X (Slope Rating® / 113) + (Course Rating™ - Par)

According to the USGA's definition, a golfer's calculated handicap would need to be 0 on every rated course. If using this definition, scratch golfers would essentially be limited to golfers at the level of touring professionals.

To illustrate this, let's take a look at Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Ocean Course, home of the 2021 PGA Championship. From the championship tees, the par-72 course has a Course Rating™ of 79.1 and a Slope Rating® of 155. A golfer expected to shoot par on this course (have a Course Handicap™ of 0) would be a +5 Handicap Index®.

The USGA also added to their definition of a scratch golfer:

A male scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots at sea level.

How Common Are Scratch Golfers?

Handicap Index Distribution of Male Golfers in the United States - Source: USGA
Handicap Index® Distribution of Male Golfers in the United States - Source: USGA

Using a 0 Handicap Index® as our definition for a scratch golfer, there are less than 35,000 men and around 3,000 women in the United States that meet the criteria according to the USGA's Handicap Index® Statistics.

For men, this would mean that 1.85% of golfers with an official Handicap Index® are scratch golfers. Only 0.69% of female golfers have a 0 Handicap Index® or better. 

If you were to factor in all golfers without a valid handicap, we'd estimate the percentage of men that are scratch golfers would drop below 1%.

Handicap Index Distribution of Female Golfers in the United States - Source: USGA
Handicap Index® Distribution of Female Golfers in the United States - Source: USGA

If using the USGA's definition cited above, the number of scratch golfers would drop drastically.

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TRADEMARKS: The terms  Handicap Index®, Course Rating, Slope Rating®, and USGA® are trademarks of the United States Golf Association (USGA).